Father of British-Canadian accused of joining ISIS hopes to plead son’s case in Canada next week

An example of how inheriting Canadian citizenship (first generation) leads to consular demands even in cases where a person has never lived in Canada:

John Letts, the father of a young British-Canadian man accused of belonging to ISIS and being held in a Kurdish jail in Syria, is hoping to lobby the Canadian government in person next week for help securing his son’s transfer to Canada.

Letts and his wife, Sally Lane, insist the allegations against their son Jack are false but say he has the right to answer any charges against him in a British or Canadian court.

Letts say he would have travelled to Canada long before now had he been allowed.

He and Lane have been subject to a travel ban since being charged in 2016 under British terrorism legislation for trying to send money to their son, who they say was desperate to leave ISIS-held territory in the Middle East.

On Thursday, a British judge eased the restrictions on Letts, giving him permission to travel abroad with the court’s prior approval.

“We were just given the ruling this morning, so we haven’t had really much of a chance to digest it,” Letts said in an interview after the hearing.

“But I’m hoping that next week, I’d like to think I could be in Canada having meetings with appropriate people.”

Family holds dual citizenship

Jack Letts was 18 when he left his family’s home in Oxford to travel to Jordan and then Syria in 2014.

Last spring, Kurdish militias controlling parts of northern Syria stopped him as he was trying to leave ISIS-held territory and jailed him in the town of Qamishli.

Canadian consular officials spoke with him by telephone in January. In audio recordings of the call obtained by CBC News, Jack Letts said he had tried to commit suicide and asked to be sent to Canada.

The British media have dubbed him Jihadi Jack, a label his parents say has made their ordeal all the more difficult. Public opinion in the U.K. tends not to favour allowing people suspected of fighting for ISIS to return.

The parents turned to Ottawa for help, they say, in the face of an indifferent response from the British Foreign Office. Letts, Lane and their two children, including Jack, hold dual citizenship. When asked about the Letts case in the past, U.K. authorities have said they cannot help British citizens in places where the U.K. has no consular support.

Letts, seen in Facebook photo at age 20, went to Syria and Iraq in 2014, and is now in a Kurdish jail in northern Syria. He was dubbed Jihadi Jack in British media, a label his parents feel has hurt his case. (Facebook)

Lane is optimistic that Canada will help see her son extricated from the Kurdish prison.

“I think we’re in a different time frame now,” she said. “Jack’s in detention. There’s an opportunity to get him out of detention, and those questions about what he was doing can now be answered in a trial.”

Parents could face 14 years in prison

Lane says she has been focused on how to help her son rather than on the charges laid against her in Britain, with a trial set to begin in September.

But if found guilty, she and her husband could face up to 14 years in prison, an outcome supporters say would be ludicrous for parents trying to help a child.

John Letts says living under bail conditions and being blackballed by some in the community has been an ordeal, harming the couple’s ability to make a living.

“We’ve been living like this for three and a half years, waiting under this sword of Damocles and under this view that we’re somehow terrorists and aiding and abetting ISIS, and it just makes you very angry and upset. And here’s a breakthrough.”

In his decision Thursday at the Central Criminal Court in London, known as the Old Bailey, Judge Nicholas Hilliard did not lift the travel ban on Lane.

Source: Father of British-Canadian accused of joining ISIS hopes to plead son’s case in Canada next week


ICYMI: World’s youngest billionaire warns on Trump – BBC News

Impact of anti-immigration rhetoric and on the UK:

Anti-immigration rhetoric coming from the White House is deterring software developers from going to the US.

That’s according to the world’s youngest self-made billionaire, 27-year-old Irishman John Collison.

Stripe, the company he founded with his brother Patrick, provides the payments plumbing for hundreds of thousands of online businesses.
Collison said that his fast-growing business had noticed the difficulty in luring top talent to Silicon Valley.

In an exclusive interview with the BBC, the Limerick man said he feared the same may prove true for the UK because of Brexit.

“People are less willing to move to the US,” Collison said. “They don’t even want to enter the visa process because of the perceived political climate here and how welcoming it is to immigrants and I think the perception (of the UK) will also make it harder to recruit in the UK”

He said the stakes were high as it ultimately risked the UK’s ability to produce a vibrant and successful technology sector.

‘The brightest and the best’

Collison has accepted there is no going back but says the government should be a sending a clear message that international talent was welcome in the UK.

“What’s done is done but what I think we can now affect is the perception of the UK as an attractive place to live, work and do business, ” he said.

