The Liberal Democrats have said that ‘the UK Immigration system is in chaos after years of incompetent management’ and that the Government has ‘failed to plan properly for new migrants, making it harder for people to integrate’. Unlike the Conservatives the Liberal Democrats do not believe in the idea of an arbitrary cap on immigration in the ‘tens of thousands rather than the hundreds of thousands’. They believe that ‘Britain has always been an open, welcoming country, and thousands of businesses, schools and hospitals rely on people who’ve come to live here from overseas’, however they do believe that certain areas of UK Immigration Policy should be tightened.
Liberal Democrat Immigration Policies
The Reintroduction of Exit Checks
At the moment the Government only counts those people entering the United Kingdom; it does not count those that leave. With so much attention being placed on the size of the UK population (which the ONS says will hit 70 million people by 2029) the Liberal Democrats argue that exit checks are required in order to gain an accurate overview of the immigration system as a whole and the effect on population size. The party has said that if they win power they will reintroduce exit checks immediately (Labour have also said that they are keen to reintroduce exit checks which were abolished under the previous Conservative Government).
Amnesty for Illegal Immigrants
Without a doubt the most politically sensitive issue on the Liberal Democrats election manifesto is the pledge to give amnesty to illegal immigrants who have been living in the UK for at least 10 years. The manifesto says that “We will allow people who have been in Britain without the correct papers for 10 years, but speak English, have a clean record and want to live here long-term to earn their citizenship. This route to citizenship will not apply to people arriving after 2010.\”
It is understood that those that qualify would have to serve a probationary period of two years, during which time they would have to work and pay taxes. Following the probationary period migrants would have to pay a fee or do voluntary services to qualify for full citizenship (similar to the Earned Citizenship system that is due to be introduced by Labour in 2011).
According to the Liberal Democrats ‘It would take years and cost £8 billion to deport all those who are living in Britain illegally. Some of them are criminals and people-traffickers. Others are families who have been here for years, and just want to work and pay their taxes. Immigration officers are focusing on families because they’re easy targets, letting criminals off the hook.’
By dealing with the issue the Liberal Democrats believe that immigration officers will be able to ‘spend all of their time deporting dangerous people and checking up on employers to stop illegal working.’ However the proposals have been attacked by the Conservatives (although not London Mayor Boris Johnson) who believe that granting amnesty would make the problem worse in the long run and give the wrong message to thousands of Asylum Seekers attempting to gain entry to the United Kingdom.
The Introduction of a regional Points Based System to ensure migrants go where they are needed:
The Liberal Democrats would aim to introduce a regional Points Based Immigration system that would see economic migrants under Tier 2 (formerly UK Work Permit) and possibly Tier 1 (formerly HSMP) going to areas of the country where they were needed. At present the majority of economic migrants choose London and the surrounding area as their base whilst in the UK due to greater employment options, higher rates of pay and well established immigrant communities.
The Liberal Democrats say that ‘some parts of Britain, like Scotland, need and want more people to help the economy. Others, like the South East, are struggling to find enough water and homes for everyone.’ The party would ‘change the rules so that it is easier to get a work permit if you go and live in a part of the country that is short of workers, to encourage newcomers to live where they are needed.’
The Liberal Democrats have not provided any real detail on how the plans would work. Would Tier 2 attributes points (sponsorship, prospective earnings, qualifications) be increased in areas of the country where there is less need for economic migrants i.e. London and the South East? How would an already stretched UK Border Agency cope with ensuring compliance? What happens where a consultancy based in an area of the country that requires migrant workers chooses to deploy an individual in an area such as London?
The creation of a UK Border Force:
The Liberal Democrats have also said that they would ‘establish a strong, unified, co-ordinated National Border Force with police powers to protect UK borders effectively’.
The party say that for too long Britain has been a ‘soft touch’ and that the Governments ‘stop-start, piecemeal approach has failed to get a grip on the problem’. The party also say that the UK Border Agency ‘lacks the powers necessary to do its job properly.’
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