The 1999 Immigration and Asylum Act (IAA) went into effect on April 1, 2000. Its major provisions include the substitution of vouchers for cash assistance for asylum applicants and the dispersal of foreigners who apply for asylum at ports of entry to one of 13 reception centers throughout the country. The IAA was a response to rising numbers of asylum applicants and the perception that the UK's provision of services for them were attracting foreignersâ€” there were 71,160 asylum applications in 1999, up from 46,015 in 1998 and 5,900 in 1987.
The UK, which now has 900 beds in three secure centers to detain asylum applicants, plans to build more because 60,000 asylum applicants were "lost" to the Home Office in 1999.
Opinion polls suggest that concern about immigration is at the highest levels in two decades, with London residents and elderly residents most concerned about the crime and costs associated with asylum seekers. The UK spent L857 million providing asylum in 1999.
In 1999, the Home Office ruled on 32,330 asylum applications, granting asylum to 36 percent and allowing 11 percent more to stay under a category known as exceptional leave to remain; 54 percent of the applications were denied, but the vast majority of applicants appealed and remained in the UK. The IAA gives those rejected only one appeal; however, newspapers report that some migrant families apply first in the husband's name, appeal, and then restart the process under the wife's name. Some migrant families report their children as lost, since the UK does not deport families with missing children.
Many advocates attacked stepped-up enforcement of the IAA, arguing that the Labor government was pandering to the anti-foreigner tabloid press, which was filled with stories of Romanians and others coming to the UK to obtain welfare benefits. Home Office Minister Barbara Roche countered that "we have manifestly unfounded claims that are coming into the system, undermining its very integrity. They're seeking recourse to a better life in this country, for economic migrancy, and the system can't sustain them."
In addition to vouchers for housing and food, asylum applicants receive L10 ($16) a week in vouchers for their other needs, but stores that accept them are not permitted to give change. Oxfam, which has 840 shops selling donated clothes and other goods, has refused to accept the vouchers, arguing that doing so would require asylum applicants to pay more for goods than customers who can receive change. The vouchers are in small denominations of 50p, Â£1, Â£5 and Â£10, and newspapers reported that L10 vouchers were being sold by some asylum applicants for L7 to L8 cash.
The IAA also includes fines on drivers of L2000 or US$3,300 for each illegal foreigner caught in their cargo trucks. The penalties are aimed at reducing what the government estimates to be 2,000 asylum applicants a week who arrive on trucks from France. Four lorry drivers were fined a total of Â£32,000 in the first week of April.
Elite CRS French riot police have been assigned to the Des Dunes industrial estate near the port of Calais to prevent smugglers from loading migrants into trucks headed to the UK. Between 50 and 200 migrants, mostly Iranians, Iraqis and Afghanis, arrive in Calais by road and rail each day, seeking to get into a truck bound for the UK.
The Tories are making the influx of asylum seekers an issue in local elections slated for May 4, 2000, saying that, "In many councils in England, the average household is paying the equivalent of up to Â£160 in a tax year to cover the cost of bogus asylum seekers." Labor responded that the Tories were "playing the race card."
Bonds. Applicants for visas from countries in which many residents overstay or apply for asylum often have trouble convincing consular officers that they are unlike other residents. One recommendation has been to allow foreigners from such countries to post bonds in exchange for easier access to visas, with the bond forfeited if the foreigner does not adhere to the terms of the visa. The UK proposed a L10,000 bond for "borderline" visa applications, but the plan was attacked as "putting a price on entry" to the UK; it has not been implemented.
Ireland. The Irish government is planning to stiffen fines on smugglers, introducing 10-year sentences, unlimited fines and confiscation of their property. Ireland may also deport 5,000 Romanian asylum seekers under new "fast-track" measures. About 30 percent of the 20,000 asylum applicants in Ireland between 1992 and 2000 were made by Romanians. So far in 2000, about 1,000 foreigners a month have applied for asylum in Ireland, and the government is planning to house some of them in floating hotels.
Deputy Prime Minister Mary Harney announced that Ireland would make immigration easier for non-EU foreigner professionals to work in information technology sector, nurses and construction industry professionals. There are about 30,000 non-EU foreigners employed in Ireland.
The first of 500 Filipina nurses arrived in Dublin in April to work in area hospitals after six weeks of training. The nurses, all of whom speak English, are permitted to work for two years, and to have their permits renewed for another two years. Wages are L1860 a month in Ireland, compared to L200 in the Philippines.
Sarah Lyall, " Fortress Britain to Asylum Seekers," New York Times, April 27, 2000.