Confronting illegal immigration issues must come before proposed asylum reforms

Despite having some of the toughest immigration laws within the European Union, illegal immigration continues to be a major problem in the UK because of counterfeit, fraudulent or stolen EU identity documents, says Craig Scott, head of NSL’s Right to Work checking service.

A recent news feature in The Times suggests the European Commission is considering radical reforms that include a proposal that would see migrants stripped of their asylum status if they left their EU home country to search for work elsewhere in Europe.  However, with so much false documentation swirling around the UK and across the continent, it’s hard to see how such proposals can address a situation that has been out of control for far too long. Indeed, the vast rise in EU immigration into the UK may well mean that many of those purporting to be EU citizens are, in fact, illegal immigrants using false documents. Can we really be sure about the true EU home country of an individual?

As in all walks of life, the only real prospect of resolving a problem is to identify and address the root causes. The political challenges presented by civil conflict and mass migration are considerable and, consequently, any amount of cosmetic tinkering or worthy commentary will simply scratch the surface. Ultimately, a political resolution is the only answer to the current refugee and migrant crisis.

That said, the scale of illegal immigration here in the UK – and the ease with which such migrants can move within Europe and the UK – is compounded by two other significant shortcomings in the way identities are verified and monitored. With modest investment and with minimum disruption and delay to border control procedures, both of these can be addressed before an individual even has the chance to enter a country.

Firstly, the inconsistent embedded security features and disparate nature of European identity documentation creates a real problem at EU and UK border controls. It’s almost impossible for security personnel to identify each type of EU document and to recognise false documentation when there are so many variables – not to mention operational pressures – to contend with.

When one considers the most popular forged identity documents, it’s easy to see how such a lack of consistency plays directly into hands of criminals. An Italian identity card, for example, gives full access through the EU and UK border controls and access to the UK employment market. However, it’s easily replicated – comprising just a photograph stapled to a piece of cardboard with no additional security features! And any false EU/EEA documentation is inexpensive and easily sourced.

Secondly, the number of false documents found by UK employers using electronic scanning systems shows just how much fraudulent documentation has evaded detection at the point where individuals entered the country. Such efforts to comply with new Right to Work regulations are putting employers at the frontline of our security. While the results offer a degree of reassurance, it rather begs the question about how many other illegal immigrants continue to evade detection.

If, as we are led to believe, there is genuine commitment to clamp down on illegal immigration, why aren’t UK border controls and The Department for Work and Pensions equipped with similar electronic screening systems? It’s all the more baffling when one considers that cost-effective options such as our Checking Service can undertake 40 reliable security checks on an identity document in just 8 seconds.

Significantly, such a solution not only provides a more secure and efficient way to verify the identity of an individual, it also enables data to be screened, retained and cross- referenced for all other relevant authorities and agencies. In short, it provides a much more thorough, and joined-up approach.  And that’s one radical reform that would have real substance and deliver an emphatic and immediate impact in improving our security and helping to close our doors to illegal immigration.