IMMIGRATION has been a highly emotive issue in British politics since Enoch Powell made his famous 1968 “rivers of blood” speech which sketched a picture of Britain inundated with immigrants.

Since then, the subject of immigration has remained firmly on the UK’s political agenda. In the ’80s and ’90s the issue acquired further prominence due to the influx of refugees fleeing dictatorships and civil wars; the result was an unprecedented raft of legislative proposals to placate right-wing tabloids that regularly framed the debate in negative terms.

During the last decade, six immigration bills have been introduced. Yet the perception fostered by the far-right has endured that not enough is being done to discourage immigrants. This deeply entrenched perception has driven the coalition government to lead a new, aggressive push.

Prime Minister David Cameron led the charge with his first major immigration policy speech in 2011. The speech was geared towards the goal of bringing the number of immigrants down drastically to the ’80s and ’90s levels. Not surprisingly, it was couched in terms of curbs and crackdowns on out-of-control immigration. In line with this new thinking, government agencies began a massive crackdown on plugging what they call the loopholes in the system.

In practice this has meant cuts on student, family reunion or family settlement visas and those for the highly skilled migrant scheme, apart from tightening asylum laws and increasing the deportation of illegal migrants. All these steps seemed to have contributed to bringing down the number to 163,000 last year.

However, despite the government’s effort to curtail the numbers, the immigration issue shows no signs of petering out, with the far-right escalating its rhetoric with every placatory move. In the face of growing hostility to immigrants, some political leaders have also joined the anti-immigration bandwagon — a trend termed as “the conspiracy of noise” by Observer columnist Andrew Rawnsley.

In December 2012, Labour leader Ed Miliband said that his party was wrong to ignore public concerns about the rising level of immigration. In March, Liberal leader Nick Clegg back-pedalled on his election manifesto of finding a decent route to citizenship for illegal immigrants.

This sudden burst of policy activity is spurred by three developments. First, the coalition government’s ideological drive to prune the welfare state by cutting public spending. Second, the continuing electoral fortunes of the UK Independence Party, as shown in its impressive performance in a by-election early this year. Third, the immediate prospect of Bulgarian and Romanian nationals — the newer European Union (EU) members — coming to Britain in search of jobs when the current restrictions are set to expire in December. The image of Bulgarians and Romanians flooding into Britain feeds into a long-standing media narrative that has constructed all immigrants as welfare scroungers and benefit tourists.

Last month, in a revisit of his 2011 speech, David Cameron pledged to act tough on new EU immigrants by restricting job-seekers’ allowance to a maximum of six months. He also announced restrictions on new immigrants accessing social housing. Further, teachers are going to be asked to identify the children of illegal immigrants. This extraordinary step has already attracted considerable opposition for fears that it might fall foul of the government’s international treaty obligations in relation to child rights.

The newly proposed measures fall in line with Europhobe attitudes taking root in the UK and the Conservative government’s increasingly strained relations with other EU countries. This was exposed when the EU employment commissioner, Laszlo Andor, told the Observer: “There is a serious risk of pandering to knee-jerk xenophobia. Blaming poor people or migrants for hardships at the time of economic crisis is not entirely unknown, but it is not intelligent politics.” Such sentiments have also been echoed by Lord Mandelson, an ex- EU commissioner.

At the same time, rumblings of discontent over the numbers-reducing policy are audible. British university leadership is already chafing under financial difficulties brought on by reduced state funding and falling foreign student numbers, the mainstay of a large number of universities.

The difficulties of the government are further compounded by the lacklustre performance of the United Kingdom Border Agency (UKBA). Set up in 2008, the UKBA was tasked with getting a grip on an immigration system in a shambles. It did not live up to its set targets, with a backlog of thousands of asylum and immigration cases. The agency was also criticised for long queues at airports. This barrage of criticism caused the departure of its chief executive Brodie Clark. Reacting to this sustained criticism Home Secretary Theresa May announced the dissolution of the agency.

This brings immigration policy under the thumb again of the Home Office. No one knows how the immigration policy is going to be fixed now that it’s back under full ministerial control of the Home Office. Already, there is a loud chorus building up among liberal and left-of-centre broadsheets that the immigration debate should be conducted on the basis of facts and not fiction.

Only by not making immigration a bidding war between different parties can this issue be sensibly handled; placing numbers at the heart of the immigration policy risks turning Britain into an illiberal place.

