Strangers into Citizens

call for a pathway to legal status for long-term migrants

Strangers into Citizens is a campaign led by the Citizen Organising Foundation (COF), the umbrella organisation for London Citizens.
London Citizens jumped onto the political scene by securing the Living Wage campaign in London. During the campaign, the organisers saw firsthand how irregular migrants were at the lower end of the labour market chain and were subject to discriminatory practices. We also began to hear stories of suffering and despair from those who had sought sanctuary in the UK and were in limbo, unable to return home but with no prospects of improvement for their lives in the UK … (full text about).

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Why regularisation? Ten reasons why the Strangers into Citizens proposal is right:  

  • 1. The long-term resident undocumented population in the UK are not “illegal immigrants”: almost all entered the country legally, but have fallen into illegality as a consequence of lengthy bureaucratic delays in the asylum system; or they are overstayers who became undocumented when the immigration rules changed.
  • 2. Whatever their circumstances and their reasons for not returning to their countries of origin, they have acquired the right to stay by virtue of their long association with the UK. The state’s moral right to deport erodes over time, just as the newcomer’s moral claim to legal status grows over time. Lack of documents is an administrative, not a criminal, offence. We believe five years is about right: giving legal status to those who have spent less than five years in the UK risks undermining immigration controls. According to the LSE, our measure would benefit around 450,000 people, about two-thirds of the estimated 725,000 undocumented population in the UK.
  • 3. There is no realistic alternative. The Home Office currently removes anywhere between 11,000 and 25,000 undocumented migrants a year, at an estimated cost of £11,000 per removal. There is no way that half a million people can be deported. It would be impractical and immoral.
  • 4. By not regularising, the UK is permitting a substantial sub-class of citizen to exist outside the law. This is bad for them, and bad for the UK. Regularising allows more people to obey the law and to contribute financially and in other ways.
  • 5. Failure to regularise allows for the existence of a shadow or parallel economy, outside the law, in which exploitation and people-trafficking thrive. Regularising, conversely, shrinks the shadow economy, and therefore discourages illegal immigration. This was the experience of Spain when it regularised in 2005.Not only were there substantial fiscal and economic benefits, but levels of immigration declined.
  • 6. The LSE estimates that regularising according to the Strangers into Citizens proposal would add approximately £3bn to the UK economy.
  • 7. Regularising would not act as a green light for further illegal immigration: the motivation for migration is far more short-term than the vague future prospect of regularisation.
  • 8. The beneficiaries are mostly skilled, young, able to work, etc and therefore net contributors economically. Their contribution in countless other ways is incalculable.
  • 9. Regularising would ensure that the UK Border Authority’s resources – personnel, detention centres, etc. – are concentrated on the removal of people-traffickers and criminals, rather than innocent migrants and their families.
  • 10. This is one of the great civil and moral issues of our time. Regularisation ensures a just balance between the right to migrate and a nation’s right to maintain its borders. It is a measure for the common good, benefitting society as a whole.

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