Tag Archives: visa

Who Bears the Burden of proof?

Apologies in advance, my next few posts are going to be a bit behind the times, as I’ve been away so long. but there are some great articles out there that I still want to highlight – like this one by Justin Sandefur, a response to Paul Collier’s thesis (read my review of his book Exodus here) on the impact of migration on developing countries – specifically, brain drain, development and economic growth.

“I suspect many people reading this blog in Europe or North America share Professor Collier’s skepticism about skilled migration. You are not racist or xenophobic.  You are concerned about the plight of the global poor, and you welcome diversity in your community. But you worry that maybe Paul’s right.  Maybe the fate of your university-educated Haitian neighbor down the street, earning a good salary and sending her kids to good schools since moving to the UK, is a distraction from, and maybe even a hindrance to, reducing poverty in Haiti.

Before we begin, it’s important to note that we’re not really debating whether the rate of skilled emigration fro Freetown to London or Port-au-Prince to Miami is too fast or too slow.  We’re really talking about whether to deport your neighbor.  Or whether to refuse her a visa in the first place, and consign her and her family to a future of low wage employment, bad schools, and preventable disease “back where they came from.”  That is the policy proposal on the table for your consideration.

My argument is that the burden of proof here should be heavy, and it should rest on the shoulders of those who would build walls and tear apart families.  If you think the prosecution has met that burden of proof, here are three reasons to reconsider.”

Read Migration and Development: Who bears the burden of proof? Justin Sandefur responds to Paul Collier on the Poverty to Power blog.

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Al-Jazeera’s The Stream: The UK’s Immigration Crackdown

Al-Jazeera explored the UK’s Immigration debate on The Stream this week and I joined in the debate.


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An Open Letter to Nick Clegg

(On his week in charge while David Cameron is on holiday.)

Dear Mr Clegg,

I was pleased to read today that you have come out against the “Go Home” van pilot scheme being run by the Home Office in various London boroughs to encourage illegal immigrants to leave the country. Apparently you were “surprised” by this development, while Liberal Democrat President Tim Farron has called for the posters to be shredded and Vince Cable has denounced the scheme as “stupid and offensive”.

It’s wonderful that the Liberal Democrats have found their voice, especially while parliament is on recess and David Cameron is out of the country on holiday. It must be difficult to be part of the government and yet so powerless that such a damaging yet pointless publicity campaign (because let’s face it, two vans driving aimlessly around six London boroughs is really just a mobile dog whistle to the UKIP and BNP constituencies, rather than a serious bid to tackle the issue) –  can be rolled out without your knowledge.  However, with David Cameron’s jack boot lifted from your neck, you and your party are rushing to make some political mileage  a principled stand over a misguided policy that echoes the worst “Go Home” campaigns of past decades towards all immigrants, illegal or otherwise.

It is not enough to condemn the policy, we must ask where it comes from. Brace yourself  – if this van policy was a surprise, what I’m going to say next requires smelling salts.  In an interview with the Guardian on 12 July, your colleague Sarah Teather MP spoke about a ministerial group set up at the explicit request of David Cameron that:

“exists for the purpose of requiring ministers across government to come up with new ways to make immigrants’ lives more difficult, by outsourcing the scrutiny of their legal status to professionals who must act as unpaid immigration officers.

The Lib Dems did manage to get it renamed, and it now goes by the title of the inter-ministerial group on migrants’ access to benefits and public services. But when first conceived, “on the explicit instructions of the prime minister”, it was called the hostile environment working group – its job being to make Britain a hostile environment to unwanted immigrants.”

According to journalist Decca Aitkenhead, Teather “shuddered” when she said this, as I’m sure you are now at reading this. How can this be? A working group *at the heart of government* expressly aimed at making immigrants’ lives in the UK as difficult as possible! Not openly, through the visa system, but clandestinely, by insidiously making their status a hindrance in every part of their everyday lives.

Then, as now, the Liberal Democrats sought to hide their blushes. In that case, by renaming the committee rather than challenging its very existence and purpose. And now, by crying foul in the media instead of challenging this sort of nonsense around the Cabinet table, where the broad brush strokes of policy intent are discussed.

How could such an odious campaign like #racistvan (to give it its twitter moniker) not emerge from a government that has set its sights on harassing the immigrant community? It’s not enough to say that the van is targeted at “illegal immigrants”. Despite the dubious claims from No 10 that “it’s working” , this type of inflammatory PR is offensive to all immigrants, people like me. Tax payers. Family members. Neighbours. Colleagues. Friends. We’re people with lives and stories, not a faceless horde bent on destroying the fabric of British society.  Illegal immigration is a reality, abuse of the system happens, but not on the scale suggested by this government’s cynical scaremongering. Statistics are woefully lacking, but where they exist, they are misused, a useful fig leaf to cover the failures of successive governments to invest properly in housing, hospitals and schools.

