I used to work in criminal defence, defending young Albanians accused of involvement in cannabis factories. It allowed me to see what goes on behind the scenes with regards to those seeking asylum. Home Office ministers in the past have argued that it’s not fit for purpose, but it is the politicians – such as the Home Secretary Suella Braverman, who has talked about housing asylum seekers on cruise ships, and the Labour opposition benches – that create the laws that cause chaos and expense, and who are not talking about why the system doesn’t work.
In Germany those seeking asylum are allowed a tourist visa for three months and if they find a job in that time, they are allowed to work for six months. At the end of this time they have to return home. They nearly always return home after those six months, because if they don’t their reputation would be damaged through the whole Schengen region of 27 countries (including the non-EU Norway, Switzerland, Iceland and Lichtenstein) – so that’s a big price to pay for non-compliance. The UK is just one country, so economic migrants are much more likely to take a chance.
In Britain, we refuse migrants any visa but offer them the opportunity to claim asylum. We give them a hotel room that one report suggests start at £50 a night, but refuse to allow them to work. The average wait time for a decision on their initial application is more than 400 days, which would be £20,000 in hotel bills alone. They get some money for food, and hand-outs from charities also. However, many don’t seek this. They want to work: in a car wash or a kitchen, wherever – any opportunity to prove themselves and earn some money.
The criteria for asylum is that the individual in question is escaping political, religious or sexual oppression. Albania is not known for political or religious oppression, but more than half the applications are granted after the 400-day wait.
Immigrants who are found working illegally can be sent back to the country of origin, but only if they tell the authorities which country they are from. Without this, no country would receive them, so they would be stuck in an asylum centre until they admit where they are from. This is what led to the scandal a few years ago of indefinite detention. It was a battle of wills between the immigrants and the British authorities, who found that they will eventually give up and admit which country is their home. Meanwhile, the origin countries rely heavily on foreign remittance, so it’s not in their interests to cooperate in bringing nationals back.
The funny thing, of course, is that we have a free and open economy, with work that needs to be done and a lack of British people willing to do it. We have an inflation problem partly due to a lack of workers at entry-level jobs. Machines are never going to replace bar workers, and soft fruit cannot be picked by machine. If we were to offer a visa system then Albanians wouldn’t have to pay at least €3,000 to criminals in order to reach the UK. The tax-payer wouldn’t have to pay an estimated £20,000 in hotel bills.
The government has spent years talking tough on immigration, and consistently failed to reduce the number of people arriving into the country. It’s difficult to believe that many continue to have faith in them. The Labour Party, meanwhile, mostly avoids the issue of immigration, believing it to be a vote loser. But if it can’t thrash out these issues in opposition, then it’s very unlikely it would suddenly start a sensible discussion once in government. It will end up talking tough and doing nothing while wasting millions of pounds, too.
Labour needs to have an honest conversation about the immigration issue, or it will become a government that is little better than the current incompetent one.
[See also: Is Labour getting tired of Sadiq Khan?]