The writer is an Islamabad-based development consultant and policy analyst.

drarifazad@gmail.com

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Comments (16)

waren
April 4, 2013 11:05 am
Muslim countries doesn't allow any migrants to their country. But they want to migrate to western countries. What a logic. Western countries should stop the migration from these Muslim countries. It was their big mistake.
Cyrus Howell
April 4, 2013 12:38 pm
Britannia waves the rule.
sal
April 4, 2013 1:33 pm
The weather and economy and slums are so rubbish in the UK, why would anyone want to migrate here? Except perhaps for the very soft benefits system which Pakistani's are more likely to be using. Either there is a lot of fraud, or Pakistani's are unable (or unwilling) to work. But the "free" money does help them build a nice house in a DHA.
Ashok Pandey
April 4, 2013 1:56 pm
Nice consolidation Arif. Good work.
rich
April 4, 2013 2:22 pm
every country should have the right to allow or reject immigrants just like saudi arabia, even on the bases of religion if the above argument is rejected then everyone has the right to go to amy country in the world including saudi arabia now would muslim state allow it is the question
pathanoo
April 4, 2013 2:49 pm
Immigration is a privilege not a right. The Host country has EVERY RIGHT to make it's policies to protect itself from the economic refugees. It is NOT the West's responsibility to take care of the Muslims from the dysfunctional and venal Muslim countries. These are the same Muslims harping on the unfairness of the British system who do NOT allow ANY IMMIGRATION in their own countries. More over, when these Muslims are given immigration in the Host country, they not only are NOT grateful; they want implementation of Sharia in the Host Country and never tire of screaming at the top of their lungs how unfair the Host Country is and how they would Islamise it and make it a Islamic country. I have no sympathy for these ingrates. West is making a big mistake in letting these people in. As far the author, has he ever thought about writing of the wretched condition of migrant workers in the Muslim paradise of Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Katar, Kuwait etc. What a hypocrite?
Durbullah
April 4, 2013 11:55 pm
Pakistani's want to migrate there so that they can live off benefits and then try to implement sharia.
David McKendrick
April 5, 2013 1:12 am
Turkey is a Muslim country and my cousin emigrated there last year.
talha
April 5, 2013 4:30 am
I think that Pakistan should GENEROUSLY open its doors to US and UK immigrants, make them drive cabs (or do some other menial job) and tax them heavily. Yes, subsidized housing for them sounds good too!
Gary
April 5, 2013 6:26 am
All for free money.
Bbbb
April 5, 2013 9:34 am
That is a good question, but where is the answer?
Bbbb
April 5, 2013 9:37 am
Go read the article again and again and again.... till you digest the religion syndrome.
Hash
April 5, 2013 1:00 pm
Please don't shoot the messenger, also this is not about Islam or immigrants from the Islamic world. The European migrants cause more strain on the economy and any policy alterations should do well to focus on these areas. Of course it would have substantial consequences on the non-EU migrants but the impact on the economy of restricting students/highly skilled migrants from largely Islamic countries and India could possibly be crippling. Universities have had their funding slashed and their over reliance on foreign students is being curtailed by the abolition of post study work visas, really a lose-lose situation hence the fee hike for local students. When you talk about the small minority of Muslims in Britain who are pushing for the implementation of Shariah - the Anjum Chaudrays please don't use a big black brush to paint us all in the same colour. As for immigration being a privilege and not a right try justifying the ?3,600.00 for a visa extension for a family of three (two of whom are active contributors to the exchequer's kitty).
donkeydalek
April 5, 2013 2:52 pm
The author makes no reference to the amount of immigration that has already taken place in the UK. For example Leicester, a major city, is 50% Asian. Imagine if a Pakistani city was 60% white, would the indiginous population like it? I think not.
pathanoo
April 5, 2013 4:10 pm
Hash, I am not shooting the messenger. Read his slanted article giving the clear distinct impression that the laws are being made to discriminate against Muslims. Even though he tries hard to give it a different hue. The author claims xenophobia. He is definitely NOT making that claim against Romanians and Bulgarians. They are European stock. He is making that claim based on Pakistani and other Muslim immigrants who by far are the ungrateful, violent in the name of their religion. They do NOT want to mix, do NOT want to adopt. They want the Host Country to change to Islamic ways. That is true about an extremely large number of Muslim immigrants - though not all, I agree. And, why is it any concern of Britain that it's restricting immigration would have a deleterious effect on the economy of the Non - EU nations? Do other countries worry about the impact of their immigration policy on Britain? I may be harsh or even be guilty of painting all Muslims with the wide black brush. But tell me, Hash, how many of your Muslim Brothers living in England have shown up demonstrating against the Anjum Chaudhray and openly and unequivocally stating their fealty to Britain? OK, I will go down one more notch. How many of your Muslim Brothers have spoken up or written up strongly against Anjum Chudhary? Site me examples and I am guilty of being what ever you want me to be guilty of. Remember, I said a large majority of Muslims NOT ALL.
Gary
April 5, 2013 10:10 pm
Please do not come to UK. We are full. And we are tired of some muslims who terrorise our people. Stay wherever you are.
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