Liberal Democrat immigration policy: liberal and democratic?

Immigration isn’t attracting the same kind of attention in this election campaign that it has in the past (or at least it wasn’t until ‘bigot-gate’...)

Immigration isn’t attracting the same kind of attention in this election campaign that it has in the past (or at least it wasn’t until ‘bigot-gate’…).  This is in part because, although you’d never know it from the political rhetoric, there’s a good deal of consensus between the parties.  The current government has made significant progress in reforming the immigration regime, and the Conservatives and Lib Dems don’t disagree with the basic policy ‘building blocks’ that are now in place: free movement within the EU, the Points-Based System (PBS) for work/study migration, and a much improved (if still far from perfect) asylum regime.

Given the current polls, and the fact that immigration is rocketing up the agenda, it seems worth taking a look at the areas where the Liberal Democrats would introduce significant changes.

An earned amnesty for irregular migrants

In principle, this is a sensible and brave policy position.  There are between 500,000 and 750,000 irregular migrants in the UK, and it is simply not credible to suggest that they all be removed.  Unless we are prepared to tolerate the exploitation and costs to society which stem from irregularity, some kind of earned regularisation is the only viable option. 

This said, there are still questions to be answered about how a Lib Dem amnesty would work in practice.  One-off amnesties are more politically-appealing than the provision of ongoing routes to legal status, but they can be hostages to fortune.  On the other hand, the problem of irregular migration in the UK is to some extent a historical one – a legacy of a period when the asylum system wasn’t working – so a one-off amnesty might make sense for the UK.  The Lib Dems suggest that an amnesty would be offered to those who had been in the UK for ten years.  This would leave a significant irregular population, and raises questions of how eligibility would be tested.

This isn’t an easy political sell, but neither is it an impossible one.  Our research suggests that the public’s main concern about immigration is control – facing up to the problem of irregular immigration is actually a key component to demonstrating control over the system.

A change to the Points-Based System (PBS) to reflect different regional economic conditions and capacities to absorb migrants

This responds to a real problem, which is that immigration rules are national, but needs and impacts are local (e.g. Scotland is keen to attract more migrants).  But a regional PBS won’t provide a real solution. 

It would further complicate a system that is already difficult for employers and migrants to navigate.  As Chris Huhne as clarified today, the system could only restrict where people live, not where they work, which means that this would, at best, be an indirect way of controlling local populations.  The existing PBS also already allows regional flexibility.  If there are regional labour shortages, the system automatically allows employers in those regions to recruit more migrant workers because it will be easier for them to demonstrate that they have not been able to recruit locally. 

However, a regional approach to immigration policy does have one thing to recommend it – it’s a way of politically recognising the different local and regional contexts for the debate.  That’s not to be sniffed at.

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13 Responses to “Liberal Democrat immigration policy: liberal and democratic?”

  1. Will Straw

    On Sky now: @leftfootfwd contributer Sarah Mulley. Read her latest piece about the Lib Dem immigration policy

  2. Tom

    “As Chris Huhne as clarified today, the system could only restrict where people live, not where they work”

    It’s the other way around, surely?

  3. Andy Sutherland

    RT @leftfootfwd: On Sky now: @leftfootfwd contributer Sarah Mulley. Read her latest piece about the Lib Dem immigration policy

  4. cim

    “a legacy of a period when the asylum system wasn’t working”

    I’m not sure it’s really possible to say it’s working now. Are the abuses at Yarls Wood really part of a working system? Is the regular deportation of LGBT people back to countries where they’re likely to be killed, sometimes by the government there, part of a working system?

  5. Robert

    The big problem for New Labour is has no principles anymore, to make me vote labour it will do what ever is asked. I can remember labour leaders coming to my old factory to talk about work, voting. So the labour party asked about having a few people to talk to on TV we lined up and have a chat to the leader. They first thing I did was ask a few of the people that worked with me if they take part all mostly said yes, but hell no Labour mandarins asked are you Labour, will you be voting labour, what is the question you will ask, will you ask this question.

    set up.

    From that day on with Blair I began to ask the question who the hell are the labour party working for, it’s not me, it’s not my work mates.

    Today I saw Brown at a factory and again the stage managed questions the stage managed answer to try and correct the mess from yesterday it’s failed mate it looks stage managed it looks false.

