Sir Andrew Green is Chairman of MigrationWatch.
Nobody has given much thought to the implications of an amnesty for illegal immigrants in the UK. Both the "old parties" dismissed it out of hand – and rightly so. It was left to Boris Johnson to promote the idea for rather transparent reasons of political advantage.
Then up pops the new bright star of the political firmament pushing the Lib Dem proposal for "earned regularisation” after ten years illegal presence in Britain.
The idea is absurd but it is now worth listing why that conclusion is inescapable. Essentially, amnesties do not "work" and have been shown not to do so. Italy has had five amnesties in 25 years and Spain six. Here is the number of applications on each occasion;
It is, to put it mildly, self evident that amnesties encourage further illegal immigration. Ah! says Clegg but we will tighten up the borders. Quite how is not explained and, in any case, is irrelevant. Most illegals arrive here legally on visas and stay on to work illegally and send money home. With wage rates in Britain between 5 and 25 times those in sub-Saharan Africa that incentive is unlikely to change.
Quite apart from being futile, an amnesty is wrong in principle. These people have been under cutting the wages of British workers for many years and enabling unscrupulous employers to compete unfairly with those paying a decent wage. Why on earth should consistent law breaking be rewarded with British citizenship and full access to the welfare state?
But, says Clegg, there is already a concession by which those who have been here 14 years are granted settlement. He claims that he is only reducing that by four years. Not quite. Only 2 -3,000 have so far been granted an amnesty in this way. He is proposing to make it available to a million illegals.
Not so, say the Lib Dems, this is to be only a one off operation. Apart from the fact that such a statement is seriously unbelievable, it is also completely illogical. Look at this way. Assume for the sake of illustration that there are one million illegals who arrived in equal cohorts of 100,000 over 10 years. When the amnesty is first put into effect the first 100,000 meet the residence condition. The next year another 100,000 and so on. So either you stop after one year leaving only 10% of the problem "dealt with" or you continue for ten years to finally "clear up the mess left by Labour and Conservatives". Who could seriously argue that a ten year process of this kind would not pull in more and more illegals as it continued?
Then there is the little matter of cost. An analysis by Migrationwatch finds that the lifetime cost of a single person who earns 50% above the minimum wage after regularisation would be about £220,000. For a man with a wife and two children you are looking at just over £0.5 million.
The LSE study for Boris Johnson was vague about costs but we read it to mean that the cost would be about £52 billion. However, they ignored post retirement costs which we would put at another £59 billion bringing the total to £109 billion. All this on the basis of their estimated number of illegals of 618,000 compared to our 1.1 million. Whichever estimate you go for, the costs would be astronomical.
All this assumes that a workable scheme could be designed. The difficulties of distinguishing the genuine from the fraudulent when, by definition, there are no documents speak for themselves. An American attempt to "regularise" Mexicans in the 1980s faced a 75% rate of fraud.
Can we suggest anything better? Certainly. It would be much better to clamp down on employers of illegal labour. The maximum fine is now £10,000 for each illegal employee. That full fine should be levied and it should be used to deport the illegal workers as they are found. At present, most of them are released lest they claim asylum. Eventually, employers would realise that it was not worth the candle and the opportunities for illegal immigrant to earn money would be sharply reduced. Those unable to find work would go home, thus reducing the numbers. It is not generally realised just how pitiful enforcement has been in recent years. In the last nine years the number of persons proceeded against at Magistrates Courts in London for employing an illegal immigrant has averaged about three a year. No wonder London is teeming with illegal immigrants and the public are furious about the chaos in the immigration system.