Tuesday, May 18, 2010

We Need To Talk About Immigration

On a Monday I teach English to a group of female asylum seekers. I know it's a cliche to say that voluntary helping-people work is terribly rewarding but, sorry, it is, they're an amazing group of women and I learn a great deal from them every week while all they learn is the difference between "would" and "could".

One thing I'm always in need of is reading books for them. It's a tricky balance because I need books in simple English but I don't want to give children's books to middle-aged women. If you have such books you'd like to donate please get in touch. But that's not the point of what I want to say...

I went book-hunting in a local second hand shop the other day and explained my situation to the guy behind the till. He replied rather sneeringly "asylum seekers? so mostly from Eastern Europe then?". No. Not at all from Eastern Europe. How can people who no doubt have strong views about immigration also have so little grasp on how it actually works and who these people are?

I also noticed throughout the election whenever the subject of immigration came up it was treated as a de facto problem, with no mention made of the contribution to our economy and society made by immigrants of all kinds. At the hustings in Hammersmith a guy wanted to ask a question about why so few of the new jobs created by the Olympics had gone to British workers - which is a stupid question because is anyone actually proposing that we start discriminating against foreign workers on specific prestigious projects? How would such a law even work? It would almost certainly be illegal to have such a law.

So here's a quick guide to immigration in the UK.

1) Immigration from the EU. People from EU countries are allowed to move to to other EU countries without a visa. If you're British you can go live in Spain, Italy, Poland, Germany, wherever you like in the EU and work there. People from all round the EU can come here and work. Typically what happens is that young educated, skilled workers show up from Poland and do plumbing and building jobs at a fraction of the cost and twenty times the politeness and professionalism of British tea-drinkers (sorry - workers).

2) Immigration to do specific jobs. So there are some government rules (constantly changing) about letting people come to the UK to do either jobs that we seem to be having trouble filling (nurses, etc) or for well-qualified people who are expected to help grow British business or start new businesses in the UK.

3) Immigration for family reasons. So if you're British and you marry someone who isn't they get a visa. This has it's problems since visas are granted on a "no recourse to public funds" basis because of public paranoia over immigrants eating all our biscuits. This means if (to give the most common example) a woman arrives from a third world country to marry a British citizen (who she may hardly know) and he is violent towards her she can't get a place in a domestic violence refuge.

4) Asylum seekers. These are people who have come to the UK to escape persecution in their home country. They are not allowed to work while their application is considered (which often takes many years) but are not allowed either to claim "regular benefits". Single asylum seekers live on an asylum seekers allowance of £37.77 per week (and that's expected to cover accommodation and food) while couples and families get less than £30 each a week. As you would expect they mostly come from places with fraught political situations - Eritrea, Afghanistan, Congo, Iran, Zimbabwe, Burundi. Many live in homeless shelters, including some I know with serious health problems. Risk of Female Genital Mutilation is not grounds for granting asylum so your tax-payers money is spent by the British government rounding up young girls, sending them to prison, then deporting them to have their clitorises violently removed with unsterilised equipment. About 40% of asylum applications are ultimately granted and there are many documented cases of rejected asylum seekers who have been forcibly returned to their countries of origin and are then thrown in prison or even executed.

5) Illegal immigrants. We don't know how many of these there are because (clue's in the name) they don't exactly announce their arrival... Many are "overstayers" who have stayed after their visa has run out or holiday ended. Others have been smuggled into the country or trafficked. They are unable to claim any benefits at all or register with a doctor, etc and are trapped in the black market economy where they are often paid next to nothing or actually nothing. An example would be the Morcambe Bay cockle-pickers who earned next to nothing and worked in dangerous conditions without and support from health and safety legislation. Currently after 14 years in the UK these people can apply for a visa which of course as soon as it's granted means they no longer want to work for sub-minimum wage illegal organisations. If we cut this time limit (dramatically) we could probably close down big sections of the black market.

It's also worth noting that in spite of the draconian rules on work visas, in fact immigrants to the UK contribute considerably more in tax than they use in public services, etc. British people moving out of the UK are predominantly older people looking to retire in the sun so we end up not paying for their health care and other services as they get older.

Just saying, if you're going to pick up a copy of the Daily Mail any time soon, it's worth knowing what immigration really means and is.


Forthvalley scribe said...

An excellent post, thank you. I've posted it to facebook (but it will be pretty much preaching to the converted)
here's a story I picked up on a protest at Dungavel: one of our people said he knew a newsagent who ranted on for years about immigrants and was all for sending them home. Then someone came for his assistant, and he was immediately up in arms, saying 'but she's a nice hard-working woman and never did any harm to anyone! Why pick on her?'
People just don't think--

Gappy said...

Really excellent post Kate. I posted something similar during 'bigotgate'.
I just don't know how the tabloid newspapers can get away with telling such blatant lies about immigration and asylum seekers. It makes me so angry because the hatred it stirs up has such hugely negative effects on real peoples lives.

Marina Sokolova said...

Also very few people know that Home Office collects hundreds of millions in fees for those visas with no recourse to public funds thingy. The amount collected each year can usually be found on Home Office website. This money making also created lots of clerk jobs in Home office, citizenship exams, passport interviews, etc. Whenever anyone tells me anything unpleasant about immigrants, i tell them how many thousands of pounds i have paid to Home Office for simply breathing british air. For this money Home Office provides very little to non service. For example i have met several people who after 1-2 years here were very surprised to hear from me that the reason they cant buy contraception in UK is because it is free and they simply need to ask a GP if they got one.

Unknown said...

"but I don't want to give children's books to middle-aged women."

If you are having trouble finding suitable books then this may help you.

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemmingway uses relatively simple language (apart from the seafaring terminology) there's an e-book here: http://sites.google.com/site/myone1lu/The_Old_Man_and_the_Sea_By_Hemingway.pdf?attredirects=0 if you would like to review it before buying it. With it being a classic you can get it for as little as £3.99: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Old-Man-Sea-Ernest-Hemingway/dp/0099908409/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1274540280&sr=1-2

The Catcher in the Rye also uses simple language, if somewhat colloquial, and can be purhcased for as little as £1.25: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Catcher-Rye-J-D-Salinger/dp/0316769487/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1274540387&sr=1-4.

If both of these are a little too hard then there's a multi-award winning book by Jerri Spinelli called Maniac Magee. Although the book is primarily aimed at children its theme of overcoming homelessness and racism resonates with all age groups.