Shadow Immigration Minister Damian Green has told ConservativeHome that Conservatives are "very sceptical" about the merits of an amnesty for illegal immigrants. Mr Green was commenting a few days after an intervention by Labour Treasurer and TGWU Deputy General Secretary Jack Dromey. Mr Dromey has called for an amnesty for the black economy workers and their family members who are "living in fear" in Britain:
"It is true that there are probably half a million here without documents. The question is what we do about that? They live in fear of a knock on the door and they are exploited by too many employers… What we need therefore is a sensible approach which does not criminalise those good men and women. You can’t deport half a million workers. Who would clean? Who would cook? Who would pick in our fields? The time has come for a debate around an amnesty for those workers."
The issue of an amnesty is currently tearing the US Republican Party apart and it is also a live issue in Italy thanks to comments from the new immigration minister and member of the Communist Refoundation Party.
The dangers of an amnesty are highlighted in a MigrationWatch report published today. The report "finds that in comparable countries where amnesties have been tried the only effect has been increased numbers at each amnesty." It is feared that those given amnesty may quickly be replaced by new immigrants willing to work in the informal economy at below the minimum wage. Spain, for example, has granted six amnesties. The first amnesty twenty years ago granted residency to 44,000 people. The most recent and sixth amnesty – in 2005 – involved 700,000 immigrants.
Eighteen months ago, in estimates based on the 2001 census, the Home Office suggested that the UK’s illegal immigrant population was something between 310,000 and 570,000. MigrationWatch estimates a current illegal population of 515,000 to 870,000.
Sir Andrew Green, Chairman of Migrationwatch, said that "amnesties make a bad situation worse":
"They are also extremely expensive for the tax payer. For a start, an amnesty would add half a million people to the housing lists as the local authorities would become responsible for their housing. It is also quite wrong in principle to reward illegal behaviour with full access to the welfare state."
Sir Andrew, noted the Home Office’s poor record at enforcing Britain’s laws on illegal immigration. He recommends a policy of "attrition through enforcement" where a combination of stricter embarkation controls and tighter access to schools and welfare services will discourage illegal immigration.