Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Time to join Schengen

The UK Border Agency (UKBA) did not have a happy birth. It was conceived by the Labour government as a supposedly tougher response to the alleged hoards of immigrants that were a threat to the British way of life- or some such nonsense anyway. It was, in short, a political project, and like most political projects it failed to take into account a whole range of practical difficulties. These difficulties become more obvious every day, and it is now not far short of a serious disaster.

The basic problem is that since the UK chooses to administer its immigration policy separately from the rest of the EU, it has to run a separate visa and entry clearance policy. Yet this has led to the stupid spectacle that any Australian who wishes to gain entry clearance to work in the UK may well have to go to Manila, in the Philippines, approximately 4000 miles from Sydney in order to be interviewed. Meanwhile Asian tourists are being put off by the need for a separate visa, to the point that Chinese tourism to the UK is about 4% of the level of tourism to the Schengen zone- the common visa regime of the other EU member states, plus Norway, Switzerland, and Iceland. 

The fact that the UK is not in Schengen means that arrivals from Schengen destinations, like Spain or Italy must go through the same entry clearance as arrivals from Bangladesh- this is why the queues at British Airports are now as bad or worse than in the US or even Russia. The need to queue for hours simply to enter their home country has begun to irritate many frequent travelers- including myself- who do not have to undergo frontier checks for most other countries that we travel to.

Meanwhile, as the UK puts up barriers to people that it should be welcoming, the restrictive system has become riddled with corruption. The student visa system has totally broken down, to the point that the government has decided to revoke "trusted" status to a University- London Met- and as a result is now threatening to deport 2000 students who are probably completely legitimate. This is hardly an advert for the British University system, which increasingly relies on students from around the world to pay full fees in order to avoid bankruptcy. 

The fact is that British immigration policy- as created by a Labour government cowering before self serving interest groups, such as "Migration Watch", and the ignorant drivel published in the Daily Mail- is now a complete disaster. It is allowing in illegitimate applicants while refusing entry to tourists, students and business people who are a critical part of our economic success.

The fact is that the spurious claim that "the UK must control its own borders" can not be delivered by the current policy. Without a wholesale clear out of corrupt officials and a complete restructuring of the institutions, including the Home Office as well as the UKBA- a policy that will be hugely expensive- the chaos at our borders will grow ever worse.

A rethink is urgently required, and as a matter of priority the UK should be looking to join the Schengen group as soon as possible- the fact is that it is crazy to continue this disastrous failed policy of so-called toughness, which is in fact a chaotic and incompetent laxness. 

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