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Migration to the United Kingdom attracts attention from many stakeholders, especially politically, and with the media. The government continues to implement policy to strengthen border controls and collaborate with employers to recruit skilled and documented workers from the European Economic Area (EEA) and beyond. This has been implemented considering the damage irregular migrant labour has socially, and economically for the United Kingdom. Currently the United Kingdom law on migrant labour has three main effects namely:
- To enable the government to address irregular migrant labour by working closely with the United Kingdom Border Agency to act appropriately against employers using irregular migrant labour
- To ensure that these employers employ regular migrant workers
- To make difficult for irregular migrant labour to work in the United Kingdom
This brief is intended to highlight to the United Kingdom government the best ways of reducing irregular migrant labour from 2012 to 2017.
The United Kingdom government has recently enacted and instituted laws and policies to regulate and register irregular (undocumented) migrant labour. A report released by the Home Office in 2008 estimated a total of 660,000 irregular migrants in the United Kingdom (Home Office Asylum statistics United Kingdom 2007). Currently the figure is higher. Additionally, it was reported that more that 500,000 irregular migrants use an overstayed visa.
The increased surveillance activities because of the global security alerts and fatal terrorist attacks like the one in London in the recent past has increased the pressure on the United Kingdom government to screen and regulate the migrant labour process more stringently. Because of the likely expulsion, migrants in the United Kingdom live in a state of fear and uncertainty and are most insecure. The problem in United Kingdom is compounded by legislation that equates irregularity to criminality.
Whereas other countries perceive immigration breaches as administrative offences, the United Kingdom government perceives this as a criminal offence (Garcia 2007). The deregulation of employment is a practice common in United Kingdom and the use of agencies like the United Kingdom Border Agency (BA) can blur the distinction between legal and illegal work causing further distress for the migrant. Such a migrant may opt to join illegal networks to protect and conceal their status and identity (Boswell 2003).
According to research most irregular migrants work in low key formal and informal sectors (Huysmans 2006). The two million plus vulnerable workers in the informal sector represents 12% of United Kingdom’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) a fact that henceforth requires a more careful evaluation and perhaps policy change (Reed and Lattorre 2009).
The situation is further complicated because the employers have more power over migrant workers and as such irregularity can result from many factors.
Presently the United Kingdom government attempts to tackle irregular migrant labour by implementing tight border controls and limiting opportunities for migrants who migrate from beyond the European Economic Area (EEA) to the United Kingdom.
This may reduce entry of non EEA migrants entering the United Kingdom. However, because many irregular migrants enter the United Kingdom legally border controls cannot end irregular migration (Lahav 2006).
Statistics indicate that whereas the United Kingdom government tightened border irregular migrants’ influx into the country increased considerably. The stringent border controls momentarily contribute to increased number of irregular migrants.
As increased border controls may not be the best option to reduce irregular migrant labour influx as is already indicated. Alternatively the government can provide adequate opportunities to travel and stay legally in United Kingdom.
The government’s reliance on employers binds a migrant worker to the employer. This decreases the worker’s autonomy and increases the employer’s chances of exploitation. The policies for registration of migrant work and may promote exploitation and later lead to irregularity state of the same worker.
The Home Office enforcement strategy according to 2008/2009 business plan proposes deportation (Home Office United Kingdom Border Agency 2010). However, this process is likely to have significant economic and social costs. Generally, it would cost the United Kingdom government more than 10 million United Kingdom pounds to the irregular migrant in United Kingdom notwithstanding that this would take more than 30 years to accomplish (Broeders and Engbersen 2007).
Generally, the existing policies rely on restrictions try to and reduce irregular migrant labour. Enforcement of the labour rights restrictions, time, mobility, and even unionization restrictions will lead to increased chances of a regular migrant becoming irregular in the United Kingdom. Further still restrictive processes toward legalization or regularization only promote the temptation for a once regular immigrant to remain irregular even as a worker.
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The existing policies like the in-country enforcement policy permitting pubic and private entities to ascertain and report immigration status is giving rise to public mistrust promoting public tension directed toward foreigners in United Kingdom (Mitsilegas, Monar and Rees 2003).
It is only when procedures are changed and the irregular migrant worker receives a medium-term security including work and residence permits can the migrant be able to break free from exploitation employers and reduce that rate of irregular migrant labour. The United Kingdom government regularization process encourages all irregular migrants to apply for amnesty. However, the criteria for meeting such status remain very restrictive. As such only 4000 migrants gained status in United Kingdom in 2007 (Vollmer 2008).
Presently the United Kingdom government lacks a permanent regularization programme do not stop irregular labour practices (Castles and Miller 2009). Opponents of regularization indicate that this process leads to an increase in demand for state support as the irregular migrant gets legal status. Proponents indicated that increasing the tax payers bracket through regularization will lead to increased revenue from income tax and national insurance contributions.
Legislation and associated restrictions covering the basic aspects of livelihood like time, health, mobility, association, and even family can only out to promote irregularity in migration issues. As such controls and legislation in the United Kingdom had achieved little in terms of reducing irregular migrant labour.
The United Kingdom government will need to change procedures and policy to adapt an open and transparent policy covering all irregular migrant labour. An effort expended by the government toward helping these migrant population to understand that the national laws apply equally even to migrant population is important. This requires a revision of the procedures to implement a straightforward and effective migrant regularization policy.
Currently the stringent criterion typical to the regularization programs only serves to increase the number of undocumented migrant workers (Migrants’ Rights Network 2009). The time restrictions on the regularization programs or work permit procedures only increase the irregular migrant labour because this restriction causes many with legal status to revert to irregularity to remain in the United Kingdom.
The United Kingdom government can in the long term consider implementing a permanent regularization program. The process should be inherently simplified to respond to the increasing number of migrants even in the next five years from 2012 to 2017.
Practically the government can liaise with employers and agencies to move beyond screening and immigration status reporting to providing a centralized and simplified process of registration of the irregular migrants.
The border controls by United Kingdom Border Agency and the employment restrictions that have become in-country policy to contain irregular migrant have caused only an increased influx in the population of irregular migrants (Migrants’ Rights Network 2008). The same appears true for the labour market in the United Kingdom. These policies have not reduced irregular migrant labour (McKay 2009).
The way to go for the United Kingdom government to reduce irregular migrant labour in the next five years up to 2017 will require a radical change in the current legislation and policies by the government and related agencies. Generally the starting point involves a redefinition of the regularization programs (Levinson 2005).
The criteria of attaining this status are currently very stringent and fewer migrants qualify, thus encouraging irregular migrant labour. The process can therefore be made more sensitive to the plight of migrants to enable them gain status while and when they qualify. The United Kingdom government can then play a role in ensuring that these migrants are legally employed and are not exploited because of their status that is currently the case for most irregular migrant labour in the United Kingdom.
Absorbing these migrants is likely to increase the country’s income tax bracket and hence revenue. United Kingdom government can consider implementing a permanent regularization like what other European countries have done (Kraler 2009). This definitely will reduce the irregular migrant labour when the migrants realize that there limited employment opportunities enabling the migrants objectively look at the labour market situation.
This can encourage them to even return to their countries of origin voluntarily. Relaxing travel, work, and residence permit rules in the United Kingdom is likely to reduce irregular migrant labour when more migrants obtain legal status and therefore qualify to get legal and formal employment. In this way the labour market can self regulate with one consequence as the reduction of migrant influx.
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