Sir Andrew Green is Chairman of Migrationwatch UK

Screen shot 2013-06-28 at 18.30.05The Conservative MP Nadhim Zahawi has achieved some
headlines today with his call for an amnesty for illegal immigrants
.  This he describes as a “siesmic shift” in
immigration policy, designed to attract ethnic votes.

Two minutes thought should dispose of
this idea.  An amnesty would make a bad
situation worse; it would not be especially attractive to existing migrants who
would face competition from the newly legalised workers, and it would certainly
enfranchise a large number who, for cultural rather than policy reasons, are
strongly inclined to vote Labour.

Experience elsewhere is highly
instructive for those prepared to examine it. 
Italy has conducted
five amnesties in the last 20 years and Spain has granted six. On almost
every occasion the number of applications increased.  This surely suggests that amnesties actually
increase illegal immigration and build problems for the future.

They are also very costly.   A recent LSE report admitted that the longer-term costs of benefits could be £2 billion a year.  Even this huge sum did not include
post-retirement costs.  Zahawi’s solution
of restricting access to benefits would, even if it was legally sustainable,
undermine his main purpose.

Worse, there would be a massive impact
on social housing which is already struggling. 
It is worth quoting the LSE report again: “It is highly unlikely that
the extra dwellings required would actually be built.  The much more probable outcome is that there
would be increased competition for the existing stock of social housing.  This in turn might adversely affect local
relations and social cohesion, as the evidence shows that competition for
housing is an important element in increasing tensions at local level”.

This is especially true in London where the waiting
list for social housing is already 400,000.  
The addition of several hundred thousand more is unlikely to be welcomed
by Londoners, whatever their ethnicity. Indeed there is not much evidence that
attitudes towards immigration among ethnic minorities are greatly different
from the majority.  The 2009-11 Citizenship surveys
found 63 per cent of UK-born Indians and 74 per cent of UK-born Sikhs favoured reduced immigration.

As for public opinion generally, a
YouGov poll in the Sunday Times last year found that 67 per cent of respondents believed that
illegal immigrants should be deported immediately with no right of appeal; this
is consistent with earlier polling. The Liberal Democrats promoted an
amnesty at the last election and faced hostility to it on the doorstep.  They themselves have admitted that the idea
was impossible to explain to the ordinary public.  The Conservative party would find exactly the

What is more, the announcement of an
amnesty would, whatever the small print, trigger a flood of visitors and legal
migrants overstaying their visas in the expectation that they would eventually
benefit from it.  As a result, the
Conservatives would lose far more votes, especially from the white working
class, than they would gain (if any) among ethnic minority voters. There is obviously a case for the Conservatives
seeking greater support from the ethnic minorities but this is certainly not
the way to do it.