Strangers into Citizens

Strangers into Citizens

infobox software
name = Strangers Into Citizens

caption = Strangers into Citizens Campaign Photo by Alban Bytyqi
genre = Social Movement organizer
website =

Strangers into Citizens is a campaign by the London-based Citizen Organising Foundation [] , better known as London Citizens. The campaign is calling for a one-off naturalisation of long-term irregular migrants in the United Kingdom. This is also known as an earned amnesty or path into citizenship.

The Home Office calculates there to be about 500,000 such people, a combination of refused asylum-seekers and visa overstayers who have made new lives in the UK. Campaigners have collected stories documenting the plight of the UK's long-term irregular migrant population.

Strangers into Citizens argues that most of the long-term undocumented should be allowed to become legal by means of a two-year work permit available to asylum-seekers or economic migrants who can show they have been in the UK for four years or more. The proposals put forward by the campaign would give indefinite leave to remain at the end of a two-year period, subject to criteria such as an English language test, a clean criminal record and valid references from an employer and community sponsor for those qualifying for a work permit. Campaigners describe this as a "pathway to citizenship" of the sort advocated by the Democratic Party nominee Barack Obama [] . In Europe, they point to the Spanish amnesty of 2005, in which 700,000 were granted legal status, as a possible model for Britain. []

infobox software
name = Strangers Into Citizens

caption = Strangers into Citizens CampaignPhoto by Alban Bytyqi
genre = Social Movement organizer
website =


The campaign was inspired by a call from the Archbishop of Westminster Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, who first raised the possibility at a Mass for Migrant Workers on 1 May 2006. [ [ Cardinal suggests UK amnesty for illegal immigrants | Ekklesia ] ]

The Cardinal's call has been echoed by faith leaders across the UK, as well as by the Mayor of London, [] , trade unions, migrant and refugee organisations, the think-tanks Compas [] and IPPR [] as well as politicians in both Houses of Parliament.

Dozens of MPs in all the main parties signed an Early Day Motion in favour of the proposal. [] .

Strangers into Citizens was also supported by three out of six of the candidates to the deputy leadership of the Labour Party. [ ] One of them is Harriet Harman, who won the contest. [] Harman is married to Jack Dromey, who is one of the campaign's leading advocates. []

A poll commissioned by the campaign shows most British people back the idea of giving status to those who have been living and working in the UK for many years. [ [ Refugee Council | April | Two thirds of British people think asylum seekers should be allowed to work ] ]

Strangers into Citizens is supported by the major migrant NGOs in the UK (among them the Immigration Advisory Service, the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, Refugee Action, the Migrant Rights Network, the Jesuit Refugee Service and the Churches' Refugee Forum). []

The campaign's proposals have been supported by editorials in "The Independent", "The Tablet" and "The Universe", and advocated in articles published in the "Guardian", the "Daily Telegraph", "The Voice", the "Observer", and the "Spectator". The campaign has been strongly attacked in the Daily Express and the Sun. MigrationWatch [] also opposes the campaign.

Rally in Trafalgar Square, May 2007

On 7 May 2007 15,000 people gathered in the rain in Trafalgar Square to call for regularisation. [] Among those addressing the Strangers into Citizens call were the (Catholic) Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor; the (Anglican) Bishop of Southwark, Tom Butler; Dr Mohammed Bari of the Muslim Council of Britain; Rabbi Shissler (representing the Chief Rabbi); Baroness Williams of Crosby; [] Jon Cruddas, the MP for Barking and Dagenham; Jack Dromey, deputy secretary-general of the TGWU; [] Dave Prentis, head of UNISON; the singer Billy Bragg; as well as the campaign's co-ordinator, Dr Austen Ivereigh.

