The topic of immigration is always one charged with political considerations, and this is even more the case when the immigrant in question has a legal status that is questionable. Whether due to an ignorance of the laws or out of a sheer abundance of caution or fear, illegal immigrants to the United Kingdom present a sociological and political challenge to the established order in the UK. That’s why Boris Johnson’s plan to offer amnesty to illegal immigrants who have been living in UK for 15 years or more has caused such a stir. Reports in the media have put figures, in tens of thousands to 500,000 illegal migrants who would be affected by the planned amnesty scheme.
As Lord Mayor, Boris Johnson raised the idea of amnesty being given to those who have lived in the UK for 5 years, however facing strong opposition, he steadily changed his standpoint from 5 to 10 then 12 and finally 15 years, according to https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2019/11/14/tories-should-offer-amnesty-illegal-immigrants/. His shift raises the question of his commitment to the idea, or will he simply drop the plan altogether in the face of a changed political environment? There have been petitions trying to prevent this from happening (https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/266925)
According to 121 Immigration lawyers “The increase to 15 years is close to provisions already in the UK Immigration Rules which enable long term illegal residents ie those who have resided in the UK for 20 years to be eligible to apply for legal residency status under the 20 year long resident rule, so the new amnesty plan isn’t as radical as it first appeared”
Feelings in this regard are quite strong as supporters of amnesty feel like it is the humanitarian – even logical – thing to do whereas opponents of it argue that the government is rewarding criminal behaviour. This second argument is often made despite evidence that many illegal immigrants come from challenging circumstances that might make formal application processes through local governments nearly impossible thus giving them no choice but to flee. This is often the case in persecuted minorities.
Though there may be some merit to the argument that breaking the law should not be rewarded or encouraged when it comes to illegal immigration, it fails to take into account the often desperate and dire circumstances faced by many immigrants even if they do not face political pressure and opposition in their home country. Burdened by poverty and challenging life circumstances, which can even include undiagnosed diseases and language barriers, among other things, illegal immigrants are a particularly vulnerable population for manipulation by bad actors.
To head this off, the government often has to have an intense, hands-on approach to immigration no matter the legal status of the immigrant. In fact, that’s why one of the biggest arguments against amnesty, namely, that it will cost some £2.5billion according to The Sun, are undercut by the somewhat vague costs the country is incurring now by not solving the problem.
Migrant Watch, an organization purporting to monitor these things for the UK taxpayer, bases these estimates on the needs of immigrants in general with the needs of illegal immigrants in particular. To be certain, illegal immigration does cost money in terms of services and government resources, but it is a quantifiable, sunk cost as opposed to an ongoing, open-ended expense if you keep immigrants’ status up in the air.
Advocates of amnesty argue that, far from costing the government more money, amnesty will actually free up resources now and in the future for other programs including educational and assimilation programs.
In fact, many proponents of amnesty argue that Boris Johnson’s plan could even benefit the economy in many ways. Habib Ali, an immigration lawyer at 121 Immigration Lawyers commented, “I fully support the idea of amnesty of illegal immigrants, this would have a positive impact on their lives and would bring these individuals into the tax net and benefit the UK government.”
Of course, the Tory government is currently under intense pressure to conclude the Brexit process it began with the vote to withdraw from the European Union but, part and parcel with that, is how the UK approaches the issues of illegal immigrants currently residing in the country.
Far from scrapping the idea, Prime Minister Boris Johnson should embrace amnesty as a way to integrate British society and show the post-Brexit European Union that the UK is as much of a dynamic economy as anything Europe has to offer but also his plan recognizes the fundamental need to resolve long standing issues of status before the country boldly moves forward to forge its own identity without the EU.