Wednesday, October 12, 2011

UK: Cameron does a U-turn but a welcome one

IT WAS Winston Churchill who observed that history tends to be written by the victors so it is probably just as well that David Cameron made it to Downing Street after the last election.
Because the Prime Minister is therefore in charge of explaining how his own past views and priorities fit in with the world as it exists today.

Yet sometimes he makes a claim that raises eyebrows even among his most ardent supporters and on Monday there was a notable example.

At the start of a long and closely argued speech on the subject David Cameron told his audience: “I’ve never shied away from talking about immigration.”

That’s not how most of us remember it.

Following Michael Howard’s defeat in the 2005 general election, downgrading immigration was in fact a key part of Mr Cameron’s pitch for the Conservative leadership.

Along with Europe, crime and tax it was one of the issues he told his party to stop “banging on about”.... Between 2005 and about 2009, the Tories joined a consensus with Labour and the Lib Dems that marginalised debate about immigration even as its scale and consequences became ever less easy to ignore.

Given this and given the rise in net migration in the early months of the coalition you might be tempted to pour a bucket of cold water on the Prime Minister’s latest utterances on the subject.

BUT that would be wholly unfair because Mr Cameron actually demonstrated on Monday that he now has the kind of grip on the issue neither Tony Blair nor Gordon Brown got near to.

Apart from in the admittedly important area of migration from the Eu, the Prime Minister set out sensible policies on every significant migrant stream into Britain.

He also explicitly acknowledged the downsides of uncontrolled immigration and showed he understands that it impacts upon different communities and classes in different ways.

“When large numbers of people arrive in new neighbourhoods, perhaps not all able to speak the same language as those who live there, perhaps not always wanting to integrate, perhaps seeking to take advantage of our NHS, paid for by our taxpayers, there is a discomfort and tension,” he said.

“There is no doubt that badly controlled immigration has compounded the failure of our welfare system and effectively allowed governments and employers to carry on with the waste of people stuck on welfare when they should be working,” he added.

Branding the numbers coming into Britain as “really quite huge”, he also took apart the phoney nature of Labour’s “points-based system”.

“There were a range of low minimum thresholds where anyone who met them was automatically entitled to come... to work, study and in many cases to bring their dependants too,” he pointed out.

For those coming from outside the EU on work visas, Mr Cameron promised to examine “further tightening” beyond a new annual limit of 20,700.

On student visas Mr Cameron highlighted the revoking of licences for colleges that turned out to be bogus: “Not only have there been bogus and low-quality students coming to bogus and low-quality colleges, there have been a huge number of people bringing dependants under the pretext of studying.”

On the thorny issue of family migration – an area Labour went soft on because of the power of ethnic minority vested interests within its ranks – Cameron could hardly have been more trenchant.

“Time and again visa officers receive applications from spouses or partners sponsoring another spouse or partner soon after being granted settlement in the UK, suggesting the original marriage was simply a sham,” he complained.

“There was a Pakistani national who applied for a spouse visa on the basis of his marriage to someone settled in the UK. He got indefinite leave to remain then immediately divorced his UK- based spouse, returned to Pakistan, remarried and then applied for entry clearance for his new spouse. We cannot sit back and allow the system to be abused in this way.”

A crackdown on abuse of the family route will have the happy side-effect of cutting migration from the very countries that send us people most prone to welfare dependency.

THE passage of Mr Cameron’s speech that dealt with deporting illegal immigrants was perhaps the weakest, given the spectre of the Human Rights Act that hovers over that issue.

But even here he had worthwhile points to make and breaking the link between arriving in Britain to work for a while and permanent settlement – as Mr Cameron also pledged to do – will be a major reform too.

“If we take the steps set out today and deal with all the different avenues of migration, then levels of immigration can return to where they were in the Eighties and Nineties,” he said.

That, of course, is going to be the acid test: will Cameron’s new approach bring net migration down from 239,000 to the “tens of thousands” by the next election?

Previously I would have dismissed the very idea of the coalition achieving such a feat.

