July 2005 Volume 12 Number 3
Britons went to the polls on May 5, 2005 and re-elected the ruling Labor Party of Prime Minister Tony Blair to a third successive term; Labor ended 18 years in opposition in 1997. Labor got only 36 percent of the vote, the Conservatives got 33 percent, and the Liberal Democrats 23 percent; Labor has 354 seats in the 646-member Parliament.
Immigration was a major issue in the campaign. The Conservatives led by Michael Howard argued that Britain had lost control over immigration. The Conservative campaign motto was: "it's not racist to impose limits on immigration." Blair agreed: "Concern over asylum and immigration is not about racism. It is about fairness." Blair promised "strict controls that work." Former Home Secretary David Blunkett was brought back into the new Blair cabinet as Work and Pensions Secretary.
Britain, with a population of 60 million, has 250,000 to 500,000 unauthorized foreigners. Net legal immigration was 75,000 in 1994, reached 170,000 in 2001, and was 151,000 in 2003. The number of asylum seekers peaked at 85,000 in 2002 and fell to 30,000 in 2004.
One of the first proposals of the new Blair government was to create a national identity card with the bearer's biological data to foster a "culture of respect" for law and responsibility. However, a group of 30 left-leaning Labour MPs in May 2005 announced they would join the Conservatives to try to block identity card legislation.
Blair also proposed a four-tier point system for foreigners seeking to work, thus "allowing controlled immigration where it is in the UK's interest, and preventing it where it is not." Under the point system, only skilled workers could stay in the UK, and only after they pass English tests. However, after five years of legal residence, up from the current four, skilled foreigners could become permanent immigrants.
Blair's re-elected government also proposed a new œ2,000 fine on employers for each illegal worker hired and more work-place inspections. Some foreigners seeking to visit the UK would have to post financial bonds. The government proposed that recognized asylum applicants receive safe haven for five years rather than indefinitely. In its previous term, the Blair administration enacted three significant immigration laws-- the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 and the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc) Act 2004
The British government has decided not to build accommodation centers for asylum seekers in rural areas. Asylum applications dropped to 7,015 in the first quarter of 2005 compared to 15,855 in the first quarter of 2003. Removals fell from 4,125 in 2003 to 3,445 in 2005. Plans for offshore processing of asylum applications have been scrapped.
Accession. Britain allowed Eastern Europeans from the countries joining the EU on May 1, 2004 to work if they registered, and 176,000 did so, including 73,000 Poles. A third were believed to have been already in the UK and simply legalized their presence by registering. Some 13,000 to 14,000 EU-10 nationals a month were registering in summer 2005, half from Poland. Many of the Poles are unskilled or semi-skilled and from villages in eastern Poland.
The UK attracted 300,000 foreign students in 2004, including 48,000 Chinese and another 10,600 from Hong Kong; there were 14,600 Indians. The government wants to eliminate the appeals that foreign students can make if their applications for student visas are denied. Universities protested, saying that they would lose tuition payments, while the government said that the few student visa denials that are appealed are costly to process. Foreign student graduates can stay for three months to look for a job in most of the UK, but up to two years in Scotland.
Ireland. Some 85,000 EU-10 nationals, including 40,000 Poles and 18,000 Lithuanians, were issued Personal Public Service (PPS) numbers in Ireland a year after the May 1, 2004 accession of their home countries. In Sweden, by contrast, only 4,400 EU-10 nationals applied for work permits, suggesting that language barriers may be a significant barrier to migration. About 60 percent of the EU nationals in Ireland were age 18 to 30, and their numbers continued to rise in spring 2005.
Turkish construction firm Gama was accused in April 2005 of opening secret bank accounts at Finansbank in Holland under the names of the migrants it posted to Ireland without their knowledge. Gama, which won E200 million in public contracts in Ireland between November 2000 and early 2005, received about 1,300 of the 1,900 exemptions from social insurance contributions (PRSI) for migrants in Ireland less than one year available since 2003. Turkish migrants also benefit from reduced income tax, as most of their wages are paid directly into accounts in Turkey and the Netherlands.
The investigation of Gama began in February 2005, when some 300 migrants charged that they were paid E2 to E3 an hour because they were made to work up to 84 hours a week but paid only for 40. About 200 returned to Turkey, but a Labor Court in May 2005 recommended that Gama workers receive payments of about E13,000 each plus the back wages in the Finansbank.
Ireland had only 21 labor inspectors until April 2005, when their number was increased by 11 as a result of the Gama scandal. In arguing for more inspectors, unions noted that Ireland had 54 dog wardens, more than twice as many as it had labor inspectors. A new report by Martin Ruhs pointed out that only three Irish employers were convicted of violating the Employment Permits Act 2003 between its inception and February 2005, highlighting the need for more labor inspectors.
Ireland has 450 licensed employment agencies that bring migrants into the country, and the government is reviewing the Employment Agency Act of 1971 that regulates their behavior. Ireland plans to substitute registration for licensing, and to make it an offense for an employer to recruit workers from a non-registered agency.
Bank of Ireland, with almost 300 branches around the country, announced in July 2005 that it would provide literature for migrant customers in three languages: Chinese (Mandarin), Polish and Russian.
Robert Booth, "Rural asylum centers scrapped," Guardian, June 11, 2005. Alan Travis, "14,000 a month sign for work," Guardian, May 27, 2005. Richard Ford, "176,000 migrants from Eastern Europe seek jobs in first year," The Times, May 27, 2005. Ed Caesar, "Would the last person to leave Poland please turn out the lights?," Independent (UK), April 28, 2005. Ruhs, Martin. 2005. Managing the Immigration and Employment of non-EU Nationals in Ireland. Trinity College Dublin. Policy Institute.