Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Immigrants, the Easy Target.

In the midst of the phone-hacking scandal and the Eurozone debt crisis, the disgraceful changes made to the law regarding migrant domestic workers which have the potential to enable a rise in human trafficking and effective slavery. Damian Green has moved to repeal some of the safeguards which are supposed to protect domestic migrant workers from exploitation of this depraved kind. The reforms will have little impact on net migration, though it does have the potential to make render workers "illegal" and may even increase the threat of violence to domestic workers from overseas. It is possible for migrant domestic workers to work, move on to new jobs, support themselves, remain visible in the United Kingdom and pay into the pot through taxes. So where is the outrage when the rights of such people are undermined? There isn't a word about this in the press, certainly not in the right-wing press where the usual line is spewed regularly.

Damian Green is looking to abolish the route for overseas domestic workers in private households, perhaps imposing a restriction of leave to 6 months as a 'visitor' only and 12 months where accompanying a Tier 1 or Tier 2 migrant. Of course there will be no possibility of extension, no right to change employer, no ability to sponsor or find work for dependents and no right to settlement under such proposals. Note that these protections are vital for migrant workers, as well as insufficient as the right to change employer has yet to be extended to servants employed by foreign diplomats (which is where a great deal of abuse is committed with immunity). If the government can't do away with the route then it will seek to strengthen the pre-entry requirements in order to "minimise the possibility of abusive or exploitative employer/employee relationships". The government wants to stop granting settlement to servants in diplomatic households, keep in mind that the servants abused in such households are particularly difficult to protect as it is.

There has been talk of a 6-12 month non-renewable visa, though the proposal was ultimately rejected because of the implications for the safety of domestic workers. The proposed visa would have enabled forced labour as it would have transferred greater power to employers, including the most unscrupulous, over isolated and dependent workers. The power to denounce the worker to the immigration authorities deprives such workers of bargaining power. Of course, if the workers flee there is always homelessness and no doubt the status of 'illegal' to fall into. Should it be that a person who wants better conditions at work is criminalised in this way? It is hardly the case that people who escape trafficking or exploitation will be able to go through the courts for justice or even just compensation. There are already huge problems with the protections in place for the victims of trafficking, the emphasis is on immigration status and criminal justice in many cases.

No doubt the hairs on the back of your white neck will have stood up as you've read about these proposals, perhaps you're thinking that we can't just let everyone in our country will be swamped! The UK Border Agency will come out with statistics to tell you that the grants of settlement to migrant domestic workers have risen by 34% from 2009 to 2010, the fact that is just 795 people in 2009 is conveniently left out. Instead the number 15,000 visas issued to domestic workers in 2010 is wheeled out, even though 94% of domestic workers will return home again with their employer and do not stay to renew their visa. The effect on net migration of domestic workers is actually miniscule as in 2009 domestic workers accounted for about 0.5% of the total grants of settlement. There is no chance that these proposals will guarantee work for British and EU workers. The reliance on flawed protections is only costly to the tax-payer and potentially harmful to the people who have to survive under them.

You will have heard that we have had "uncontrolled mass immigration" into Britain for at least a decade, some claim that we have had an uninterrupted influx of foreigners into this country since 1948. Actually the tradition of the British Empire was to allow all people loyal to the British monarchy into the country and it was only when Clement Attlee introduced the Nationality act that this practice became formal. There were constant attempts to restrict immigration throughout the 1950s, all of which were opposed by Enoch Powell who went on to give the infamous 'Rivers of Blood' speech in 1968. Before that there was the Commonwealth Immigrants act of 1962, which restricted immigration to people who had been allocated work vouchers. The Conservatives beat Labour in 1970 and Ted Heath took over from Harold Wilson as Prime Minister. In 1971 Ted Heath passed the Immigration act that brought immigration almost to a complete halt for a number of years. 

There no mention of the facts, that we have controlled spurts of immigration and have done for a very long time. It is often complained that there should not be anyone in this country who doesn't speak English, even David Cameron made this point in a speech on immigration as he slashed spending on English lessons. There is also little room in the debate to even acknowledge the deaths of people like Jimmy Mubenga, who was "restrained" to death on an airplane as he was being deported back to Angola. There is a general ignorance of the way asylum seekers are detained and can be deported, the dominant misconception is that the foreigners are pampered. There is little coverage of G4S, which rakes in over £600 million from the government for running four prisons, three immigration removal centres as well as 675 court and police cells, but the good people who work for G4S still find time to "restrain" people to death.

It is not often admitted that there were and has been a constant wave of anti-immigrant fervour against any attempts to open up the country to immigration for decades. The result is a spurt of immigration there and a backlash here which closes up the system once more, until it has to be opened up again in order to solve problems with the supply of labour and the impending pensions crisis. In general the tone of debate over immigration in Britain is always at the brink of the hysterical outbursts about the contradictions of multicultural tolerance and the "madness" of political correctness. We find ourselves split between the racists who aren't happy with any immigration at all and the liberal do-gooders who have doomed our country. The important facts are lost whilst the media wheels out numbers to rile up the fears of people who have been disenfranchised and have legitimate grievances. Clearly something has to give in order for us to even discuss these issues, let alone do anything about them.

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