Author :Lib Dem Immigrants
It has not been easy to come up with a response to the party’s immigration motion and paper.
There is much in the paper that we are very happy with; but there are also areas where we feel distinctly let down. We’re grateful to the Working Group for their positive attitude in communicating with us and doing what they could to improve the policy.
After a lot of soul-searching and discussion, we have come up with four amendments that we feel the motion needs in order to demonstrate the liberal values we share.
1. Means-testing of families
The situation now: A UK resident must have an income above a certain threshold before they can be joined by their spouse or dependent children.
The motion proposes: A partial return to pre-2012 rules. The fixed threshold will be abolished but the UK citizen may still not be joined by their family unless the family as a whole can demonstrate a certain level of affluence. Should they fall on hard times in the first five years, the spouse or children will not be liable to any support from the state.
We propose: Return to pre-1999 rules. No financial test limiting a couple’s right to live together and with their dependent children; and the family is entitled to support in the case of hardship, rather than being left to suffer or required to leave the country.
We do not think that a return to 1999 rather than 2012 rules should be controversial. Should we really be trying to position ourselves as “more liberal than Theresa May, but less liberal than David Blunkett and Jack Straw”?
The situation now: Extortionate fees for all kinds of visa and status applications. These are effectively being used to punish and deter immigrants.
The motion proposes: Fees reduced to cost-of-administration for registering children; fees being waived for registering children when the applicant cannot afford fees. Review of costs to be conducted for other applications.
We propose: *All* applications for visas, residence permits, leave to remain, or citizenship to be reduced to cover the cost of administration. Fees to be waived for those UK residents (or relatives applying for a family visa) who can demonstrate that they cannot afford the fees.
We feel that it is not appropriate for the Government to treat administration fees as a source of profit, especially when paying the fees is the only route to obtain many civil rights.
Many immigrants are going without rights to reside, to vote, to have the security that most take for granted, purely because they cannot afford the staggeringly high fees, which can run into many thousands of pounds. We welcome the proposal to reduce fees for children, but cannot see any principled reason that adults should be required to pay over the odds.
Immigration Enforcement (IE) and Border Force (BF)
The situation now: IE and BF are both underfunded, but also regularly showing a shocking disregard for the rights of those they come into contact with. They have recruited heavily among ex-military personnel, which may have contributed to their history of excessive use of force and other behaviour inappropriate to a civilian environment.
The motion proposes: Massively increase funding for IE and BF. Specify the need for culture change.
We propose: Increase funding for IE and BF, but conditional on their being restructured as National Special Police Forces (along the lines of the British Transport Police or the Civil Nuclear Constabulary).
We feel that this will not limit the effectiveness of the organisations, but will give them more appropriate oversight and accountability.
Rhetoric in the motion
The motion proposes: that we “listen and engage with those who link pressures on public services and housing to immigration and reject the argument that merely labels such people as racist”
We propose: that we “challenge the misconceptions of those who would blame immigration and immigrants for the very real social, infrastructure, and financial problems caused by economic change, government indifference, and underfunding; and provide workable solutions to these problems.”
We accept — of course! — that not everyone who is making this assertion is themselves racist. But the fact remains that the assertion is itself fundamentally objectionable and we see rebutting it as more important than soothing the feelings of those who may have been duped into accepting it.
We feel that these amendments, along with the amendments proposed by Liberal Democrats for Seekers of Sanctuary and LGBT+ Lib Dems, will — if passed — give a motion that, if not perfect, is good enough. As we say above, there is much to be pleased with in the motion, and we would not want to see that thrown away.
We realise that the number of amendments that there will be time to debate is limited, and therefore if these amendments (or close equivalents) are not selected for debate, we will reluctantly call for the motion to be referred back to Federal Policy Committee, not to erase it, but in order that the party have another chance to refine it, to produce a policy that is as humane and as fair as possible to all those who have chosen to come to live in the UK.
* Liberal Democrat Immigrants exists to represent those members of the Liberal Democrats who have chosen to come to live in the UK from elsewhere. It also seeks to represent the interests of immigrants to the UK in general and to highlight those issues that disproportionately affect immigrants.