On 20 June 2007 the proposal was debated in the House of Commons. []

Progress of the campaign

In June 2006, the Institute for Public Policy Research applauded the apparent openness by Liam Byrne, the immigration minister, to the idea [] , following the Institute's study of the benefits of regularisation to the UK. [] . IPPR calculated that £4.7 billion would be needed to be spent to deport all illegal residents, whereas the extra tax revenues from regularisation would result in a £1bn bonanza to the Exchequer in unpaid taxes. But this figure was criticised by Damian Green, the Shadow Minister for Immigration. []

By regularising the most eligible, IPPR argued, the enforcement effort on the remainder can be reduced by at least half, perhaps even by as much as three quarters or more. Currently, the Home Office repatriates up to 25,000 illegal immigrants a year, and has openly admitted it does not have the resources to remove all illegals in the country. []

On 19 February 2007, the immigration minister rejected the idea, saying "it would act as a pull factor in drawing illegal immigrants to this country." [] However, a Spanish expert on the issue told the BBC Today Programme on 7 May that the Spanish regularisation of 700,000 migrants in 2005 had reduced the numbers of illegal immigrants. []

A Council of Europe report in February 2007 argues that regularisation should be seen as part of a package of immigration reforms which reduce illegal immigration. [] . Through measures that aim to crack down on the informal economy, cut down on impractical bureaucracy, and give immigrants a legal option for admission, Spain hopes to better control unauthorised immigration. [] A BBC report in June 2006 found that the Spanish regularisation had been a success, and that most Spaniards believed it had worked. [] Strangers into Citizens believes the Spanish model could provide a way forward for the UK.

Endorsement by the Liberal Democrats

The campaign scored its first major success in August 2007, when following meetings with campaigners the Liberal Democrats announced it would be consider adopting the proposal at its party conference. [] . Its immigration minister, Nick Clegg MP, [] argued in "The Observer" that "a route of earned legalisation should be made available to those who have lived here unauthorised for many years", and promised to "set stringent criteria - this is not a blanket amnesty". Among the criteria were
#that the applicant should have lived in the UK for many years;
#should have a clean criminal record; and
# should show a long-term commitment to the UK. Clegg also said the applicant would be subject to a public interest test and an English language and civics test, and would be required to pay a charge.

"Frankly this is just in recognition of the fact that, because of incompetence or mismanagement in the immigration system over many years, we have very large numbers of people who live in this twilight world of illegality and - in many cases - exploitation in the workplace which we need to deal with," Mr Clegg told BBC Radio 4's "Today" programme . [,,2157341,00.html]

In response, the Government repeated its opposition to the idea, while the Conservative Party's David Davis [] attacked the Lib-Dem move as "irresponsible": "on the one hand it will encourage people to come here illegally as well as being unfair to those who have obeyed the law and tried to enter the UK legally." [] .

On 18 September 2007, the Liberal-Democrats adopted the proposal, voting in favour of a plan to create "an earned route to citizenship" for illegal migrants who had been in the UK for 10 years. [,,2171764,00.html] Strangers into Citizens campaigners said they they were "delighted that a major political party has adopted a specific policy of regularisation". []

At the Labour Party conference in Bournemouth on 24 September 2007, Jon Cruddas, the leading parliamentary advocate of the campaign, criticised immigration minister Liam Byrne's objections. [] "There's a fork in the road on this issue", he said at a fringe meeting organised by the Immigration Advisory Service and Strangers into Citizens campaign. [] .

London mayoral candidates' endorsement, 2008

The next major advance for the campaign came in the run-up to the London mayoralty election on 1 May 2008. At a public assembly organised by London Citizens [] on 9 April 2008, the four leading mayoral candidates all agreed to brand London a "Strangers into Citizens" capital, and to throw their weight behind the campaign. [] .

The backing of the Labour and Conservative candidates was in defiance of their national party policies. Quizzed about Boris Johnson's stance in advance of the assembly, the Conservative Party leader, David Cameron, disagreed with him, but acknowledged that he was not bound by central party policy. []

At the Assembly itself, Johnson expressed pride in his Muslim immigrant ancestry, saying that his Turkish great-grandfather who had fled from Turkey would be proud to have a descendant standing for mayor. [] .

"If an immigrant has been here for a long time and there is no realistic prospect of returning them, then I do think that person's condition should be regularised so that they can pay taxes and join the rest of society," Boris Johnson told the 2,500-strong assembly.

