Immigration in the UK: The confusion

Immigration is always a hot topic and it gets people angry for all sorts of reasons. What gets me angry about immigration is the lack of understanding people have of the system!

Immigration is not simple; it is a very complex system with different people classed as different forms of immigrants – there are two the people often seem to confuse: Economic Migrants and Asylum Seekers. There is a very real difference between an Economic Migrant and an Asylum seeker (from their legal status, to benefits and all sorts!)

Economic Migrants come from within what is known as the European Economic Area (which is essentially made up of the countries of the European Union). When people talk about those who come from Poland they are talking about Economic Migrants. They, largely, have the freedom to move around the EEA to live, work and/or study. Brits often go and live or work in France or Spain – this is no different to the polish coming here (it is governed by the same rules). However, some of those coming from EEA countries (Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia) have to register under the Workers Registration Scheme within one month of gaining employment in the United Kingdom.

Once people from the countries listed above have been working in the United Kingdom legally for 12 months without a break in employment, they will no longer have to register on the Worker Registration Scheme. At this point they can then obtain a residence permit confirming your their to live and work in the United Kingdom.

I think that covers economic Migrants coming from the EEA. An Asylum Seeker is different from an Economic Migrant coming from the EEA and I will now write about that.

The United Nations Convention on the Status of Refugees guarantees a right to refugee status. It defines refugees as people outside their country of nationality, who cannot return there due to ‘a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of their race, religion, nationality, or membership of a particular social group or political opinion’. The Convention has universal application and is the cornerstone of refugee protection. It is part of the law of the United Kingdom.

Different countries have their own systems of deciding whether a person fits the UN definition, and national courts may interpret the Convention differently. Not all people who have strong reasons to leave their countries necessarily fit this definition. Nevertheless, they may still be entitled to protection under international human rights law. They may therefore be allowed to remain under the laws of a particular country, and given a discretionary status: for example, exceptional leave to remain in the UK.

A lot of people say that it is easy to get into the UK, and they would be right if they were not talking about Asylum Seekers. As for Economic Migrants from the EEA it is probably no more difficult than them getting into France, Spain or Portugal.

The United Kingdom has many barriers when it comes to non EEA citizens coming into the country. The main barriers are:

  • Visas – Asylum seekers coming from certain countries have to seek permission to travel to the UK before coming. This creates a Catch-22 situation, because there is no visa to claim asylum. In order to reach safety, refugees may therefore have to travel without visas, obtain forged visas or carry forged passports.
  • Carriers’ liability – governments have enlisted airlines, hauliers and train operators into immigration control, by fining them for bringing in people without the correct documentation or visa. In the UK, the penalty is £2,000 per passenger. People suspected of needing asylum can therefore be prevented from travelling. They may then be forced to turn to peoplesmugglers and pay large amounts of money to ‘agents’ to help them, through providing forged documents, or by hiding them in lorries or under trains.
  • Detention – to retain control over applicants while their claims areprocessed, the UK has a policy of selective detention. This can have a deterrent effect on other asylum seekers.
  • Support systems – governments believe that differences in financial support to asylum-seekers are a pull-factor and therefore seek to limit support as much as possible.
  • Governments working together in order to unify their procedures and share information, so that people cannot try again in another EU country if one application is refused. The EU plans a series of measures to harmonise minimum standards in asylum and to create barriers around the whole EU.

Economic migrants from the EEA don’t face any of the above problems!

When an asylum seeker arrives in the country they are given houses and money by the Government – this often causes rage amongst those who are from the UK (usually because they don’t understand why this has happened). However, for the most part those Asylum seekers who are in this situation are still awaiting a decision or appealing the decision and are therefore not legally permitted to earn a wage!

In short, we can’t stop Asylum Seekers coming here because we are legally obliged to accept them under International Law; Polish people are not Asylum Seekers and Asylum Seekers get financial and housing help from the Government (once they eventually manage to get here) because they are not legally permitted to seek or gain employment until a decision on their application has been reached.