3 August 2009

Immigrants and Granting Citizenship

So once again the odious Phil Woolas has been blowing his twat-whistle with more tough on immigrants rhetoric. The plan is to require immigrants to accumulate points in order to gain British citizenship. Cultural activities such as voluntary work, political activism, and learning English, as well as economic factors such as earning potential, skills and qualifications, would earn points that would decide whether or not the person was worthy of a hallowed British passport.

Like all of Labour's restrictions of immigration, I am fundamentally opposed to this highly immoral move. Expecting one group of people to pass tests, gather points and take oaths to gain something, whilst giving it to another group without these restrictions, is discrimination. This particular discrimination is imposed on the basis of nationality, but it would be just as bad if it was imposed based on any other circumstance of birth.

While it is not racist, this is a technicality. It is just as immoral as racism.

Personally I can't see how any restrictions can be placed on immigration without being discriminatory. However, a policy of unrestricted immigration has consequences that must be addressed. As Milton Friedman said:
You cannot simultaneously have free immigration and a welfare state.
This is clearly a problem for people who aren't right-wing fundamentalists and see a need for a public sector that provides services and welfare. Do we restrict immigration, or do we abolish welfare? Neither of these options appeals to me.

Devil's Kitchen suggests this compromise which I find highly attractive:
no immigrant may claim benefits until they have been working—and contributing tax (i.e. cash in hand work will not count)—for four years.

But wait! The EU will not let us treat EU citizens any differently to British citizens. Great! The same thing applies across the board, for British citizens too.
In the comments, DK makes it clear that this isn't something that he finds ideal, and anyone acquainted with his views will know he advocates the abolition in the welfare state, as well as some restrictions to people's movement.

But for me, this idea ticks all the boxes: it gives people the freedom of movement, it allows for the fair provision of public services and welfare, and it treats all people equally.

This idea would mean there are effectively two tiers of British citizenship:

"Basic" citizenship, open to everyone, that gives the person the right to live work and trade in the UK, and protection from A&E, criminal justice and security services.


"Full" citizenship, giving access to free education, healthcare, and welfare. We may also decide that police or armed services officers may need to be full citizens in order to take up their post. Whether full status is gained based on time spent in the county, the amount of taxes contributed, or the cultural criteria put forward by Mr Woolas today, is debatable. I think I would prefer DK's suggestion as it there is a closer link towards what you give (taxes) and what you receive (benefits and public services paid for by taxes).

There is a need to provide welfare to people, and therefore a need to register people as citizens, this does not mean that immigration must be restricted. Without free immigration, people will remain shackled to their location of birth, which condemns many people to inescapable poverty and abuse. With some simple creativity about how we manage citizenship, we can address the economic concerns that hang over immigration, exposing those who seek restrictions based on their selfish or racist interests.

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