The UK Deputy Prime Nick Clegg announced on Friday that he was abandoning the Liberal Democrats’ support for an amnesty for illegal immigrants, one of the policies he put forward before the 2010 election.
His party, which quietly dropped the amnesty manifesto pledge (along with ‘no university fees’ promise) after being invited to help form the Conservative led coalition Government.
Clegg had promised an earned route to citizenship for any illegal immigrant who had been in the UK for 10 years and floated the idea of a ludicrous ‘regional’ immigration policy.
But in a speech on immigration, published by the Guardian, separate from the immigration speech of David Cameron due on Monday, Clegg now concedes that the policy “was seen by many as a reward for breaking the law”.
Cameron is expected to focus on how to remove benefits and entitlement to social housing from some EU migrants, namely Romanians and Bulgarians.
Cameron wants to change the law to ensure that only families who have lived here for years get top priority, and will unveil a package of measures to stop Britain becoming a “soft touch” for immigrants. Changes to the law will include tighter rules on access to health care, benefits, legal aid and other taxpayer-funded services.
Under new rules, councils may be forced to introduce a residency test when allocating homes. Only those who have lived in the community for two to five years will be admitted onto the waiting list.
Clegg also proposed a security bond, or payment for UK visa, for migrants from high risk countries, which would only be repaid upon leaving the UK.
The bond scheme, originally proposed by the last Labour Government before being dropped, was slammed by Keith Vaz, the former Labour Immigration Minister who was sacked after his involvement fast tracking British passports for Indian businessmen.
Vaz said a refundable immigration bond scheme for high-risk countries was “unworkable, impractical” and “discriminatory”. He added: “I know that Easter is the time for resurrection, but I think that this idea is likely to end in tears, with crucifixion. Because we’ve tried this before. In fact, I was the entry clearance minister who had the task of selling the bond scheme to the Indians when I was visiting India in 1999 and the reaction was outrage. The problem with the scheme is that it’s unworkable, impractical and also it’s discriminatory.”
Clegg also revealed he wants the maximum fines for employers hiring illegal immigrant workers double, a complete u-turn on his former sentiment of legalising overstayers so they could contribute to society and pay taxes. He said: “Employers need to get the message: they have an inescapable duty to employ people who are working here legally … Not to turn a blind eye to those working illegally.”
An ippr report a few years ago on concluded that it would cost £5 billion and take 20 years to remove half a million illegal immigrants and visa overstayers from the UK.
The debate on immigration is hotting up with all major parties, as well as UKIP, now supporting tougher immigration controls.
Deporting illegal immigrants who arrive in Britain without a visa or valid passport may be costing up to £100million a year, the Daily Mail claimed this week. The paper claims that 4,000 foreign nationals enter the UK every 12 months despite having no right to be here.
Another Liberal member of the Government, Vince Cable, has opposing views on Immigration. Last week the Business Secretary warned that restricting immigration too much would have damaging consequences for the economy.
Cable said Britain needed to “bang the drum” in China and India to encourage international students to study here.
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