Illegal Immigrants in the UK: Taking an Alternative View
Tuesday, November 27, 2007.
By Dr Olayiwola Ajileye
In recent times, there have been so much public and political debates over the issue of illegal immigration and indeed about ‘illegal’ immigrants in the United Kingdom. The fact is that this is an age-long row that is not unique to the UK, as it has been intensely debated. There are also ‘illegal’ immigrants in other parts of the world, not surprisingly also, in developing economies.
Take South Africa, Nigeria and Liberia for example, these are resource rich nations and there are immigrants whom, for one reason or another can be classified as ‘illegal’.
On the other side of the geographic divide in America, there are similar apparatus, which, without doubts are no different in structure, concept, content and function. Hence, illegal immigration is a global issue that require a more balance view and approach in other to address, and more importantly, to harness its cryptic benefits.
Focusing on the UK
In view of the current pre-occupation with immigration by politicians and the media, it is important for the benefit of all, to look more constructively on the whole idea of illegal immigration and to take an alternative view.
The UK economy has immensely benefited from the contributions of migrants into the Island, in economic, sport, social and developmental terms. The Independent newspaper published on October 17, 2007, said that “migrant workers contributed £6 billion to the country's economic growth last year and earned higher wages than their British counterparts."
One can only wonder then, why the word ‘illegal’ enter the equation and why it has taken such central stage that the very category of people classed as migrants and desirable, are now subjects of intense scrutiny under the common language of ‘illegal’ migrants.
The word ‘illegal’ as a prefix in the equation of migration now connotes a number of negative interpretations. It elicits a stereotypic view of a class of the society and evokes such sentiments that can only be described as uncomplimentary.
Arguably, it appears that the Government now feeds, inadvertently into this negative mindframe and consequently complicating the whole issue and stifling the genuine efforts in contributing to the debates, with a view to generating sustainable ideas to harness the positive side of ‘illegal’ immigration.
The majority of the so-called ‘illegal’ migrants in Britain may be classed as economic migrants; majority have skills and intellectual capita. Studies have shown that this is not far from the truth, considering how much the so-called black economy generates in the UK.
Records would show that majority of ‘illegal’ migrants work in such jobs that the average native Brits would not be identified with. This vast hidden army of illegal immigrants ensures that each day thousands of offices and homes are cleaned, streets are swept and drinks are served in Britain's pubs and clubs.
Some are set up in the informal economy, as well as the formal economy. It is not uncommon to see ‘illegal’ migrants in various economic activities in the UK generating very important and needed taxes and National Insurance (NI) contributions.
Quoting from The Independent again: “… the Government figures suggested migration was throwing a lifeline to an economy suffering skills shortages and struggling to support a growing bill for pensions.”
There are ‘illegal’ immigrants who are real community leaders, small business operators, model examples of entrepreneurships and innovative activities in various communities. Some have business structures, which generates corporate taxes, providing ironically, employments for British people.
Many sectors of the economy, including agriculture, health, social care and construction industries relied heavily on the genuine efforts of these ‘illegals’. Not forgetting that majority of them have children born and raised in the UK, and are playing positive family roles.
There are informal and unrecognised contributions of ‘illegal’ migrants in helping many families, particularly in childcare, thereby freeing up needed times for the ‘legal’ migrants to pursue their economic development goals for the overall benefit of the UK economy.
The Home Office figures suggest migrants contributed 10 per cent of Government revenue, but used only 9.1 per cent of expenditure in such areas as schools or hospitals.
It reported that migrants earned on average £424 per week last year, compared with £395 for UK-born workers, and as a result paid more per head in tax and VAT than Britons.
It also suggest that the work ethic of the new arrivals was also having a positive impact on British workers, helping to increase their pay levels.
It said: "In the long run it is likely the net fiscal contribution of an immigrant will be greater than that of a non-immigrant."
Illegal Immigrants and Terrorism
With the global concern and real anxieties about terrorist activities and indeed the threat that terrorism poses to the safety of all, one cannot under-estimate the need for a country like Britain to want to know the identity and background of people residing here.
Some terrorist organisations may have mixed up with the ‘illegal’ migrants; hence the challenge remains for the authority to be able to decipher the real intentions and goal of people living within its geographic jurisdiction.
However, it is not helpful to adopt the current SAS-like approach, as it has the potential of driving real, genuine and positively intentioned ‘illegal’ immigrants underground. This in turn, makes them vulnerable to being radicalised or be lured into anti-economic activities on the mere excuse of survival.
I do not have a one-size fit all proposals to cater for these obvious challenges but my intention is to provide a real alternative perspective view for policy makers.
We need consistent, innovate and pragmatic policies to promote productive economic migration activities, which should not be limited to the highly skilled cadre, but indeed giving recognition to the symbiotic socio-economic efforts of the ‘illegal’ immigrants in the low paid employment and informal sectors as well.
Danny Sriskandarajah, migration research fellow for the Institute for Public Policy Research, said: "Immigrants bring immense benefits to the UK economy. Let's hope our political leaders pay more attention to this positive evidence than to anecdotes about negative impacts when designing migration policies."
Sometimes, I struggle to see the overall economic advantage of spending billions of Pound Sterlings in holding people in detention centres and repatriating apprehended ‘illegal’ migrants who have no police or criminal records, but who are able to secure against all odds, a low paid employment with evidence of tax and NI contributions.
Britain would not like to be seen as soft on illegal immigration and one is conscious of the indirect perceived message this kind of tough stance by politicians could send to the world and other prospective ‘illegal’ migrants.
But looking at the aforementioned standards and approach, one can also take a view of how these will impact psychologically in improving the socio-economic advantage and interactions these ‘illegal’ migrants would have on various aspects of British life.
By giving the hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants in Britain a promise that they will not be deported, at least £1bn a year would be raised in taxes, according to the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR).
However, ‘illegal’ migrants involved or apprehended in activities inimical to the socio-economic and security aspirations of the UK government and people should be made to face the full consequences of the British law as prescribed in the constitution.
This perspective does not represent an exhaustive ideas on the concept of ‘illegal’ immigration, but it is design to align with what we already know and to show how Britain can become an exemplary model for the entire world on how best to deal with the issues of illegal migration.
Dr Olayiwola Ajileye is a Birmingham-based Mental Health professional and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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