“It’s something we are screwing up in the US and I think there is a very clear opportunity to send a message that the UK is a good place to emigrate to.”

Collison’s frustration is compounded by the fact that these perceived forces of deterrence fly in the opposite direction to the way the world of commerce and technology are evolving.

He says: “There is a juxtaposition between an outward, global, technology and export-based economy on the one hand and the anti-immigrant signals from the US and Brexit.”

The UK government insists that it understands the need to lure the “brightest and best” from around the world – it recently doubled the number of visas available for exceptionally talented individuals from outside the EU who show promise in technology, science, art and creative industries from 1,000 to 2,000.

But the long-term position of EU nationals who arrive after Brexit is less clear.

Stripe is has just signed a deal with Amazon

That is perhaps one reason why Collison and his older brother are betting big on Dublin as their European headquarters.

“There are a few reasons. First, it’s in the European Union, second, it’s a real international melting pot with the skills we need and third it’s a nice vibrant city to live in – there’s more of a craic (more fun) in Dublin.”

via World’s youngest billionaire warns on Trump – BBC News

‘I felt a nausea of fury’ – how I faced the cruelty of Britain’s immigration system | Nesine Malik | The Guardian

Good long read and reminder of how attitudes and processes can hamper, not foster, integration:

I first landed in England in September 2004. I took the underground from Heathrow and sat in the carriage with my luggage, face plastered to the window, as the train made its way through the late summer greenery of west London. Culture shock blended with a counterintuitive sense of ease and familiarity with a country – in fact, a whole hemisphere – that I had never visited. I had lived my entire life in Sudan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and had come to the UK to study for a postgraduate degree at the University of London. Over the next weeks, I found the city and its people both bewilderingly cool and enthusiastically welcoming. That duality would go on to be the central theme of my life in the UK – confusing impenetrability accompanied by a yielding accommodation.

I settled in quickly, squatting in a relative’s spare bedroom until I could make arrangements. But I had severely underestimated the expense of London and, already impoverished by the high overseas student tuition fees, I began working while I was studying, my student visa allowing for 20 hours a week. I temped in offices across London, using an A–Z to find my way around. My topography of London is still anchored in the locations of those anonymous office blocks across the city. At the end of my course I extended my student visa in order to finish my dissertation and meanwhile was offered a contract as a research assistant at an investment bank where I had been temping. I went into the interview with precisely £15 to my name. Had the position not paid by the end of the week, I would not have been able to get through the first month.

A few weeks into the job and with a little disposable income for the first time in my life, I rented a room on a Bethnal Green council estate. Standing on the balcony, looking out at east London, I remember thinking that it was a sort of Valhalla. After a year or so, in 2007, a combination of student visa extensions and a partner visa by virtue of a relationship I was in at the time meant that I was granted limited leave to remain (ie with no recourse to public funds). After five years, I would be eligible for permanent residency.

My problems with the Home Office began in 2012. What should have been a routine application for permanent residency was turned down. I don’t remember the exact wording of the letter because my concentration shattered while trying to process what my lawyer was saying. The reason seemed to be that the right to permanent–after-temporary residency had been circumscribed. The laws had changed. “We’ll need to appeal immediately,” she said. “You don’t have to leave right away.”

It is hard to describe what it feels like to confront the possibility of leaving a country in which you are settled. I had by then been living, working (in emerging markets private equity) and paying taxes in the UK for nine years and enjoyed all the natural extensions of that investment – a career, close friends, a deep attachment to the place, a whole life. It is almost as if the laws of nature change, like gravity disappears and all the things that root you to your existence lose their shape and float away. I remember thinking, “I can’t leave, I’ve just bought a sofa.” It was a ridiculous thought, but that secondhand sofa from the local flea market was the first item of furniture I had ever bought. Suddenly, it signified the folly of nesting in a country that had no intention of letting me make a home.

In January 2010 David Cameron, backed into a tough stance by the looming election, announced a “no ifs no buts” pledge to bring immigration down to the tens of thousands. Theresa May took the helm at the Home Office in May and immediately set about making as big a dent in the net migration number, then about 244,000, as possible. Despite the Liberal Democrats making an attempt to dilute some of the crueller aspects of immigration law, condemning the “Go home” billboard vans May sent through the streets of London and publicly challenging Cameron on the tens of thousands figure, immigration policies continued to harden. They culminated in the 2013 immigration bill that declared the country would become a “hostile environment” for illegal immigrants.