But it is clear that he has performed a major u-turn on the issue and is now a dogged opponent of mass immigration.

If he wishes to pretend to himself that he always was then that is a price well worth paying.


Another perverse British legal judgment

A bogus student who lied that he could speak English and admitted buying a fake language proficiency certificate can stay in Britain, immigration judges have ruled.

Even though Abbas Khaliq was ‘untruthful’ and ‘not a credible witness’, and had failed to mention that his brother was an illegal immigrant here, the reluctant judges said he had broken no rules.

So despite being caught red-handed on arrival from Pakistan at Gatwick airport, he is welcome to stay here.

It emerged during the case that since a British college had given Khaliq the go-ahead to study here, and there was no physical evidence he had lied while obtaining his student visa in Pakistan, the immigration officer who caught him out at Gatwick had no powers to ban him from entry.

Embarrassingly, while the immigration judges said they had ‘no enthusiasm’ for allowing the bogus student to stay, they claimed they had no choice – because of the rules set by the very body established to keep illegal immigrants out, the UK Border agency.

The judges said in their ruling: ‘The UK Border Agency’s decision to allow colleges to assess whether students should be admitted, and to remove from immigration Officers the power to reach any view independent of the colleges - most of which have a clear financial motive to admit as many students as possible - forces us to the conclusion we have reached.’

Khaliq had flown into Britain last year to start a Higher National Diploma course in Business Management at the Leeds Professional College – the organisation which had who had sponsored his successful visa application.

But immigration officials at Gatwick soon discovered he spoke no English, despite finding a forged certificate in his bag from the Anglophile English Learning Centre in Karachi giving him an A grade.

Brazen Khaliq admitted buying the certificate - and that he knew nothing about the course he was due to take in England, and had paid someone else to choose it for him.

Further enquiries swiftly revealed that his brother was an overstayer in the UK, a clearly relevant fact which he had failed to mention.

The Leeds Professional College said they provided intensive English language training - but they would have a problem educating someone such as Khaliq who had virtually no English.

Despite being caught red-handed, Khaliq appealed against the immigration officer’s ban, and had the right to stay in the country whilst his appeal was being heard.

An immigration tribunal agreed with the alert immigration officer, and upheld the ban in January 2010.

But Khaliq was entitled to another appeal, to the upper immigration tribunal – and in July and finally finished the appeal process 18 months on, by winning the right to stay in spite of his lies.

Astonishingly, at his first appeal Khaliq attempted to maintain the fiction that he was proficient in English, telling the tribunal he would need an interpreter provided a public expense purely ‘for technical reasons’.

But Immigration Judge Agnew soon discovered he could not understand her at all. She dismissed the appeal, noting: ‘I find that the appellant is not a credible witness and that nothing that he says can be relied upon.’

Judge Agnew said it was demonstrated that ‘Leeds Professional College had not made any adequate investigation’ before offering Khaliq a place.

And Judge Agnew ruled that although the visa was obtained outside the UK, in his native Pakistan, the application for leave to enter was also a decision for Immigration to make at the airport - and because he had lied in interviews there his visa became invalid.

But Khaliq appealed to the upper tribunal on the grounds that his visa obtained before he arrived in the UK was valid, and the Immigration Officer had no evidence that he lied to get it, so had to honour it despite what was said at the airport.

The judges at the upper tribunal reluctantly agreed and gave him the right to stay in Britain. But they added: ‘We reach that conclusion with no enthusiasm. ‘The appellant has been judicially assessed as untruthful. He has been prepared to deceive others as to the level of his competence in English. ‘He has arrived to undertake a course that his ‘Highly Trusted Sponsor’ college admitted him for, but says that it would have difficulty in delivering to him.’

The UK Border Agency’s own rules meant Khaliq had to be admitted the judges went on, adding that this ‘demonstrates that the Immigration Rules, as in force at the relevant time, provide little security against the admission of what may be described as bogus students. ‘Changes have since been made, but they do not affect this appeal.’


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