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Illegal Immigrants and an Earned Right to Citizenship

Basic problem

Since the Conservatives abolished exit checks in the 1990s, and Labour has failed to reinstate them in the last 13 years, no one has any idea how many illegal immigrants are living here. Economists estimate that it is around 725,000. Labour and the Tories say they'll deport them all but the truth is this is neither possible nor desirable. It would cost billions and take decades. Many of these people are hard-working families who want nothing more than to contribute to life in this country. Instead they are forced to exist as an underclass - working but not paying tax, lacking employment rights, citizen rights and access to basic services like healthcare and banking. It is time to bring some of these people out of the darkness and into the hands of the taxman, but because Labour wants to be seen to be deporting as many people as possible, immigration officers focus on easy targets, like families, rather than on criminals.

Liberal Democrats do not believe it is possible or practical to deport all illegal migrants working and living in this country. We will focus deportation efforts on criminals - the drug dealers and people-traffickers who are not welcome in this country. We would give families who have been here for years and who just want to work and pay taxes the right to earn British citizenship, subject to a series of tough conditions. Immigration officers can then spend their time deporting dangerous people. So let's deport criminals and make otherwise law abiding people earn citizenship and make the top priority for immigration officials deporting dangerous people.

The Current State of the Law

The immigration system needs a few things sorting out, but before I run through the main changes that are required I must first outline the current state of the law the relevant rule is paragraph 276B of the Immigration Rules.


The requirements to be met by an applicant for indefinite leave to remain on the ground of long residence in the United Kingdom are that:


(a) he has had at least 10 years continuous lawful residence in the United Kingdom; or

(b) he has had at least 14 years continuous residence in the United Kingdom, excluding any period spent in the United Kingdom following service of notice of liability to removal or notice of a decision to remove by way of directions under paragraphs 8 to 10A, or 12 to 14, of Schedule 2 to the Immigration Act 1971 or section 10 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 Act, or of a notice of intention to deport him from the United Kingdom; and

(ii) having regard to the public interest there are no reasons why it would be undesirable for him to be given indefinite leave to remain on the ground of long residence, taking into account his:

(a) age; and

(b) strength of connections in the United Kingdom; and

(c) personal history, including character, conduct, associations and employment record; and

(d) domestic circumstances; and

(e) previous criminal record and the nature of any offence of which the person has been convicted; and

(f) compassionate circumstances; and

(g) any representations received on the person's behalf; and

(iii) the applicant has sufficient knowledge of the English language and sufficient knowledge about life in the United Kingdom, unless he is under the age of 18 or aged 65 or over at the time he makes his application.

What the current law actually means

In short this means that, if illegal immigrates have been here for 14 years and subject to certain conditions (age, criminal record, ability to speak English), then they can already apply for indefinite leave to remain.

The Court of Appeal upheld the application of the rule in 2009. Lord Justice Sedley interpreted the rule as "specifically directed to people who had managed to stay in the UK for 14 years or more without lawful authority, and was, therefore, in effect an amnesty clause. This is because, in every such case, the nature of the applicant's stay was unlawful and its extent was 14 years or more", see:-

The Times concluded that the "Home Secretary bound by own immigration rules." This rule changed the Statement of Changes in Immigration Rules 1994 (HC 395) with the Statement of Changes in Immigration Rules 2003 (HC 538), see:-

This 14-year rule was introduced by a Conservative Government and has not been opposed by the current Labour Government.

The Liberal Democrat Difference

The only difference is that the Liberal Democrats are proposing to reduce this 14 year rule to 10 years plus two year probation and a fine or two years community service. After the two year probationary period before applicants can gain citizenship providing that they:-

  • can speak English,
  • can pass civic tests,
  • can demonstrate a long-term commitment to this country,
  • do not have a criminal record

The two year community/voluntary service or fine is necessary as applicants have lived outside the law for years and not paid tax.

The period of ten years would be reduced for seven years for those who came to this country as children.

Instead of focusing on easy targets, we will focus deportation efforts on foreign criminals who have betrayed this country's trust and abused the British system. We will take into account family circumstances and time spent in the UK when making decisions on a case by case basis. We will introduce a National Border Force with police powers to help secure our borders. The only way to enforce any immigration system is to undertake rigorous checks on employers and take strong action against those who seek to exploit illegal immigrants and profit from them.

This policy will save money on deportations and increase tax revenue. However these changes are not accurately predictable and therefore have not been included in our costed deficit and spending plans.

Key Statistics/Quotes

  • The London School of Economics estimates there are at least 725,000 illegal immigrants in Britain from BBC Website, 'Big Rise' in Illegal immigrants, 9th March 2009
  • Deporting all the illegal immigrants in Britain would cost a minimum of £8 billion from National Audit Office, 'Returning Failed Asylum Applicants, 11th July 2005, page 44 multiplied by estimate from the London School of Economics above
  • Labour says 68,000 people were 'deported' in 2008, but half of these were actually refused entry when they first came from Home Office Statistical Bulletin, Control of Immigration UK 2008, page 68
  • IPPR estimates full regularisation of illegal migrants would bring in £1bn extra tax, from Institute for Public Policy research, 'Jacqui Smith should back amnesty for illegal workers', 15th July 2007
  • 85 of the 1,013 foreign prisoners the Government released by mistake in 2006 are still at large and efforts to find them are being wound down from The Yorkshire Post, 'Detectives give up hunt for foreign criminals', Jonathan Reed, 20th December 2009

Arguments for and against earned citizenship

The main issue our opponents see with this is:-

  • They say we are rewarding illegal immigrants with an amnesty, which will just encourage more of them

Our arguments are:-

  • There is currently a 14-year amnesty for illegal immigrants under the 14-year rule
  • Our proposal is not an amnesty for any illegal immigrate, as all will have to either pay a fine or do two years community service. An amnesty involves no sanction or punishment.
  • This is not an amnesty for those involved in criminal activity they will be punished as at present. There will be no right to earned citizenship for criminals.
  • It is ridiculous to suggest that you can simply round up three quarters of a million people and deport them all at a cost of over £10,000 each. Even if it didn't bring the economy grinding to a halt, it would cost nearly £10bn and take decades.
  • Labour and the Conservatives are just sticking their heads in the sand and looking to score cheap points by suggesting they can, rather than looking at how to tackle this problem.

The Bottom Line

The Liberal Democrats are suggesting a solution: concentrate on foreign criminals and people traffickers and give those who have been here longest, contributed the most and made their lives here, to come out of the darkness and into the light. It will benefit them and the taxman. We believe this to be a balanced and practical answer to the problem of illegal immigrants in this country

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