Tuesday, May 23, 2006


Illegal immigrants: why the total must be in the millions

The Government now can't seem to make up its mind whether or not it has an estimate for the total number of illegal immigrants living in Britain. Tony Blair hid behind an old quote of Michael Howard's during Prime Minister's Questions: that by rights they should not have a clue. Yet during the run-up to the last election it was leaked that the Government did indeed have an estimate, and one that it had itself commissioned. This was from Professor Salt (of the Migration Research Unit at University College London); that there were half a million. John Reid referred to it in interview on Wednesday - though shrinking it by a hundred thousand, rather than pointing out the many respects in which it is a heavy under-count.

Salt's total does not include all those not working - likely to be the majority of illegal migrants - nor does it include dependents. That will be a very large number, in line with immigration service practice of counting whole groups of people who are even vaguely related as one case. Including, instead of bizarrely excluding these two pools of migrants straight away takes the total to over a million, but that is just the start. As Migrationwatch pointed out shortly after the leak, the estimate is based on figures then already five years out-of-date and thereby missing not only the peak in bogus asylum applications but also much of the cumulative effect of the combined methods of illegal entry.

What really torpedoes the credibility of the measure though, is how the Professor came up with his estimate. It was by an international comparison. The problem is that such a comparison is not valid for Britain. Salt looked at various countries around the world where there had been amnesties given to illegal entrants. He compared the numbers who came out of the woodwork with the numbers who had arrived through legal application, and came up with a ratio of 20%. He then applied this to Britain. He reckons that, of the supposed three million here legally, there are an additional one-fifth of that number living illegally. That would be 600,000 - which he rounded down to a slightly less scary half a million.

Such a calculation - or rather one that arrived at the million plus more proper total - would be reasonable if Britain was a destination similar to other nations, but the UK, quite apart from its uniqueness (the USA apart) in being a fully developed wealthy post-industrial country with an uncapped mass immigration policy, is special for several reasons. It is unusual in having the international language of English as the native tongue. This makes life much more feasible for a migrant. We have US style free labour laws combined with EU style generous welfare benefits; and we also have a growing economy. There are the famously non-existent checks on anyone entering the country and the relentless determination of the Home Office not to pursue anyone, regardless of how flagrantly they contravene immigration law. Most of all, not least because of our Commonwealth history, we have a large number of migrant enclaves of various nationalities, and various sub-groups of nationalities according to religion, and region or even city of origin, and so on. This acts as a crucial magnet that accelerates in so-called 'chain migration'. After millions make a beeline for the UK, there develops a dynamic aspect to considerably boost the flow: enclaves suck in people at an ever faster rate.

We have everything a would-be migrant needs: a destination that is easy to enter clandestinely or fraudulently and easy to remain in even as an indefinite overstayer on a legitimate visa; but which also provides a home-from-home community of fellow nationals within a wider community that speaks the international language. So many of his fellow nationals are already here that some of them may be from the would-be migrant's own village/town or even his own relatives. We have chain migration on several levels right down to the extended family. The larger the community and the better the support, the easier it is to facilitate illegal entry and to remain undetected. Perfect.

A further effect then comes into play. Because the system is so over-loaded with applicants, and because of the official 'no ceiling' policy and tradition of an open arms welcome, there is a hopeless mismatch between admitting people and refusing or ejecting them. There seems no point in policing a system that is so open to abuse and to being circumvented. The immigration service gives up, and word gets out that Britain is an even easier place to get in to and stay in than anyone had dared to imagine. As legal migration accelerates, so does all of the kinds of illegal migration. Making everything easier doesn't just mean that would-be illegals get in legitimately, but that more of those who previously had no hope at all - and still haven't by any legal route - try their luck by blatant fraud, bending the rules or smuggling themselves in; either way knowing that at the very worst they won't be treated harshly and have a very good chance of simply being left alone.

Add all of the factors together that make Britain special and an international comparison is entirely inappropriate when applied to Britain. The total, remember, was already over a million. With the necessary adjustments to compensate for our special status: who knows how many millions the true total of illegal immigrants runs to. No one dares even to suggest that they might venture a guess.

The guesstimate the Government uses is a very indirect, what might be called a top-down approach. Can we work out in another way the number of illegal migrants? Well, instead we could look from the bottom up, as it were: by taking samples of the four general non-legal routes of entry and extrapolating them and adding these together. The four routes are: clandestine entry through a port, overstaying a visa, illegal switching from one immigration category to another, and fraudulent application.

Unfortunately, only one of these - clandestine entry - is relatively easy to sample and so to measure. In producing a report, Welcome to the Asylum, for the Centre for Policy Studies, Harriet Sergeant had spent several weeks with immigration service staff at Dover. She saw how many illegals were apprehended as they were being smuggled in lorries, and worked out according to the small fraction of traffic searched what the rate would be each month. Extrapolating to the whole year she came to the startling figure of 300,000. That is for just the one port, and in respect of the method of entry least favoured by migrants: only those who would be regarded with special suspicion need hide in lorries.

The upshot is that an estimate from the bottom-up, as it were, will also show that the Government's guesstimate is a joke.

Why we are in this comprehensively ridiculous situation is at root down to a complete absence of political will; or rather, a bizarre will of political correctness fascism. This is the backlash to end all backlashes, by the establishment now of the political Left that seeks revenge on the ordinary person -- specifically the ordinary man -- for not 'rising up', as it were, as he was expected and urged to do. The quintessential non-ordinary man is someone who does not even come from the country or from anywhere within the capitalist West, but is a new arrival, innocent of all charges, you could say.

We really do live in strange and unprecedented times.

Steve Moxon

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