Trade unionists and religious leaders are calling on the government to consider an amnesty for illegal immigrants living and working in the United Kingdom.
It is estimated that there are between 310,000 and 570,000 illegal immigrants currently living and working in the U.K. If the British government does not allow them to settle and if the immigrants do not leave the country of their own accord, it could take over a decade for the government to trace and deport them.
"Assuming we can find them, and assuming that people aren't going away of their own accord, it would take some time," former immigration minister, Tony McNulty told the BBC (May 18, 2006). He went on to calculate that it would take at least 10 years, at a rate of 25,000 per year.
A leading trade union official called for debate around granting amnesty to the half a million immigrants living and working in the U.K.
Jack Dromey, deputy secretary general of the Transport and General Workers Union said the Government should acknowledge the contribution the immigrants are making and adopt a sensible approach towards them.
He told the BBC (May 20, 2006): "The economy needs migrant labour. They are the backbone of the service economy, cleaning, catering, looking after the old, the sick and the dying, and of food and agriculture.
"Yes, it is true that there are probably half a million here without documents. The question is what do we do about that?"
He said the government should stop criminalising illegal immigrants.
"They live in fear of the knock at the door and they are exploited by too many employers.
"What we need, therefore, is a sensible approach which does not criminalise those good men and women."
Dromey said it was neither practical nor sensible to seek to deport all the illegal immigrants.
"You can't deport half a million workers -- who would clean, who would cook, who would pick in our fields?
"The time has come for a debate around an amnesty for those workers," he said.
Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor also called for the government to consider an amnesty for illegal immigrants.
The Cardinal said that although the Catholic Church does not encourage or approve of illegal immigration, it could not ignore the plight of people without legal status.
"While our nation benefits economically from the presence of undocumented workers, too often we turn a blind eye when they are exploited by employers," he said.
"Is it not time to consider, as other countries have done, ways of regularising their situation? those who are working in the country and do not have a criminal record - to the benefit of our economy and to enable them to play a fuller part in society?"
A leading think-tank said the move would raise over ￡1bn in tax revenues annually which could them be spent on public services.
In its study, "Irregular migration in the U.K," the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) said £1.04 billion in potential fiscal revenue could be raised if the Britain regularised illegal immigrants and allowed them to settle, work and pay their taxes.
The IPRR said trying to remove the almost half a million people living in the country illegally is could cost as much as £4.7 billion annually and was "simply not feasible, nor is it desirable."
"Nobody likes illegal immigration and the subject is a deeply difficult one for politicians. But the bare truth is that we're not going to deport hundreds of thousands of people? our economy would shrink and we would notice it straight away in uncleaned offices, dirty streets and unstaffed pubs," said IPPR director Nick Pearce.
"So we have a choice: make people live in the shadows, exploited and fearful for the future, or bring them into the mainstream, to pay taxes and live an honest life."
In 2002, a House of Lords report called for an amnesty for the "growing underclass of people" who cannot be removed, whether failed asylum seekers or "illegal" migrants.
The report entitled "A Common Policy On Illegal Immigration," emphasised that some form of regularisation is unavoidable if a growing underclass of people in an irregular situation, who are vulnerable to exploitation, is not to be created.
It said more could and should be done across the EU to increase the opportunities for legal immigration in order to meet identified labour shortages.
It urged government to manage migration in a way that controls illegal immigration effectively while bearing in mind that they are dealing with people, most of whom are motivated simply by a desire for a better life for themselves and their families.
It also emphasised that in devising measures to control illegal immigration the Britian must ensure that it scrupulously observes its human rights obligations.
The report said it was disappointing that the government, while enthusiastically endorsing measures designed to improve the enforcement of immigration controls, had consistently chosen not to opt into positive immigration measures, such as those relating to admission for employment and self-employment; family reunion; and protection for the victims of trafficking.
This article was first published on OhmyNews International.