Sunday, 11 August 2013
Sunday 11 August 2013

Gesture politics won’t solve our immigration troubles

While the scale of Britain's immigration problem remains untackled, ministers' tinkering around the edges is doing damage to innocent people

I am writing this week about a stupid immigration story, involving an English academic Eugene and a Russian girl, Anastasia Pugacheve. I would love to illustrate it with a pic of them both, but for the reasons of the story they are being kept apart in different countries, She has sent me these four pics and I am desperately hoping that one of them, showing them both together in some quite grand building, might be usable, It is the second on the list, Could you please look at it and see whether there is any way wit could be made usable? Many thanks, CB
Eugene Connolly with Anastasia Pugacheva: she was refused a visa to visit Britain for 72 hours, despite supplying the required paperwork 
Those Home Office vans telling illegal immigrants to “go home” are only a tiny part of the story. The root cause of our immigration crisis is, as we know, quite simple. The chief reason why, in 2010 alone, as was calculated by Migration Watch, more migrants came to Britain than in all the years between 1066 and 1950 put together – and why it is officially projected that, within 14 years, our population will have risen to 70 million – is that we have lost almost all control of our borders. Not only must we open our doors to any of the 500 million citizens of the EU (even many from outside the EU who have first got into another EU country), but also our immigration rules are subject to a mass of other international obligations to bodies ranging from the UN to the European Court of Human Rights.
One consequence of this is that, as frustration over immigration mounts, our politicians thrash about trying to find peripheral gestures to show that they are trying to keep the numbers down – using the powers of the UK Border Agency (UKBA), a body so laughably incompetent that in March it was reported that the Home Secretary, Theresa May, was threatening to scrap it. The result of this tinkering around the edges is yet another example of how regulation so often these days takes “a sledgehammer to miss the nut”. The real problem remains unaffected, while absurd damage is done to people who are not part of the problem at all.
A little instance of this comes from a reader, Eugene Connolly, a retired lecturer at Edinburgh University, who six years ago met and befriended a Russian interpreter, Anastasia Pugacheva. Year after year, sponsored by Mr Connolly, she has been given visas to visit him in Britain —11 times in all — each time complying with all requirements before returning to her home and job in Moscow.
Last year, however, when she applied for a visa to visit Britain for 72 hours to attend a family wedding, the UKBA officials in Moscow refused it, saying she had not shown that she had “sufficient funds for her stay”. Mr Connolly was so startled by this that he approached his MP, who was merely told by the UKBA that her application was “against immigration rules”.
This year, having completed a law degree and bought a flat, she applied again for a visa, before starting a new job with a Moscow law firm. Again she was refused, this time because she had “failed to address the grounds for refusal of her previous application”. When I asked UKBA to clarify this, I was asked for her full personal details. The response was that they were unable to discuss individual cases, but that “all applications are considered on their individual merits” and that individuals must “provide the necessary information to support their application”. It seemed no one had bothered to look at the evidence she supplied as to why she would be financially supported in the UK and would return home when stated. Denying her entry was merely a jobsworth response to help Mrs May show how splendidly she is keeping immigration under control.
There are more general instances of how playing gesture politics with our immigration policy is not just harming individuals, but also actively damaging our national interest. One of the most glaring is the storm that has blown up in India, from which our universities were, until recently, drawing nearly 40,000 students a year, paying hefty fees and providing them and the UK economy with hundreds of millions of pounds a year. Many of these students are very bright, looking to use their qualifications from top British universities to get good jobs when they return to India, and not a few at postgraduate level take part in cutting-edge research in fields such as computer sciences and biotechnology.
So valued has their contribution been that David Cameron again visited India this year to recruit even more of them — just when, thanks to changes in our immigration rules, their numbers had already fallen by 25 per cent, with this year’s recruits down by nearly a third. First the old rule was abolished that allowed Indian students to work in the UK for two more years to defray their university expenses; they can now only stay on if they land a job paying £20,000 or more a year. They are also now told that they will have to hand over £3,000 before arriving, repayable only when they leave Britain.
This and other restrictions have inspired a wave of hostile publicity in India, with many students who wanted to come to Britain now applying to universities in other countries (applications to US universities have risen by 50 per cent). As one leading Indian newspaper angrily made clear, this puts an end to any idea that India and Britain still enjoy “a special relationship”.
There seems no doubt that Britain is here shooting itself badly in the foot, not just financially and in terms of its reputation, but also in losing a pool of talent that is already heading elsewhere. Mrs May may in general be able to boast that she has reduced net immigration from 240,000 a year to 163,000. But in other respects, she recalls Mrs Partington, that legendary Devon housewife who, when a freak storm was flooding her home with seawater, attempted to push it back out of her door with a broom.
Daft spat over 'Bongolia’
While I have no wish to join the dogfight over “Bongo Bongo land”, it might be pointed out that this derives from a 1947 song sung by Danny Kaye (left). Including the line “Bongo bongo bongo, I don’t want to leave the Congo”, it featured Danny explaining to the Andrews Sisters why he had no desire to be exposed to the stresses and absurdities of Western civilisation and was happy to stay in the jungle. I’m not sure this is quite what all those people who have got so excited about the Ukip MEP Godfrey Bloom’s cack-handed remark had in mind.