Deputy Prime Minister, you should sit down. There’s more. Your government is planning to press ahead with the visa bond for tourists from certain “high risk” countries (wait…wasn’t that your idea?) and there are plans to make doctors and landlords responsible for checking the immigration status of their patients and tenants. I’m sure this won’t lead to private landlords refusing to rent to people whose names sound foreign in order to avoid an entanglement with the UK Border Agency.  And while parliament is on recess, the PR machine rolls on. No matter how ineffectual these vans are, immigration will be the talk of the summer as No 10 keeps feeding the media beast. And while you and your colleagues do not have to face your coalition partners across the Cabinet table, the Liberal Democrats will continue to contrast themselves positively with the Tories – at least until everyone gets back to work.

Last weekend, I heard an anecdote from an acquaintance who said that there were Border Agency staff conducting spot checks at a tube station in West London. To be honest, it sounded preposterous. But today a Twitter user tweeted a picture of Border Agency staff doing the very same at Kensal Green station.

In 11 years of living happily here in a country I have come to love I have never witnessed such hostile rhetoric and actions. I don’t carry my identity card on me every day as it’s the only proof of my leave to remain in Britain and I like to keep it locked up safe at home with my passport. Is this what Britain has come to? As a black woman with an unusual name, I’m probably very likely to be asked to show my papers.

What if I don’t have them?

What if I refuse?

Mr Clegg, this is the out working of your government’s attitude towards migrants. And now that you know, what are you *really* going to do about it?

Yours Faithfully,


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The Visa Bond Plan or Policy Making in Absence of Statistics

Here’s a post I wrote about for the Black Feminists blog about the government’s plans for a visa bond for non-EU tourists from a select number of African and South Asian countries. Many thanks to the group for running it.

Is The Proposed Visa Bond for Asian and African Tourists Racist?

“Unfair and discriminatory”; “Unacceptable”; “Racist”; these are just some of terms being used to describe the proposals by Home Secretary Theresa May to impose a £3,000 bond on visa applicants from “high-risk” countries, a list that includes India, Ghana, Nigeria, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. The pilot visa bond system would start in November and require that visitors from the selected countries would have to pay a £3,000 bond, to be refunded when they left the country – provided they had not overstayed. It has been suggested that this policy would eventually be rolled out to other visa categories such as work permits and student visas

Unsurprisingly, the idea was floated in – and warmly welcomed by – the Daily Mail, which also pointed out that “The idea will be welcomed by backbench Tory MPs, who have been urging the government to take a tougher line on immigration to combat the threat of UKIP.”

It did concede however that the scheme “is likely to face legal challenges on the grounds that – because it targets only people from so-called ‘high risk’ countries – it is discriminatory.”

That’s one way of putting it, but this group has another thing in common: they are all countries of majority black and brown people. Canada, Australia and New Zealand feature nowhere in this list. And the while the Mail and other news outlets blithely accept the notion that certain countries are “high risk” in terms of illegal immigration, they do so without any statistics to support this claim. I’m not saying that abuse of the visa system does not happen, but policy-making in the absence of facts will be misguided and ineffectual at best and runs the risk of being problematic.

Is this policy racist? Yes, and a number of factors feed into this. The language of migration in the current political debate is loaded. A discussion on India’s NDTV unpicked some of the nuances in the visa proposal; for example, what is the statistical threshold for “high risk”? Furthermore, when you discuss immigration as a “risk” it begs the question, “at risk of what, exactly?” Fraud? Crime? Or the tabloid image of a “disappearing Britain” where breakdowns in community cohesion and even the current economic troubles are blamed on “mass immigration.”*  Immigration is primarily framed as a problem, first and foremost, rather than a 21st century reality to be managed fairly and with an eye to the benefits that immigrants often bring to their host nation, not to mention tourists and their spending power. Language matters. In the USA a remarkable coalition pushing for immigration reform has succeeded, among other things, in seeing a change in the way that immigrants are referred to in news and public debate. The Associated Press updated its Style Book to state that the phrase “illegal” is not to be used in reference to people – switching to “undocumented migrants” instead. I would add that criminals aren’t queuing to get a visa like the rest of us. A crackdown on legitimate tourists, students and migrants doesn’t hurt people traffickers. Keith Vaz MP has pointed that out that someone determined to work in the UK illegally could recoup the money “in a matter of months”.

And then there’s the issue of statistics, or, rather, the lack thereof. As political commentator Mehdi Hasan has often pointed out, the problem is not, as is so often lamented, that immigration is not discussed in the UK, it’s that it’s not an informed discussion. Part of the blame for this does rest on the shoulders of politicians. David Cameron has pledged repeatedly to reduce net immigration to the UK from the “hundreds of thousands to the tens of thousands.” As the UK cannot target EU migration, non-EU migration is where the squeeze is felt. But here’s the thing: “tens of thousands” is an arbitrary figure decided with no reference to any statistics on visitor numbers, actual migration, economic or social impacts.  Secondly, the Tories can’t out-UKIP UKIP because their desire to stop immigration is unrealistic. The politicians would do well to start having the honest conversation.

There are reports today that following a huge outcry in the countries affected, particularly Nigeria and India, the government is rowing back on the proposal. Nick Clegg is reportedly not in favour of the plans, but he can’t lay the blame at the feet of the Tory Party – it was his idea. Labour, too, has considered this idea in the past. I doubt that this is the last discriminatory immigration policy to be floated by the government, but after this furore, future visitors, students and migrants to Britain may well think twice about the UK.

*this phrase bears some interrogation too, but let’s leave that for another day.

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