In his speech, Ken Livingstone, the incumbent mayor, said: "Migrants contribute hugely to the economic, civic and cultural life of London and the UK. To have a substantial number of them living here without regular status - because of deep-rooted failings in the immigration system, some dating back over a decade - is deeply damaging to London as well as to them."

Brian Paddick, the Liberal-Democrat candidate was proud that his party had been the first to adopt the principle of earned regularisation. "An earned route to citizenship is a solution to one of the greatest challenges facing this country", he said.

The contest was won by Boris Johnson. It was reported [] after Johnson's victory that the mayor had "quietly dropped" his commitment however.

Endorsement of the Catholic bishops of England and Wales

In March 2007, Vincent Nichols, the Archbishop of Birmingham, added his support for the campaign proposals at a Birmingham Citizens assembly. []

In April 2008, the Catholic bishops of England and Wales issued a major policy document, "Mission of the Church to migrants in England and Wales" [] , which included a call for regularisation, although it did not specify a preference for a general amnesty. The bishops noted that "many [undocumented] migrants have been here for several years; some have even set down roots and started families" and summed up the Catholic Church's position:

"Without condoning illegal immigration, the Church’s position on this, as in other fields of human endeavour, does not allow economic, social and political calculations to prevail over the person, but on the contrary, for the dignity of the human person to be put above everything else, and the rest to be conditioned by it. The Church will continue to advocate compassion to allow the ‘undocumented’ an opportunity to acquire proper status, so that they can continue to contribute to the common good without the constant fear of discovery and removal."

Speaking at the third Mass for Migrant Workers at Westminster Cathedral in London, on 5 May 2008, the Bishop of Brentwood, Thomas McMahon, pledged support for Strangers into Citizens and described as "shameful" and "unjust" the Government's failure to regularise the position of thousands of long-term illegal immigrants in Britain. []

The bishop called on Catholics to remain "resolute" and "steadfast" in backing the campaign proposal.

"For any Government to choose to do nothing about regularisation is irresponsible and leaves countless migrants vulnerable to exploitation and living in fear and in limbo," Bishop McMahon told the congregation. "They cannot work, they cannot claim benefit, they cannot get public housing. I can only describe it as shameful and unjust." The bishop added that there would be another demonstration in Trafalgar Square on May Bank Holiday in 2009 “to demonstrate to the Government that this issue has not gone away”.

An idea gaining momentum?

Starting in 2007, the UK Border Agency (formerly the Border and Immigration Agency and, previously, the Immigration and Nationality Directorate of the Home Office) began an attempt to clear the backlog of unresolved asylum cases. Although not officially an amnesty but a 'case resolution exercise', this "regularisation by stealth" has led to a number of asylum-seeking families whose applications had been refused being granted Indefinite Leave to Remain in the UK.

Because this legal recognition was given on the basis of their "long association with the UK", according to wording of the letters that these families have received [] , it has obvious points in common with the Strangers into Citizens campaign, and may well have been influenced by it.

In July 2008, the liberal policy thinktank Centre Forum published a policy paper whose title -- "Earned amnesty: bringing illegal workers out of the shadows" -- borrowed heavily from the Strangers into Citizens campaign's language and concepts. But while many of the arguments were the same, Centre Forum proposed that immigrants pay their way into British citizenship, spending £5,000 over a period of years, and requiring a residence of just three months. [

In September 2008 "The Independent" reported that Anthony Browne, director of the Conservative policy thinktank Policy Exchange who is soon to start as the Mayor of London's policy director, would be releasing a policy document favouring regularisation. In a comment piece [ in the newspaper, Browne argued for a "permanent earned amnesty for those who have been in the country a long time", halving the current long residency concession of 14 to seven years before reducing it still further. [



* [] , Strangers into Citizens campaign website
* [] , Campaign video
* [] , Friction TV debate.

