Hélène Mulholland, Guardian (London), April 15, 2009
A London rally demanding an amnesty for illegal immigrants living in the UK will be staged during May bank holiday after receiving backing from Boris Johnson.
Strangers into Citizens, a three-year national campaign by an umbrella group of civic bodies, has seized on the Tory London mayor’s support for an “earned amnesty” for illegal immigrants who have been living in the city for several years.
A spokeswoman for the campaign said Johnson was not expected to attend the event, which will take place in Trafalgar Square, but added that his support for the cause had helped raise its public profile.
The broad-based campaign is being staged by the country’s largest alliance of civic institutions, the Citizen Organising Foundation, which includes London Citizens and Birmingham Citizens.
The spokeswoman said the decision to stage a rally had been triggered by concern that the recent rows over “British jobs for British workers” and the recession had left migrants particularly vulnerable.
“People who are already vulnerable to exploitation might more vulnerable,” she added.
Johnson first voiced his support for the idea of an earned amnesty during the mayoral election last April, despite opposition from both the Labour government and the Conservative party.
The mayor commissioned a study, conducted by the London School of Economics earlier this year.
Its interim findings suggested that the number of “irregular residents” and their children in Britain at the end of 2007 was in the range of 525,000 to 950,000, with a central estimate of 725,000.
This compared with a Home Office estimate, based on the 2001 census, of between 310,000 and 570,000, with a central estimate of 430,000.
The study said there were a further 175,000 “quasi-legal” migrants whose right to remain depended on the future determination of their migration status.
The LSE research found that between 57% and 75% of irregular residents in Britain live in London.
Johnson has argued that an earned amnesty in the capital would allow people currently in the city illegally to integrate and contribute more fully to society.
The Strangers into Citizens campaign wants immigrants across the UK who have been in the country for four or more years to be admitted to a two-year pathway to full legal rights–“leave to remain”–during which they would work legally and demonstrate their contribution to UK economy and society.
After that two-year period, subject to knowledge of English and employer and community references, they would be granted permanent leave to remain.