02 April, 2006


Illegal and "regularized" don't mix

The recent IPPR report on illegal immigration proposes, unsurprisingly, that we deal with the problem of half a million or more, probably significantly more, illegally present workers in this country by "regularizing" them. As well as taking an embarrassing statistic off the books, this step will, apparently, boost the coffers of the Revenue by £1bn a year of additional PAYE and NI receipts.

I'm not entirely convinced. Of course a proportion of illegals with fake documents are already within the formal economy anyway, if under false pretences. "Regularizing" them would have no fiscal impact. But let's assume all of our target population are working in the, if you'll pardon the expression, black economy. According to the IPPR, issuing these people with proper work documents will bring them into the formal economy, where they will pay income tax and national insurance and "contribute" to our vibrant multicultural society.

Nonsense. What makes low-skilled illegals attractive as employees is their cheapness and their vulnerability. They are attractive because you don't have to worry about such tiresome overheads as the minimum wage, tax, national insurance or such irritating inconveniences as health and safety and working conditions. Employers prefer illegal employees, preferably at arm's length, because they are a damned sight cheaper and much easier to push around. Industrial tribunals? Never heard of 'em. Minimum wage? What's that, then?

When Ade, Vijay, Ahmed and Piotr turn up one morning with their new work permits and announce that it will henceforth cost you three to four times as much to employ them, you are not going to be very impressed. When second cousin Ali shows you his brand new NI number and announces that he is no longer prepared to work eighteen hours a day in your kebab shop for a tenner a week plus food scraps, will you accept this cheerfully, or will you be on the phone to Istanbul – or Sylhet as it may be – pronto for a replacement (while making a mental note to cancel next week's meat order)?

"Regularizing" illegal workers will just lead to them being fired, and a new swathe of illegals will quickly arrive to fill the gap. The supply is effectively infinite and, crucially, the borders are wide open. The "regularized" illegals will have to decide whether to remain in the black economy to keep their jobs or stick to their guns by insisting on proper conditions, thus losing their jobs. And with their newly semi-legitimate status they will, in the latter case, one assumes, be able to cast themselves on the mercy of the welfare state.

After the dust settles, we will be fiscally worse off than before, with the addition of a new underclass of unemployed regularized illegals.

Illegal immigration is market driven. On one side there is a supply of people desperate for work. On the other there is a customer base of unscrupulous employers and the hypocrites who use their services knowing full well that they are indirectly employing illegal near-slave labour. It's one hell of a buyer's market.

The way to deal with illegal economic immigration is (a) to introduce serious border controls to keep the future supply out and (b) to come down hard, very hard indeed on the employers of illegal labour to throttle the demand. Never mind the £2000 fines, bang a few of the buggers up pour encourager les autres. Much of the existing illegal population, its raison d'être for being here having disappeared, will go home of its own accord. I'm sure the Treasury will be happy to help with their fares.

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