Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has said he is determined to “lay the foundations for an immigration system that embodies this nation’s instincts and its values.”
He said the new system must also embody “our openness and tolerance on one hand; our sense of fair play, on the other.”
Mr. Clegg affirmed that the Liberal Democrats were at the forefront of creating such a system. “We want to stay a tolerant Britain, and to that end we will be zero-tolerant of abuse,” he said.
The Deputy Prime minister said migrant communities have shaped the British society “in ways more profound than any cliché about chicken tikka masala, or Notting Hill Carnival, or Polish builders can ever express.”
Talking about his family background, Mr. Clegg said: “I’m the son of a Dutch mother – she, herself, raised in Indonesia; a half-Russian father; husband to a Spanish wife. Like millions of Brits, if you trace our blood lines back through the generations, you end up travelling around the globe.”
Mr. Clegg criticised the media for treating immigration in a superficial way. “Of course, if you believed every headline, you’d think that when immigrants aren’t stealing British jobs, they’re all living the high life in 12-bedroom Kensington mansions, courtesy of the state. But that’s a complete caricature of the truth,” he said.
The Deputy Prime Minister praised the important contribution immigrants make to the British society. He said: “The majority of people who come here work hard and make a contribution. Many have served – and still serve – in our armed forces. And if every member of an immigrant community suddenly downed tools, countless businesses and services would suffer. The NHS would fall over. And in a globalised economy, where talent is as mobile as capital, no nation can succeed by pulling up the drawbridge. British firms depend on outside skills and expertise in order to compete. British universities too. The reason this country has a world-beating research base is because we are a magnet for the brightest and the best.”
Mr. Clegg confirmed that the Coalition government will increase the cash penalties for unscrupulous employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants because they’re cheaper. Currently, the maximum fine is £10,000 per illegal worker. Mr. Clegg said he had asked the Home Secretary to look into the right amount, adding that “personally I’d like to see it double – employers have an inescapable duty to employ people who are working here legally, not to turn a blind eye to those working illegally.”
He also confirmed that they were “looking at a powerful new tool to help deal with the problem of people overstaying on their visas.”
Mr. Clegg called for cash deposits of more than £1,000 to be paid by visa applicants from high risk countries and repaid when they leave the UK.