Half a million immigrants working illegally in Britain should be allowed to stay, according to a thinktank with close links to Downing Street.
The biometrics programme requires all UK visa applicants to provide fingerprints before arrival
A report published today by the influential Institute for Public Policy Research argues that finding and forcibly deporting all Britain’s illegal workers would cost £4.7 billion and take 30 years. The study says if these migrants were allowed to stay they would pay £1 billion a year in tax to the Treasury.
The number living illegally in the UK is thought to have soared in recent years, with the Government accused of failing to police borders adequately.
The pressure group MigrationWatch UK calculates that there are up to 870,000 illegal immigrants in Britain, but the Government believes there are no more than 570,000.
The IPPR’s report threatens to divide ministers. Last week, Liam Byrne, the immigration minister, repeated earlier Government pledges not to allow an amnesty for illegal migrants, but some Cabinet ministers back the idea.
Danny Sriskandarajah, the IPPR’s head of migration and equalities, called on Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, to support it.
“Our economy would shrink and we would notice it in uncleaned offices, dirty streets and unstaffed pubs and clubs if we tried to deport hundreds of thousands of people,” he said. “So we have a choice: make people live in the shadows, exploited and fearful of the future . . . or bring them into the mainstream, to pay taxes and live an honest life.”
The report also recommends that unauthorised migrants who can show they have been working and contributing to the UK should be given a two-year work permit, with their families allowed to remain.
A spokesman for the Home Office said: “An amnesty for immigrants illegally would simply create a strong pull for waves of illegal migration.”
The amnesty call comes as Home Office sources reveal that since the introduction of a sophisticated fingerprinting system last September more than 4,000 deported foreigners have been caught trying to re-enter Britain illegally.
Officials are “astonished” by the number of failed asylum seekers and bogus work permit applicants caught using the “biometric” visas system.
But Damian Green, shadow immigration minister, fears they represent the “tip of the iceberg”. The £39 million system has been introduced at British embassies and consulates in only 80 of the 150 countries intended to be involved.
The biometrics programme requires all UK visa applicants to provide fingerprints before leaving their home country. Immigration officials check the prints against those taken from failed asylum seekers who have already been deported.
A spokesman for the Home Office said: “Biometric visas will be rolled out to all countries by March next year.”