The resulting legislation represented a fundamental dismantling of the means by which all migrants could challenge Home Office decisions, despite around half of appeals ultimately being successful. By the time the 2015 immigration bill was introduced, the Conservatives, unfettered by coalition, introduced a host of measures that meant a hostile environment policy was surreptitiously rolled out against legal migrants as well.

Unable to tackle EU migration due to freedom of movement, the Home Office, while cutting its numbers of immigration case-workers, focused on non-EU migrants and their families, even when they were legal. “Discretion” – a word that sends chills down the spine of many a Home Office application veteran – became the governing principle. As with Nadir Farsani, a 27-year-old Saudi engineer who has lived in the UK most of his adult life and whose parents have British citizenship. He nevertheless had his student visa rejected by a case worker who decided a quirk of Arabic naming convention meant Nadir’s father’s supporting financial documents were not legitimate. Nadir was not informed nor asked to provide additional evidence and was asked to leave the country. While waiting for his application to be processed, his grandmother in Saudi Arabia fell ill and died. He could not travel to say goodbye.

Since 2010 I have experienced a constant attrition in the ranks of friends who did not have the means or the time to challenge often unfair decisions. Damned by discretion, rather than the law, they left.

The right to appeal decisions was curbed. The tier-1 visa, which had allowed for highly skilled migrants looking for a job or wishing to become self-employed, was abolished. Students’ right to work after graduation was limited and the Life in the UK test became a residency requirement. And British citizens began to be affected. In 2012 May announced rules that allowed only those British citizens earning more than £18,600 to bring their spouse to live with them in the UK. The figure is higher where visa applications are also made for children. She also made it all but impossible for people to bring their non-European elderly relatives to the UK. “Skype families” can spend years on opposite sides of the world, watching their children grow up on video.

Incentivised to reject, the Home Office grew ever more brutal and incompetent. Satbir Singh, CEO of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, is one of many British citizens whose application for his spouse to join him in the UK was rejected. They had satisfied all the requirements, but the Home Office lost their documents. In one of JCWI’s cases, a British citizen on a zero hours contract had a nervous breakdown due to the long hours he had to work in order to satisfy the income requirement. He needed hospitalisation but refused – two weeks off would mean that his income would fall under the threshold.

The principle of reject and hope no questions are asked has given rise to instances of unfathomable cruelty. In one case, reported in February, an interviewee began hallucinating. When her rejected case went to the supreme court, the judge said, “Reading that interview, it is apparent that the claimant was very unwell at the time … She appeared to be talking to people who were not there and the interview nonetheless continued, including beyond a time when she asked whether or not she had wet herself.”

The hostile environment also began to chew up those who had lived their entire lives in the UK. Commonwealth citizens who arrived in the country decades ago have discovered that in a hardened immigration climate they are without the necessary papers. So Paulette Wilson, a 61-year-old former cook in the House of Commons, was sent to Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre last October and taken to Heathrow for deportation to Jamaica, a country she had not visited since she was 10. A last-minute legal intervention prevented her removal, and, following media coverage in the Guardian, she was granted a residency permit.

In most cases, the speed with which the Home Office capitulates when challenged is a clear giveaway that decisions were made in the hope they would not be appealed. In my case, I appealed my residency extension and prepared a case with a litigation lawyer – only for permanent residency to be granted days before my appearance in court. There was no explanation and we had not provided, yet, any new information. My joy was followed by a nausea of fury. I had bankrupted myself trying to pay the £30,000 legal fees and lived in a constant anguish of instability, paralysed and yet tensed for action, only for the decision to be overturned because it was wrong in the first place, and because the Home Office couldn’t be bothered to fight it.

Forty per cent of cases brought before a judge on appeal are overturned. Consider that this applies only to the small number of individuals who have the means to appeal, and the scale of the wider miscarriage of justice becomes apparent. At one point, the government was proposing that the rule of “deport first, appeal later” that currently applies only to foreign national criminals be applied across the board; thankfully, this was eventually overturned by the supreme court, which declared it unfair and unlawful.

The original sin, the motivation for so much of the inhumanity being visited on applicants, is the “tens of thousands” target, an unrealistic and arbitrary number, backed by no intelligence or research. But the heart of the dysfunction throughout the past eight years isn’t that immigration laws have tightened, it is that they have become unpredictable, as new rules are introduced or scrapped. There have been 45,000 changes to immigration rules since May took over at the Home Office. Both applicants and immigration officials are navigating the system using a map whose contours and geology shift constantly. Farsani compares the process to “climbing a crumbling staircase”.