    Labour is not a socialist government anymore god know what it is, a Thatcherite government which has made a right mess of the country.

    Vote labour yes I will when the labour party makes it back

  6. Duncan Stott

    This article, while a useful discussion on the tweaks the Lib Dems would make to the immigration system, doesn’t really do what it says on the tin. The question is are the proposals liberal and democratic, but the article looks at whether the proposals are pragmatic.

    As a liberal democrat (and also a Liberal Democrat), I find the party’s position on immigration deeply frustrating. We seem to have given in to the conservative media’s position, a position that has now been adopted as the norm across all mainstream outlets, particularly the BBC. I’d put my own twist on the ‘you can’t talk about immigration’ meme, and suggest that you can’t talk positively about immigration, due to fear of awakening the beast that is The Daily Mail frontpage – the fulcrum of the immigration ‘debate’.

    Thankfully I take greater comfort from Lib Dem asylum policy. Allowing applicants to work while their claim is processed will free them from state dependence. Making the system wholly independent from the Home Office will help depoliticise the decisions made. Accepting asylum claims from people fleeing persecution over their sexuality is an absolute must for any liberal, and should be utterly embarrassing for any progressive Labour supporter.

  7. Duncan Stott

    Oh and how could I forget our commitment to end child detention, and only detain any individual when there is a genuine risk they will abscond. A huge improvement from the current situation, where the majority of detained, innocent children are being given mental health problems, in one case to the point of attempting suicide.

  8. Robert

    Two dead soldierws yesterday not a mention in the press or on TV if that shows the digrace which we claim to day is politics.

    new labour Liberal tory I’d not vote for the lot of you.

  9. earwicga

    RT @leftfootfwd: Liberal Democrat immigration policy: liberal and democratic?

  10. Party leaders to face civil society in "fourth debate" | Left Foot Forward

    […] pledges on the living wage in the public sector while the Liberal Democrats are committed to an amnesty for immigrants. The Conservative party last month announced the creation of 5,000 new community organisers. […]

  11. Nick

    When are any of the parties going to realise that immagration into this country is making it impossible for us to recover.Its a well known fact they come they claim take what they can and leave,taking our money that i as an ex serving BRITISH soldier payed into the system,and believe that the money was going to be there as a pension.OH NO said the goverment,what we will do is sign up to the EU policy and come into line and be controlled by another country and bow down and do as we are told like a nayghty child,We as a country tryed to play by the rules which stated that if you are claiming assylum,the first country you arrive at WHICH SIGNED UP TO THR AGGREMENT that they would take you in….RUBBISH what they all say is GO TO THE UK,THEY HAVE FALLEN SOFT AND GIVE YOU EVERYTHING,reason being, they have turned there backs on the people who have payed in and supported the country through HELL, and what thanks do we get from these people who run or want to run our country,Thats right….NONE.Once we have control of our country once again,then we may be able to make it great like it once was before we became part of this farse we call the EU,freedom to move around the EU,RUBBISH.All 1 way traffic and thats to come here,freedom for people to rape our country but when we want to go anywere its PASSPORTS at the ready or you stay at home.If we are in the EU how come it cost my wife around £600 pounds to visit another country in case she needs medical attention,but how many people seem to have medical problems on arrival at this country from not so privillage countries and get top notch care all FREE and demand money from the goverment for the up keep of this illegal alien in our country,And to top it off nobody seems to know were sex offenders are or not bothered to find out were they are as resources are stretched.alot of these people dont even belong in this country and shouldnt be here causing these problems.SO in a nut shell if 1 of these parties can offer me an explanation or reason why nobody is addressing these problems please do for my vote that will take great consideration on what lies are spun as nothing solid has come out of anybodys speaches apart from THE BIGGOT ISSUE,well if thats what our so called leader thinks about people and hasnt got the gumstion to say it face to face but behind a microphone,that tells me the kind of people we are dealing with,NOT A VERY NICE 1,If you have red my say on what is going on,just take a min to think on WHO do you want to look after you when you get old,because at the moment from the looks of it nobody cares.

  12. EmmieD

    Please read the ‘Migration Watch’ site, digest what you read and take a realistic look at what can be changed and what is and is not sustainable. Please. Please again.

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