Immigration: Great Britain Shares Our Illegal Problems

Great Britain has its own illegal immigration problem.  The problem is that the British have misplaced 600,000 visitors over the past two years, not knowing how many of those people have left Britain and how many are still lurking around, enjoying the benefits of the welfare state. Unlike the United States, where no one really knows how many undocumented visitors are living in the country, Great Britain knows that it has misplaced around 600,000  visitors.  They even know how they have misplaced the missing visitors. They just don’t know what to do about it.

Being an Island Doesn’t Stop Illegal Immigration

Great Britain is, of course , a collection of small islands in the North Atlantic. You might think that since Great Britain is an island, they wouldn’t have as much of an illegal immigrant problem as, say, the United States, with its 8,998 miles of borders that visitors – or illegal aliens – can simply walk across.  Great Britain, however, has at least 11,000 miles of shoreline.  Other estimates put that number as high 19,491 miles of coastline, depending upon whether you are measuring at low tide, high tide, or the mean high water mark….and that coastline hasn’t been closely monitored since the end of the Second World War.

It’s not that the British are lazy about minding their borders. On the contrary, they’ve spent £800 million pounds ($1.12 TRILLION) on a computer system that was designed to record everyone entering or leaving the country.  The problem is that the system doesn’t work. They know how many people entered the country but they don’t know how many have left because that’s the part of the system that doesn’t work.

In particular, the system has failed to keep track of some 88,000 visitors who came into the country on passports that were not issued by European Union countries. That’s important because,  by this time next year, as Brexit takes effect, visitors with EU passports will be treated the same way as visitors from non-EU countries…and Britain’s £800 million pound system can’t track non-EU visitors.

Admittedly, almost no one has tried to sneak into Great Britain from the sea since World War II, when the Germans repeatedly attempted to infiltrate the Islands by landing their spies along isolated sections of the British coastline. Today, as in the United States, the vast majority of the illegal “immigrants” arrive on regularly scheduled ships, through the Chunnel, the tunnel that runs under the English Channel, or by air.  No one swims the English Channel.

Upon their arrival in the UK, visitors are duly entered into that £800 million pound computer system, which was one of  British Prime Minister Theresa May’s “bright” ideas that carried her all the way to Number 10 Downing Street, the official residence of Britain’s prime ministers. May developed the program during her stint as Home Secretary, repeatedly promising that the system would keep track of everyone entering or leaving the UK by 2015.

However, as The Guardian’s Alan Travis has reported, the system recorded the departures of an additional 200,000 visitors for whom the system had no entry records, indicating that more than 800,000 people either entered or left without ever being recorded by the system over a two year period.

In 2016, 37.6 million people visited the United Kingdom, where they injected £22.5 billion ($31 billion) into the local economy.  Losing track of 800,000 people out of 37.6 million visitors means that the British have only misplaced 2.1 percent of their visitors over two years, or just over one percent  of their visitors each year.

Illegal Immigrants are Usually People Who Overstay Their Visas

We’ve known for a long time now that the majority of the illegal immigrants coming into the United States arrive by air, not across the border with Mexico.

There are, however, some discrepancies in our own statistics. According to the National Travel and Tourism Office, depending up which report you believe, the number of official arrivals totaled up to just 37.5 million according to one report in 2016, while another report indicates that 75.6 million visitors entered the country that year.

The discrepancies in the U.S. reports (which are still marked “preliminary” 18 months after they were first published) appears to stem from the fact that the larger number comes from a report that breaks down incoming visitors into just three categories, total overseas visitors, visitors from Mexico and visitors from Canada. The smaller number comes from a report  that breaks down incoming visitors into nine categories: Western Europe, Eastern Europe, Asia, Middle East, Africa, Oceana, South America, Central America, and the Caribbean. Taken together, these reports indicate that we don’t really know where approximately half of our visitors came from.

A third report from Homeland Security indicates that there were “50,437,278 in-scope nonimmigrant admissions to the United States through air or sea POEs  (ports of entry) who were expected to depart in FY 2016, which represents the majority of annual nonimmigrant admissions. Of this number, DHS calculated a total overstay rate of 1.47 percent, or 739,478 individuals. In other words, 98.53 percent of the in-scope nonimmigrant visitors departed the United States on time and abided by the terms of their admission”

Note that we have lost track of approximately the same number of visitors that Great Britain has, which suggests that we are within the margin of error for any statistical system of this kind…but neither the U.S. nor the UK can specify how long these missing visitors have overstayed their welcome, because neither country seems to be that good at recording departure statistics.

Even Wikipedia has so far failed to find those statistics. We can find out how many AMERICANS have emigrated to other countries, but we can’t determine how many foreigners have left of their own accord. (We do of course know how many people we have thrown out of the country. In 2015, we deported 235,413 people from the U.S.)

We do know how many Americans are leaving home for good, however,. In 2017, according to Fortune Magazine, some 6,800 Americans gave up their citizenship, most of them doing so to avoid double taxation, since the U.S. taxes American expatriates on the basis of their foreign income. There are no reliable estimates of the total number of American expatriates who have not given up their citizenship.

So, now we have three different figures that purportedly indicate the number of people who entered the United States in 2016.  If we accept Homeland Security’s estimate that there were 50.5 million “nonimmigrant” admissions in 2016, and subtract that number from the total admissions of 75.6 million, we would have to conclude that the remaining 25.1 million admissions were, in fact, immigrant admissions.

Raise hands: how many people believe that we admitted 25.1 million IMMIGRANTS to the United States in 2016, an immigrant being a visitor who intends to stay here?  The Immigration Policy Institute reports that there were a total of 43.7 million immigrants living in the United States in 2017, which adds up to 13.5%  of the total U.S. population of 323.1 million. It would be utterly impossible to add 25.1 million immigrants in one year without crashing the economy. That many extra mouths to feed would drive  the cost of living right through the roof.  On the other hand….

Ask any economist – even an honest Republican economist, if you can find one – what would happen if we were to deport all 43.7 million immigrants (something we actually can’t do, either legally or morally.)  Subtracting 43.7 million consumers from the U.S. economy would result in an instantaneous and permanent depression of unprecedented proportions. So, it turns out that, if we let in large numbers of immigrants, the economy crashes but, if you throw out a large number of immigrants, the system crashes. Damned if we do and damned if we don’t,  it seems.

It also seems to be more than passing strange that, in this new high technology information environment, governments can’t keep track of how many people are coming into their countries, how many are leaving, or how long they are overstaying their welcome. Until we can document those figures, building a wall between the U.S. and Mexico is rather like locking the barn door before you know where the cattle are.

Footnote:  Great Britain has approximately 19,491 miles of shoreline according to the most generous estimate. The United States has 95,471 miles of shoreline, almost none of which is monitored or guarded.