UK Immigration Debates Continue
07 April 2013
The topic of immigration has been a prominent part of political discourse in the UK since the Conservative MP Enoch Powell made his notorious "Rivers of Blood speech" in 1968, which criticised Commonwealth immigration and imagined a future Britain that was inundated with immigrants. Powell's controversial speech caused divided opinions and heavy debate, showing how much the issue of immigration means to many people.
Interest in immigration continued in the 1980s and 1990s due to the number of refugees fleeing to the UK to escape situations like civil wars and dictatorships in their own countries. In response to outcries from right-wing media about this, many legislative proposals were made.
In the last decade alone, six immigration bills have been brought forward. However, some still believe that not enough is being done to decrease immigration to the UK, and this has encouraged the current coalition government to put renewed energy into tackling this perceived problem.
Cameron's first major immigration speech came in 2011, in which he outlined his goal of reducing immigration down to the level it had been in the 1980s. As part of a resulting immigration crackdown, government agencies set about removing any loopholes they could find in the immigration system.
As well as causing increased deportation of illegal migrants, this has resulted in cuts to visas for students, family settlement applicants and highly skilled migrants. Overall, however, the measures have had an effect and the number of migrants to the UK fell to 163,000 in 2012.
Despite this reduction and tightened immigration legislation, many right-wing media campaigners and even politicians are still continuing their arguments against the current immigration system. Four issues in particular are encouraging this continued debate:
- the current government's drive to reduce public spending;
- the failures of the UK Border Agency (which has a backlog of thousands of immigration and asylum cases, and will soon be disbanded and come back under the control of the Home Office);
- the recent electoral success of UKIP; and
- the prospect of a number of immigrants coming from Bulgaria and Romania (newer EU members) when the current restrictions end in December this year.
In March 2013, David Cameron announced that new EU immigrants would only be entitled to a maximum of six months job-seekers' allowance and that they would have restricted access to social housing. A further controversial measure will be to ask teachers to identify any of their pupils that they suspect to be the children of illegal immigrants; there are concerns that this may contravene the UK's international treaty obligations regarding children's rights.
Whilst such immigration-restricting measures may appease anti-immigration campaigners, other parts of the UK are suffering due to these changes. Some argue that the UK seems increasingly xenophobic and is discouraging visitors, tourists and others who may be able to bring money into its economy. Furthermore, British universities are facing financial difficulties due to falling foreign student numbers, which make up a large part of their incomes.
The debate continues.