Immigration amnesty is ruled out
There are up to 570,000 illegal immigrants, says the government
July 12, 2006
An amnesty for illegal immigrants has been ruled out by ministers at the end of a review of UK border controls.
Immigration Minister Liam Byrne asked officials to report on the issues surrounding the controversial idea.
Now he has rejected the move and instead will unveil plans for “fair but tough” enforcement of existing rules.
Meanwhile, campaigners for an amnesty have said it is unrealistic to think that about half a million “irregular migrants” can readily be deported.
When John Reid became home secretary in May he said the Immigration and Nationality Directorate was “not fit for purpose” and ordered a review of how things were done.
His criticisms followed the crisis over more than 1,000 foreign prisoners who were released without being considered for deportation.
An immigration chief also admitted little effort was made to track down illegal immigrants who lose touch with the authorities.
'Tools for the job'
Mr Byrne said the review of the Immigration and Nationality Directorate (IND) was almost complete.
“We can say that we will be ruling out an amnesty and will be instead bringing forward plans over the next two weeks for fair but tough enforcement of the rules,” he said.
“We'll not only strengthen our people but the tools they have to do the job.”
It's a political reality that around half a million irregular migrants can't readily be deported
Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants
Mr Byrne stressed the immigration department had made progress, with asylum applications down 72% from their 2002 peak and more failed claimants being deported.
“That didn't happen by accident. It took a lot of people a lot of hard work,” he said. “We will be pressing on, not going backwards.”
The government estimates there are up to 570,000 illegal immigrants in the UK.
Mr Byrne's decision to rule out an amnesty came as a campaign group published detailed proposals for the move.
The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) said illegal immigrants who had been in the UK for at least two years should be allowed to stay.
And any illegal immigrants with no serious criminal record should be given the right to stay permanently after they had spent seven years in Britain, it said.
Habib Rahman, chief executive of the council, said a solution to the illegal immigrants in the country had to be found now.
“It's a political reality that around half a million irregular migrants can't readily be deported and EU migration alone cannot be relied on to fill the jobs many of them are doing,” he said.
“It's time to get real – put this beyond politics and start talking practical solutions.
“In the end a system that denies full rights to all migrants in the UK is both socially unjust and is creating losers all round.”
The report comes after MigrationWatch UK claimed it would take 20 or 30 years to build enough social housing for illegal immigrants if there was an amnesty.
Commenting on the government's move, Liberal Democrat Home Affairs spokesman Mark Hunter said: “After casting about in the dark for answers, the Government has once again been forced to abandon its proposals in the face of opposition. “What's required is a considered immigration policy which looks constructively at the criteria by which we allow people to stay in Britain.”