Select Committee on European Scrutiny Eighteenth Report


A COMMON POLICY ON ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION


(22998)

COM(01) 672


Commission Communication on a common policy on illegal immigration.

Legal base:
Document originated:15 November 2001
Forwarded to the Council:
Deposited in Parliament:17 December 2001
Department:Home Office
Basis of consideration:EM of 3 January 2002
Previous Committee Report:None
To be discussed in Council:No date set
Committee's assessment:Politically important
Committee's decision:Cleared



Background

  11.1  This is one of a number of Communications related to the comprehensive asylum and immigration policy called for at the Tampere European Council in 1999. We have already considered the Communications on a Community immigration policy[54] and on a common asylum policy.[55] A Communication on returns is expected shortly.

The document

  11.2  The Communication is divided into two main sections. The first sets the context and parameters for addressing illegal immigration; the second consists of a draft Action Plan.

  11.3  The first section opens with a brief description of the different types of illegal immigrants, drawing a broad distinction between those who enter the territory of a Member State illegally and those who enter legally but then "overstay". It calls for further in-depth analysis of the phenomenon.

  11.4  The Communication then reaffirms Member States' obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights and the Geneva Convention on Refugees to protect those genuinely in need of international protection. It suggests that Member States should explore ways of offering rapid access to protection (including resettlement schemes) so that refugees do not need to resort to illegal entry. The document also calls for increased co-operation with both the countries from which illegal immigrants come, and those through which they transit. The first section closes by emphasising the importance of enforcing existing rules and providing appropriate sanctions.

  11.5  The Action Plan identifies the following key areas under each of which it proposes initiatives:

  • visa policy;

  • infrastructure for information exchange and analysis;

  • pre-frontier measures;

  • border management;

  • operational co-operation;

  • advanced role of Europol;

  • aliens law and criminal law; and

  • returns and readmission policy.

The Government's view

  11.6  The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Home Office (Angela Eagle) generally welcomes the Communication, although she considers that several points need clarification. She briefly describes each of the areas in the Action Plan and comments on them.

  11.7  In relation to visa policy, she says:

"The Communication calls for the further harmonisation of visa policy; further improvements to the security of visas; the setting up of joint visa posts, and the establishment of a European visa identification system (EVIDENT). The Government would have some problems with the further harmonisation of visa policy, having decided not to participate in the new Common Visa List. We are keen to see improvements to the Uniform Format Visa. We have no objection in principle to the idea of EVIDENT and are happy for a feasibility study to go ahead. A decision on whether to opt in to such a system could be made at a later stage. There would be resource implications. The proposal for Joint Visa Posts would only work for Schengen visa issuing countries."

  11.8  On information exchange and analysis, the Minister tells us:

"The Communication identifies two areas where it sees a need for improvement to the information on illegal immigration already available — detailed information on the phenomenon of illegal immigration to provide a better understanding of the problem; and immediate exchange of information via the early warning system (EWS). The Government supports the need for greater and wider dissemination of information within the Community. We also support an effective early warning system, and recently proposed changes to the system which have much improved it. It follows that we would also be supportive of further initiatives to improve its efficiency, including the development of a secure intranet site. The Communication proposes the establishment of a European Migration Observatory, and the Government is in favour of this idea so long as the purpose of the Observatory can be clearly defined and that the financial costs are proportionate to the benefits to the Community."

  11.9  Turning to pre-frontier measures, while the Minster welcomes the Commission's proposals to build on the existing network of immigration and airline liaison officers, she emphasises that the national interest must not be over-ridden. The role and expertise of liaison officers should, in her view, be determined in accordance with the needs of their Member States. She fully supports the call for assistance to countries of origin and transit, and campaigns to raise awareness of the problems and risks associated with illegal immigration.

  11.10  On border management, the Minister tells us that the Commission considers that close operational co-operation (including harmonised training of Border Guard officials and the establishment of a European Border Guard School) will be necessary to ensure effective external border controls. As the Communication makes it clear that such co-operation is not intended to threaten national sovereignty, the Government can endorse it.

