Illegal migrants' right to work wins support of public in poll
By Colin Brown
Published: 25 April 2007
A campaign for an estimated 500,000 illegal workers in Britain to be given the official right to earn a living would have popular support, according to findings in an opinion poll.
The plight of illegal immigrants who are denied any right to work has been called "modern-day slavery". It is said to be flourishing in Britain while we avert our eyes to the scandal under our noses.
Liam Byrne, the Immigration minister, said mass migration had enriched Britain but left UK society so "unsettled" that the issue could cost Labour the next general election. But an opinion poll commissioned by Strangers into Citizens - a campaign to give employment rights to illegal immigrants -shows that 66 per cent of people in the would accept refused asylum-seekers and those who had overstayed their visas if they worked and paid taxes. The poll was conducted last weekend by ORB with a sample of 1,004 adults across the
"This poll makes clear that just talking tough will not be enough to fob off the UK public on immigration, " said Habib Rahman, chief executive of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants. "They want the political parties to get real and respond in a way that is workable and fair to migrants who are living as members of our society."
"Strangers into Citizens" is calling for the Government to allow a pathway for long-term illegal workers in this country to earn a living legally. They will hold a rally at Trafalgar Square on Monday 7 May to call for all immigrants who have been in this country for four years to be allowed a work permit for two years. It would become a route to "leave to remain" indefinitely while they work and pay taxes.
The campaign challenges the Home Office policy of stepping up the removal of illegal immigrants, who have either overstayed their visas or been refused asylum.
Mr Byrne is introducing a points-based managed migration system, with tighter border controls and a crackdown on employers who recruit illegal immigrants. Austin Ivereigh, the co-ordinator of the campaign, said: "We are not calling for a general 'amnesty' but a six-year pathway to citizenship for long-term migrants. It is certainly not issuing a 'green light for unprecedented migration'." He said one-off naturalisation programmes had been introduced in Spain, Germany and the US as part of a wider strategy of border enforcement. "It may not stop illegal immigration - that is a matter for border controls - but they do bring thousands out of limbo, recognise realities, clear asylum logjams, bring huge benefits to the state and shrink the underground economy on which people-trafficking and exploitative employers thrive," said Mr Ivereigh.
Ken Livingstone, the Mayor of London, said: "Migrants contribute hugely to the economic, civic and cultural life of London. To have a substantial number of them living here without regular status - because of deep-rooted failings in the immigration system - is deeply damaging to London as well as to them."
The Labour deputy leadership candidate Jon Cruddas said: "We must deal with those who no one wants to talk about - the 500,000 or so who have no status. Regularisation is about providing a solution to the problem everyone knows exist but which everyone runs from."
Jack Dromey, the deputy general secretary of the Transport and General Workers' Union, said the economic and moral case for an "earned amnesty" for migrants was overwhelming. "
'Denis', 32, doctor: 'I would have gone home a long time ago if it was safe'
He is secretive and deeply troubled by the threat of being returned to his native Zimbabwe
Denis - not his real name - will not show his face and insists on anonymity. But the 32-year-old is a qualified doctor. "It is very difficult and it is humiliating, " he said. "I am a professional person, but I am living on handouts from my friends."
He speaks good English and was trained as a doctor before he fled Zimbabwe in 2002 after threats to his life. Since settling in this country he has got a girlfriend, also a Zimbabwean illegal immigrant, and they have a daughter, aged 18 months.
"I am crashing down at a flat," he said. "I am not supposed to be here. We are staying with a friend who has a council flat, but she is not supposed to have us here. She is afraid she will be evicted if they find us." Denis is adamant he will not work illegally. "I want to be a professional doctor. I am afraid of taking any other work that will undermine my career. I am so scared for my life. I would have gone home a long time ago if I felt it was safe. I came to Britain because I just wanted somewhere safe and better to work. I cannot go anywhere else because my documents are with the Home Office."
'Lucas', shop assistant: 'I always try to stay away from trouble'
A young Venezuelan with a big smile and a gentle manner, "Lucas" has been living in the UK for 10 years, first studying English and working part time, and then working full time.
He has done a variety of jobs - as a cleaner, working in a hotel and teaching Spanish on a freelance basis. For the past two years he has worked in a shop, and is well-liked by his colleagues and customers. His employers are not aware of his immigration status. He has a national insurance number and has paid taxes and national insurance contributions in all of his jobs.
He has survived as an undocumented worker by working hard and keeping a low profile. "I am very careful, and always try to stay away from trouble," he says. He avoids the authorities as much as possible - he would be very wary of reporting a crime to the police, and does not have a GP. If he were to fall ill he would go to A&E, where he could be treated anonymously.
He arrived in London in 1998. "I came to the UK on a tourist visa and then enrolled as an English student for two-and-a-half years," he says. When he tried to renew his visa a third time, however, he was told that he had been in the country for too long.