Select Committee on Home Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum by Mr Alex Yuen



  According to Home Office Statistics 108,155 applications for asylum were received between 1996 and 1998 while only 5,190 failed asylum-seekers were "removed or had voluntarily departed", less than 5 per cent of the number of applicants over the same period.

  Of the 347,927 applications received from 1991 to 1999 only 24,715 or 7.1 per cent had been granted asylum, the majority of failed asylum-seekers are, presumably, "allowed" to remain in the country and work illegally.

  While the Government recognises the severe shortages of skilled workers in some sectors and actively facilitates the recruitment of foreign workers in such fields, it has overlooked other sectors and closed the door to the "unskilled". Hospitals are not only short of doctors and nurses, they are also short of care assistants, porters and cleaners.

  Claiming asylum is the only sure way of entry under current immigration rules. The high number of bogus asylum-seekers in the country is the result of the Government's delay in addressing the nation's need for foreign workers all along the skill scale.

  No legislation can prevent someone from wanting to come to the UK for a better life. Tougher immigration control will force would-be migrants to take greater risks and enrich the facilitators even more. Economic migrants have to pay a high price to come for work, by establishing official channels to recruit foreign workers to fill all such vacancies the flow of illegal migration will regulate itself and abate.


The Cause

There is a severe shortage of labour in the UK Chinese food industry. Earnings in China are one twentieth of those in the UK. Chinese immigration trafficking is the result of the Government's refusal to admit a controlled flow of legal immigration. Economic migrants are forced to become asylum-seekers.

The System

  Chinese economic migrant enters the UK and applies for asylum, he is given temporary admission. His application for asylum is refused, he appeals. His appeal is rejected, he is then left free to live and work in the UK.

The Six-Month Rule

  Under immigration rules an asylum-seeker is not permitted to work for the first six months. A Chinese migrant needs to work to repay his huge debts. Since the six-month rule is not being effectively enforced, it encourages the migrant to break the law and costs the Treasury tax revenue in the process.

The Reality

  Anyone can secure entry into the UK by claiming asylum. Many bogus asylum-seekers supply false personal details which make repatriation difficult. Detention is costly, especially in humanitarian and political terms. If deportation is ruled out, there is nothing the Government can do to remove the failed asylum-seeker.

Recent Changes

  The recent increase in enforcement activities is counter-productive. It creates a climate of fear and drives failed asylum-seekers underground. The One-Stop Notice acts as a great disincentive to registration since new entrants fear detention that could follow the end of the application process which has recently been accelerated. Application for asylum is becoming a last resort, an escape from arrest. Another effect is that new applicants now adopt a completely false identity which makes repatriation even more difficult.

A Mockery

  In 1995, 2,625 applications were received from Chinese asylum-seekers, only five were granted asylum. Of 9,600 applications received between 1991 and 1999 only 285 of the failed asylum-seekers or less than 3 per cent had been removed. Since the authorities cannot remove failed asylum-seekers in any case, it is a mockery to waste time and money in processing applications and hearing appeals which they know are fictitious. Detention or deportation of one migrant only creates a vacancy for another and creates more work for the Authorities and more business for the Snakeheads.

The Snakehead

  A Chinese Snakehead is the head of a smuggling ring, part of a Triad. A Triad is an underworld gang whose activities are wide and varied, they include loansharking, illegal gaming, prostitution, extortion and smuggling. Their organisation is nationwide, their influence reaches high places in government. Chinese officials are corrupt, especially local officials who collude with the Triads to extort from the common people. Snakeheads are active also in London and other cities in the world.

The Problem

  There is no meaningful register for illegal migrants in the UK since many are deterred by fear from registering while others are driven to disappear. Processing bogus applications and enforcement activities are expensive yet failed asylum-seekers cannot be deported. They become a political embarrassment and cannot be regulated since they can disappear at any time. Illegal migrants are left free to live and work in the country, but the Government is deprived of tax revenues since those without papers, and their employers, cannot pay taxes.

The Chinese Job Market

  The thriving Chinese food market is desperately short of labour. Working conditions are harsh, wages low. There is an additional language barrier for although some employers do speak English, very few kitchen staff do. A six-day, 72-hour week is normal, wages are as low as £120 per week plus food and accommodation. Few British nationals are qualified to work in a Chinese kitchen and perhaps less are likely to entertain such work. Under these conditions it is almost impossible to fill the vacancies from within. If all illegal Chinese workers were repatriated the Chinese food industry would collapse overnight.


  Government welcomes foreign doctors, nurses, teachers, computer personnel and other workers including Indian chefs to come to work in the UK. Why should it not also welcome Chinese catering workers?

The Chinese Asylum-Seeker

  With few exceptions all Chinese asylum-seekers are economic migrants. They come to the UK to work and earn money. A Chinese migrant does not speak English. He does not affect the local job market since he can work only within the Chinese communities. The cost in coming to the UK is so high that it would take a migrant up to five years to repay his debts. Interest alone can accrue at the rate of around 4,000 RMB (£330) per month. A would-be migrant cannot afford to gamble with his life on the off chance that he might find work. If there is no demand for Chinese workers he will not come.

Cost of Entry

  The current cost in coming to the UK is in excess of 200,000 RMB (£16,500), equivalent to at least 30 years' savings in China for an average migrant. Those who cannot raise the money from relatives and friends have to borrow from loansharks or Snakeheads in which case a guarantor is involved. Interest is currently 2 to 2.5 per cent per month compound. Punishment for non-repayment is severe, beatings and maiming are common.

Human Rights Implications

  Because of a migrant's genuine fear for his safety and that of his family should he be returned to China before his debts are repaid, he might well qualify for protection under the Human Rights Act.


  The inflow of Chinese migrants to the UK is directly related to the availability of work. By creating an official channel in China to fill job vacancies, illegal immigration trafficking will reduce itself to an insignificant level.

  The majority of illegal migrants are already in work, an amnesty would regularise their status. Special leave can be granted on compassionate grounds or alternatively work permits can be issued in exchange for verified personal details in which case permit-holders can be repatriated at the end of their term.

  To dispose of bogus applications and save the nation a lot of time and money, or even as a holding operation, asylum-seekers should be encouraged to apply for protection under Article 3 of the Human Rights Act. Human Rights consideration would more than provide a way out of the impasse, by granting protection the Government can regulate the Chinese asylum-seeker syndrome under the Act Those without papers will want to register, increased tax revenue is a bonus.

  The focus of attention should shift from the newly-arrived to the disappeared. Threat of detention to new-arrivals should be removed and seen to be removed. A round-up and detention of those without papers will deter others from breaking the rules. In the case of Chinese migrants rounding-up is easy, a visit to the local Chinese restaurant or take-away will produce catches a-plenty.


  Anyone who employs an illegal worker is liable to a heavy fine. Redundant officials can be redirected to ensure that the law is observed. When employers do not offer work to non-permit holders, the incentive for economic migrants to come to the UK is substantially reduced.

December 2000

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