London mayoral candidates back campaign, April 2008
* [] Mayoral candidates unite in call for illegal immigration amnesty, "The Independent" (9 April 2008)
* [] Calls grow for immigrant amnesty,"The Independent" (10 April 2008)BBC* [] The Guardian* []

Rally in Trafalgar Square, 7 May 2007: BBC [] , Reuters [] , Channel 4 News []

News reports
* [] Illegal migrants' right to work finds support in poll, "The Independent" (25 April 2007)
* [] A model immigrant, betrayed by Britain, "The Independent" (6 September 2007)
* [] Most Spaniards think amnesty worked, BBC (14 June 2006)
* [] Lib-Dems in immigration amnesty plans, Press Association (18 September 2007)
* [] Illegal immigrants ‘should be offered an amnesty to become British', "The Times" (18 September 2007)
* [] Lib Dems follow church calls for migrant amnesty, Ekklesia (19 September 2007)
* [] Minister attacked in migrant row, BBC Online, 24 September 2007
* [] Jon Cruddas throws down challenge on party reform and immigration, "The Times" (24 September 2007)

Newspaper/magazine articles and editorials favouring Strangers into Citizens:
* [] , Brian Paddick: It's time to move hardworking illegals into society, "The Independent" (9 April 2008)
* [] , Roman Ngouabeu, 'Let me escape from this terrifying limbo', "The Independent" (10 April 2008)
* [] , Neal Lawson: Making Everyone a Winner, "The Guardian "(8 May 2007)
* [,,2094239,00.html] Nick Cohen: Let Britain's secret migrant societies emerge into the light "The Observer" (3 June 2007)
* [] A sensible proposal to break this vicious circle, editorial, "The Independent" (25 April 2007)
* [,,2072384,00.html] Polly Toynbee: Phoney policies only backfire. We need an amnesty for illegal immigrants, "The Guardian" (4 May 2007)
* [,,1974425,00.html] Madeleine Bunting: A modern-day slavery is flourishing, and we just avert our eyes, "The Guardian" (18 December 2006)
* [,,2071703,00.html] Austen Ivereigh: Out of the Shadows, "The Guardian" (4 May 2007)
* [] Austen Ivereigh: Plight of the shadow people, "The Tablet" (28 April 2007)
* [] Austen Ivereigh: Let's sort out the immigration mess, "The Spectator" (17 March 2007)
* [] Austen Ivereigh: letter in response to Frank Field MP, "The Spectator" (31 March 2007)
* [] Austen Ivereigh: True British citizens in all but name, "The Independent" (6 September 2007)
* [] Philip Johnston: the Immigration horse has bolted, "Daily Telegraph" (25 June 2007)
* [] John Harris: 'Britishness isn't working', "Guardian online" (25 September 2007)
* [,,2175049,00.html] Jasper Gerard: The truth MigrationWatch doesn't want you to know, "The Observer" (23 September 2007)
* [,,2175148,00.html] Mary Riddell: What about a welcome amid the warnings, chief constable? "The Observer" (23 September 2007)
* [] Will Somerville: Safety First, "The Guardian" (23 July 2008)
* [] Anthony Browne: Why we should grant illegal immigrants an amnesty, "The Independent" (26 September 2008)

News reports or articles opposing Strangers into Citizens
* ['a+disaster'] Migrant plan a disaster, "Daily Express" (8 May 2007)
* [,,2-2007210242,00.html] Fury over illegals amnesty plan, "The Sun" (8 May 2007)
* [] Andrew Green, 'This would make a bad situation worse', "the Daily Telegraph" (10 May 2007)

Support from the Catholic Church:
* [] 'Bishop attacks immigration policy', "The Independent" (6 May 2008)
* [] "Mission of the Church to the migrants in England and Wales"
* [] 'Some illegal immigrants deserve to stay, argue bishops', "The Catholic Herald" (18 April 2008)
* [,,1973527,00.html] Ed Vulliamy: Welcome to the new holy land, "The Observer" (17 December 2006)
* [] US Catholic campaign for immigration reform

Policy papers favouring regularisation:
* [] IPPR report on regularisation
* [] JCWI report on regularisation

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