Andrew Sparrow, Telegraph, Mar. 31
David Blunkett may have revealed more than he intended when he said this week that “no government” has ever provided a “full running commentary” on its immigration procedures.
The Home Secretary made his statement in a six-page document issued to MPs that was intended to show that past Tory governments have been just as willing as Labour to bend the rules to clear backlogs in immigration applications.
But a glance at the statistics over the past 20 years suggests that Mr Blunkett’s administration is the one most reluctant to provide the running commentary. Immigration policy has been radically transformed since Labour came to power, in a way that ministers have not always been keen to publicise.
While speaking out in favour of managed migration, Mr Blunkett has also pursued some restrictive asylum policies, with the result that voters might be unsure as to what the true picture has been on immigration over the last seven years.
In fact, the picture is clear. Rightly or wrongly, the numbers of people coming to live and work in Britain has increased substantially under Labour.
The asylum figures attract the most attention, but applying for asylum is only one of several forms of immigration. Foreigners are more likely to gain admission because they want to work, because they want to study or to reunite a family.
According to 2002 immigration statistics, the numbers granted settlement — that is, allowed to remain here indefinitely — remained steady between 1982 and 1997, mostly fluctuating between 50,000 and 60,000 a year.
Since then the numbers have gone up sharply, with 115,895 people granted settlement in 2002, an eight per cent increase on the previous year.
There has also been a significant increase in the number of foreigners allowed entry on a work permit. In 1998, 68,385 work permit holders and their dependents were admitted. By 2002, the equivalent number had risen to 120,115.
In the statement issued to MPs on Monday, under the heading “Summary of Long-standing Practice in Managing After-Entry Immigration Backlog”, Mr Blunkett tried to draw a parallel between Tory policies and the short cuts which we now know the Home Office has been operating recently.
He pointed out that guidance was issued in 1992 giving immigration staff the right, in certain circumstances, to accept that a marriage was genuine without seeking the required proof.
In 1996 a backlog exercise was launched in relation to student and marriage applications, allowing the normal checks to be suspended in particular circumstances provided there were no substantial causes for doubt.
In 1997, shortly before the Tories lost power, guidance was issued to staff encouraging them to take decisions in marriage cases on their own, without consulting superiors.
“No government has judged it desirable to publicise every change in immigration casework for the good reason that providing a full running commentary would only benefit potential immigration offenders who are trying to play the system,” Mr Blunkett said.
Since Labour’s election, official policy has changed. The Government strongly believes that migrant labour will benefit the economy and it has announced policies like the highly skilled migrants programme, which allows foreigners with specialist skills to come to Britain without the promise of a specific job.
More controversially, it is now clear Labour has also instituted covert policy changes that have affected the picture.
In April 2002, the Immigration and Nationality Directorate launched ACE, the Accelerated Clearance Exercise. Under this policy, staff were instructed to decide routine applications which had been on the file for more than six months without making further inquiries.
Later that year, in October, with a large backlog still remaining, the IND followed it up with BRACE, the Backlog Reduction Accelerated Clearance Exercise. This involved all in-country applications, with only a handful of exceptions, being decided without further checks.
Asylum Could Become No 1 Grievance For Voters At Next Election
Tom Baldwin The Times (London), Mar. 31
Alarm bells are ringing in Downing Street over immigration and asylum amid private polling evidence that these issues are among those of greatest concern for voters.
Recent arguments over the way in which Home Office ministers allegedly eased immigration controls have dovetailed with the steady rise of asylum up the political agenda. Headlines are full of phrases such as “open door”, “floodgates”, “shortcuts” and “cheats”.
The Conservatives scent an opportunity. Yesterday they dropped plans to hold an opposition debate on the NHS and instead tabled a motion on immigration. David Davis, the Shadow Home Secretary, claimed that there was chaos, confusion and mismanagement in the Home Office on the issue. “This is a debate about the effective collapse of immigration controls in this country,” he said.
Tony Blair is understood to have acknowledged privately that, while immigration and asylum may not be the “No 1 issue” at the next election, it could be the “No 1 grievance”.
Philip Gould, the Prime Minister’s personal pollster, has repeatedly given warning over recent months that the issue is damaging the Government. There are also fears that immigration is obscuring key messages on public services, which many voters apparently believe are being wrecked by asylum-seekers and immigrants.
Within Downing Street, the defeat of Lionel Jospin’s French Socialist Government three years ago is cited as a lesson for left-of-centre parties to be seen as be tough on crime, security and immigration.
Britain is going through a period of mass immigration on a scale that has not been seen for 30 years.
According to the Home Office, there was “net immigration” -a figure that takes account of people who left the country -of 830,000 people between 1997 and 2002.
This statistic does not include the numbers of people who have entered Britain illegally, nor those who arrived on student and tourist visas but have since stayed behind to work in the black economy.
The Government’s strategy is to emphasise that a migrant labour force is vital to sustain economic growth, but also to recognise the pressures caused within communities and to take action to prevent abuses.
At the same time, the Home Office is asking new citizens to pledge allegiance to Britain and to study English.
David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, told the Commons that there has been “a clear attempt to combine the word ‘asylum’ with the word ‘immigration’ in recent weeks.”
People playing games with these issues for reasons of political opportunism could be “playing into the hands of the BNP”, he said.
Last year the British National Party won a council seat in Broxbourne, Hertfordshire, with many of its supporters complaining about a local hotel full of would-be refugees. Yet, according to the local authority, there is not a single asylum-seeker in Broxbourne.