At the same time, the public tone, led by the Tory populism on immigration, became sharper and the idea that the UK had a soft-touch immigration system grew stronger. By the time the Brexit referendum campaign was under way, the national perception of the country’s immigration rules was in fantasyland. It was surreal to watch when, at the same time, I was unable to secure a residency, let alone a passport.

And the ignorance culminated in Brexit. The mainstreaming of lies was complete. A points-based system? We already have one. It’s called a tier-2 visa and to avail yourself of it you have to have sponsorship and a job offer from a UK employer, as well as sufficient funds to sustain you until your first salary. An NHS surcharge? We already have one. Every non-EU citizen who takes up a job or student position in the UK pays £150-200 before the visa is issued. They also pay national insurance, taxes that go towards the Home Office, plus high and escalating fees to process routine applications – in addition to fees paid to all the outsourced affiliated agencies that administer peripheral processes such as English tests and interviews.

Sometimes, going through that third-party machinery was like being in some dark comedy. The £150 English language test I had to book last-minute (or my naturalisation application would have been refused) took place in a lugubrious, privately run testing centre in Holborn, in London. Examinees were kept apart by a complicated, completely over-the top system. The examiner and I chatted amiably for a few minutes before she started the test. Then the frequency changed. Loudly and very slowly, she began: “Have. You. Been. To. Any. Festivals. Recently?” I said no and then she began to painfully explain what a festival was. I assured her that I knew, but just hadn’t been to any recently. She looked down at the subject notes where we had been asked to pick a topic we would like to speak about. I’d written down “Canada” as I had just arrived back in London that morning after delivering a keynote speech at a labour union event in Toronto. “Canada!” She said. “What. Can. You. Tell. Me. About. Canada?”

The really dirty secret is that the government can stop non-EU migration dead whenever it wants. Of the 170,000 non-EU migrants who came to the UK in 2016, about 90,000 were granted tier-2 employment. These are visas that we can simply stop issuing. But the economy needs the labour, something the government will not admit, instead choosing to treat applicants as people who somehow manage to come to the country against its will. If anything, the UK needs more non-EU migrants to plug skills gaps, particularly in the NHS – yet doctors offered jobs in hospitals are being blocked from coming to Britain because monthly quotas for skilled worker visas have been oversubscribed.

And, if Brexit finally goes through, into this inflexible immigration system will march three million EU citizens whose status will need to be registered and regularised. It is simply, for those of us who have been through it, a terrifying prospect. And May still doubles down, running the Home Office from Downing Street. In mid-February she overruled the Home Office in order to insist that EU citizens who arrived during a Brexit transition period would not have the automatic right to remain in the country. The move has caused alarm in the Home Office, with government sources admitting that work on a separate registration scheme had “barely begun” and “almost certainly” would not be ready in time. May then backed down.

The cavalier detachment with which these big decisions are made cannot be isolated from the general corporate cheapening of human life that has set in over the past decade. Satbir Singh sees immigration policy as indivisible from this environment. “If you look at what has happened in Britain over the last eight years,” he says, “there’s a thread of institutional degradation that runs through it all. Whether you are waiting for medical treatment, a welfare payment or an immigration decision, we are all clients, standing behind a glass window.” And we were the lucky ones. We weren’t in detention, which almost 28,000 people entered in 2016-17. We weren’t the ones being interviewed while hallucinating and wetting ourselves. We weren’t being handcuffed as we left burning buses.

And still the plight of migrants and their families doesn’t resonate with the British public as loudly as it should. I have heard the argument that no one has a right to settlement in a country that is not their country of birth many times. But other than in asylum cases or when people are joining family members, it is often the case that a life in the UK just develops organically. Sudan, where I am from, is in my bones, but the UK is where I had built a life just by virtue of the time I spent here. Via study and work, relationships and just the day-to-day of living, an investment is made in the country that you do not wish to unwind. Is that not, at its heart, what integration is? Is that not, allegedly, the Holy Grail? Satbir Singh, having won the right to bring his wife to the UK after the Home Office admitted its mistake, reflects on what is now, effectively and deliberately, an alienating process. “The first interaction you have with the state is suspicion, that you are a liar, a cheat and a fraud. This is an enormous roadblock to integration.”

