Dear Gordon Brown,
Can I ask, that in future, before you make any pronouncements such as your recent comments about obliging migrants to carry out community work before being granted British Citizenship, you check with me that my wife is not in bed with the flu, or in some other position where she will be able to watch BBC News 24. Unfortunately, since in this situation you failed to check with me, this has resulted in my wife being so incensed by not only your initial statement, but the subsequent coverage in the media that she has so far posted a reaction to her blog, and a similar comment to the BBC comment board. This in turn has resulted in two calls from BBC researchers, and a request that despite her flu, she would come and be interviewed at a nearby studio!
Unfortunately, as you are no doubt aware, your comments have led to another of the countries periodic immigration debates, one which highlights the general confusion amongst the UK population about the differences between immigrants, EU migrant workers and asylum seekers, and the general ignorance of the rules and regulations under which each group operates. As I am sure you are aware your current proposal will have no effect on the groups that most people seem concerned about.
The main group of current concern are the EU migrant workers, especially from the recent admissions in Eastern Europe. As I am sure you are aware, most of these are coming into the UK under the same rules that allow our citizens to move freely across Europe, and are primarily here for economic reasons. As the various pronouncements over learning English, having ceremonies and now volunteer work are for those seeking citizenship, these announcements will have no effect on those workers coming across EU borders to work, as with their EU passports they are free to move around anyway. It is probably also worth considering that with the massive influx of people from Poland quadrupling Church attendances already, without being required to participate in the community, unlike the steady decline in Church attendance amongst British citizens, that these migrant workers are perhaps demonstrating some of the community spirit that you are wanting.
You are also I am sure aware, that contrary to popular belief, legal immigrants to the UK are not allowed to claim benefits, indeed the Immigration and Nationality Directorate already requires significant financial paperwork with an application in order to prove that both the immigrant, and their UK sponsor is financially able to support themselves without recourse to state funds. Access to state services, even the NHS is strictly guarded, with now even non-resident UK citizens denied access to the NHS if they have lived outside the UK for too long a period, in an effort to stamp out abuse from UK citizens who take advantage of the lower cost of living abroad, but return to the UK to use the NHS. The only exception to this of course are asylum seekers, who as you are well aware are not allowed to work, even if they are able to, due to Government policy, instead resulting in the group being a drain on the public purse, when many of them wish to contribute to society. Finally there are of course those who are here illegally. Since of course your government has no idea who they are, or how many of them there are, then this proposal won’t affect them either.
Unfortunately, the plan to require immigrants to do voluntary work, whist seeming a splendid policy idea – address the lack of British volunteering by plugging the gap with immigrants – does seem somewhat flawed.
Firstly, as a number of these voluntary roles will be working with children and other vulnerable groups this would require a CRB check – I assume that you are also willing to fund the significant extra complexity of ensuring that checks of international convictions are properly organised – something the Home Office seems to have had trouble with of late…
Secondly, whilst the idea of getting immigrants to do volunteer work may seem like a good idea, surely the real problem that your government needs to address is that not enough British citizens are volunteering in the first place. Surely you should be looking at addressing the real issues within UK communities, rather than making misleading announcements that in fact will only affect the relatively small group of those seeking British Citizenship, rather than the groups of migrants that most people seem to be concerned about.
Thankfully it seems that the BBC has relented, and just asked for her to record an interview over the phone. However, my initial point still stands, please check with me in future before you launch another announcement such as this, to ensure that my wife is suitably distracted. Of course, if you could possibly manage to come up with a coherent well thought out set of policies rather than the endless succession of sound-bites that you and you colleagues of all political persuasions seem to produce, that would be even better.