Fortress UK, migration and Brexit: a briefing

Mike Haynes puts forward a briefing on some of the facts showing the difficult situation migrants already face trying to obtain legal permission to live in the UK

A typical file, 4 inches thick, for an application for permanent leave to remain in the UK
A typical file, 4 inches thick, for an application for permanent leave to remain in the UK

Socialists argue for the free movement of people – it should be a human right for people to go anywhere; attempts to control movement are racist and divisive; and, contrary to claims, free movement is a good thing economically. But today Britain is one of toughest places in the world to get into. The aim of Brexit is to extend the UK migration fortress to all or some members of EU.

Entry to the UK is controlled by draconian, bureaucratic and at times arbitrarily enforced laws and regulations, supported by strong border policing. Between 1905-1998 70 immigration offences were created. Between 1999-2106 a further 89 were added.

It is physically hard to get into the UK because it is an island and the asylum system requires you to claim asylum in the first place of safety you come to, which will often not be the UK. When it is, the problem then becomes that the UK asylum system is harsher than that in many other countries.

Normal access is hard too. A UK passport gives visa free access to some 175 of the world’s 200 counties. But the UK requires visas from people in countries with over 75% of the world’s population and work visa/permits from an even larger share. These documents are costly, it is often necessary to have supporting documentation. In some places the refusal rate is high. In 2015 17,000 who got to UK ports and airports were immediately turned back. In 2015 a further 32,000 were detained (81% for up to 2 months, 1% for a year or more) in UK immigration detention centres – some of the biggest in Europe.

Visitor visas enable people to come for short periods. Work visas have 5 ‘tiers’ Tier 4 is study. Tiers 1,2, 5 are for the rich, skilled and sponsored. Tier 3 – for unskilled labour is closed. No one has ever been issued with a tier 3 visa. The UK effectively bans unskilled labour migration from outside of the EU. Visa costs and conditions have also been deliberately increased in recent years. For non EU and European Economic area (EEA) migrant families, the cost (£1,000-3,000) and difficulty of getting visas for family members overseas is  huge. In 2015 only 38,000 family visas were issued – 25% less than in 2011 and 9,000 dependent visas – 40% less than 2011.

In 2015  6,000 people were deported, In 2015 a further 40,000 were removed either by force, or ‘assisted’ or left voluntarily after being served notice of an impending removal. Removal arises because people have (a) entered illegally (b) overstayed visas (c) not met conditions of work permits etc.

It is possible to get ‘ leave to remain’, ‘permanent residence’ and citizenship after a period. But this costs some £2000 per person; is based on various tests and availability of documents etc;  is bureaucratic. The permanent residence form for EEA citizens is 85 pages long. In 2015 9% of UK citizenship applications were still rejected because long term migrants ‘failed’ to meet the requirements.

Membership of the EU and Current EU Migrant Rights

Migrants from all of the EU (and EEA) are able – with some qualifications  – to move freely and have the same rights as citizens of the countries they are in. This has meant that few have taken citizenship. In the UK in 2015 only 10 % of citizenship applications were from EU citizens. All of this is threatened. The default position on leaving the EU is the same level of restrictions on movement to the UK that exist for most of the world’s population. This also poses major problems for existing EU citizens currently in the UK and UK citizens in the EU. It also creates a huge problem for the UK-Irish links and especially the links between the south and north of Ireland.

How are the Brexiteers proposing to reduce migration?

Brexit was sold as a way of reducing migration. It was also said that it would lead to a fairer system of controls. Why should an Indian grandmother or cousin find it harder to come to the UK than a Polish one? Some people believed this. But such a system was not and is not on offer. Instead the aim is to remove most rights of free entry for those who currently have them.

The right wing group Migration Watch says that it wants short term visitor  and upper tier migration to continue from the EU, but they want to stop it for unskilled workers. This could be done in two ways

1. insist that the same exclusion rule apply to all ‘Europeans’ – its preferred option.

2. insist that it applies to some of them e.g. ‘the Eastern Europeans’

Solution 1 is simple but the EU would likely either reject it or insist on the same controls for  UK citizens going to ‘Europe’.

Solution 2 would be explosive because it would require the EU to accept second class status for some EU citizens.

Neither solution would solve the Ireland problem. Both would increase the level of ‘illegal’ overstaying. Both solutions also pose problems for EU citizens in the UK already and UK citizens in Europe. Giving such people guarantees is harder than it seems. Who are they? What documentation will be required? What rights – legal, social, economic will be retained? What will it cost to get the rights offered?

Socialists need to defend migrants in real ways

Declarations that we are in favour of free movement are important. But this briefing shows how far we are away from that and how messy the situation is. This may change but at the moment just defending the position of people who are here will be a huge task. Deportations are an everyday reality. We need amnesties for all illegal migrants.   We need practical demands like simple registration procedures for people already here and much more.

Data Sources

Migration data in the UK is issued formally by the Office for National Statistics. This data is best approached through the summaries and analysis made by the UK Migration Observatory.   This  is NOT to be confused with Migration Watch – the high profile but obscurely funded,  anti-migration think tank.



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