  11.11  In relation to operational co-operation, the Minister reports that the Government can support the establishment of a permanent technical co-operation support facility as long as it does not get in the way of more informal, ad-hoc links with Member States.

  11.12  The Minister then discusses the role of Europol. She says:

"The Commission calls for Europol to be given more operative powers to enable it to work together with national authorities on trafficking or smuggling of human beings. The Government agrees that Europol has an important role to play in the fight against illegal immigration but does not envisage an 'operative' role for Europol. The Government is fully supportive of Europol's participation in joint teams, co-operating fully in the continuing discussion of how joint teams will operate and the status of Europol members who will support those teams. The Commission invites Europol to consider the establishment of agreements with transit countries to foster the operational exchange of information. At its recent meeting, the Europol Management Board decided that discussion on a further list of third countries and organisations with which Europol could enter into co-operations was premature, and Europol should concentrate on the list adopted by the Council. The Government feels that this approach is the correct one."

  11.13  Under its heading, alien law and criminal law, the Commission discusses a range of relevant instruments. The Minister singles out four issues for comment, as follows:

"—  a call for work to be completed to harmonise Member States' penal legislation against people smugglers; swift ratification of the UN Convention against Transnational Organised Crime and the two accompanying protocols; and speedy ratification of the Convention on mutual legal assistance and its protocol. None of these is problematic for the UK.

"—  advanced warning that the Commission is to present a legislative proposal on short-term residence permits for victims of trafficking that are prepared to co-operate in investigations and criminal procedure against their exploiters. The Government recognises the importance of protecting victims of trafficking and ensuring that safeguards are created within which they may feel confident to give evidence against those who trafficked them, but do not believe that this should extend to a guarantee of automatic right to remain in every case. There already exists a discretion to grant exceptional leave to remain outside the Immigration Rules in appropriate cases. We believe that such a system is sufficient, and that a system based on an automatic permit would lead to abuse and exploitation.

"—  a call for consideration of the need for more harmonised regulations with regard to carrier liability and an in-depth discussion with all interested parties: Member States, the Commission and the transport industry. We welcome the idea of such talks and participated in the first round of them in November. But Member States have until 11/02/03 to start complying with the current Directive so again it seems a little premature to start looking at further harmonisation before the existing legislation has had time to settle.

"—  a suggestion to harmonise sanctions against illegal employment, including minimum criminal penalties. The Government is currently examining further measures to tackle illegal employment in the UK. The Commission's proposal will be considered in light of the findings of the Government's inter-departmental Ministerial Group. While consistency in employer sanctions may be valuable, as important is achieving an appropriate balance between legal entry routes, in country controls and removals."

  11.14  Finally, the Minister strongly endorses the view expressed in the Communication that returns policy is a crucial element in the fight against illegal immigration, and supports the call for greater co-operation at Community level.

Conclusion

  11.15  While this Communication properly focuses on illegal immigration and ways of tackling it, we are pleased that it begins by reaffirming Member States' obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights and the Geneva Convention on Refugees. We also welcome the recognition that "overstaying" is as problematic as illegal entry, and support the call for further research and analysis of the phenomenon generally.

  11.16  We note that the Minister's welcome for the Communication is tempered by the Government's wish to ensure that national sovereignty is not threatened by the proposed actions. We also note, and support, the Government's continuing intention that Europol's role should not become directly operational and that it should not over-extend its activities.

  11.17  We thank the Minister for her full and helpful Explanatory Memorandum. Although the Communication is an important document, it is not a proposal for legislation, and, while it covers a broad spectrum of issues and actions, few of them are totally new. We therefore clear it.


54  (21845) 11529/00; see HC 28-iii (2000-01), paragraph 3 (17 January 2001). Back

55  (21947) 13119/00; see HC 28-viii (2000-01), paragraph 3 (14 March 2001). Back


 
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