In 2017, the permanent residency that was granted on appeal qualified me for British citizenship. More than a decade after that moment of pregnant possibility on a balcony in Bethnal Green, and 14 years after excitedly taking in the view of London’s parks on a train from the airport, I was making my way towards my naturalisation with leaden feet. The citizenship had been so shorn of its significance, so stripped of its essential meaning, that the ceremony felt like a formality. And when it was over it felt hollow. My relief was dulled by exhaustion and sadness that becoming the citizen of a country in which I had invested so much had been marred by an extractive, dishonest and punitive system. I now looked forward to only one thing – to never have to think about any of it again.

But the day after the ceremony I was crossing a bridge I had crossed thousands of times before, absentmindedly listening to Talking Heads’ This Must Be the Place. It was one of those cinematic London winter dusks, when the rich colours in the sky cast a benign, almost otherworldly light on the water. And I heard the lyrics – “Home is where I want to be” – for the first time. Every grain in the scene around me sharpened as a welling of belonging stung my eyes.

“They don’t want you to integrate,” Farsani had told me. “They want you to fail so they can point their fingers at you and say, ‘Look, immigrants do not integrate’.” But we do, because the country, in spite of its broken immigration system, slowly, organically, casually, naturalises you in ways that cannot be validated by a Life in the UK test, citizenship ceremony or exhaustive application dossier. But daily this natural, healthy process is being violated, via administrative incompetence and politically instructed cruelty, to fulfil a soundbite “tens of thousands” target the government cannot meet, and is too proud to jettison.

via ‘I felt a nausea of fury’ – how I faced the cruelty of Britain’s immigration system | UK news | The Guardian

Good luck with the British citizenship test, Meghan Markle. It’s a mess | Thom Brooks | The Guardian

Good pointed commentary – better to have tests that are more general civic knowledge-based, as in Canada, than ones that try to capture obscure facts. A written test, of course, is more administratively efficient and consistent than individual interviews, the main reason it was introduced in Canada in the early 90s:

Meghan Markle is on a fast track from Hollywood to British royalty. She’ll certainly be joining the royal family from the moment of her marriage to Harry in May. And yet, if she wants to remain permanently in the UK, even the wife of the Queen’s grandson must pass a citizenship test.

The test has been sat more than 2m times since its launch in 2005. Anyone applying must correctly answer 18 or more of 24 multiple choice questions to pass – and the test costs £50 for every attempt.

It’s like a bad pub quiz: the test for British citizenship that few Brits could pass. One candidate failed 64 times before finally passing the test, and if you look at what the government’s quiz asks, it’s easy to see why. How many of us know the height of the London Eye, the age of Big Ben’s clock tower, or that Sake Dean Mahomed introduced curry to the UK in opening the Hindoostane Coffee House on George Street, London? These are some of the nearly 3,000 facts in the 180-page test handbook anyone wanting to stay in Britain is expected to know.

The absurdity doesn’t stop there. The test requires knowledge of the numbers of elected representatives in each regional assembly, but not in the House of Commons. Candidates need not know how to report a crime or register with a GP, but must know the approximate size of the Lake District and about 278 historical dates including when the Roman emperor Claudius invaded Britain.

If the citizenship test is meant to help migrants “integrate into society and play a full role in your local community”, there is little evidence to show it succeeds. The test has appeared in three editions and been used for more than a decade, but there has never been a formal consultation on whether its aims are being achieved. So I did it for them.

My 2013 report exposed serious failings, including the test’s impracticality and the many mistakes and omissions. My report made a dozen recommendations for how these problems might be fixed. Despite being raised in parliament, the test remains unchanged.

If left unreformed the test is damaging integration more than it’s enabling it
For my book Becoming British, I interviewed citizens across the UK about the citizenship test. Almost no one believed it helped their integration into a British society where few had even heard of the test. Instead of building bridges, most saw the test as another barrier whose main purpose was to extract additional fees. The lesson to learn here is that the test is currently damaging integration more than it’s enabling it.

There is an opportunity now to get this right as Britain changes its immigration policies after Brexit. Either the test is substantially modified to become a less trivial and fairer test of knowledge required for citizenship, or it should be thrown on the scrap heap.

A citizenship test is not obviously necessary to demonstrate a knowledge of life in the UK or British values. People could instead be tested informally without an exam, for instance by satisfying existing requirements for lawful residency, avoiding a criminal record, paying taxes owed and the like. These are ways in which people do show an understanding of living in this country in harmony with others.

But if the test is kept, change is needed – and a first step would be to make the answers freely available. Displaying knowledge about living in Britain shouldn’t require buying a book with the information in. And rather than the test remaining a block, it should be relaunched as something that is primarily of symbolic importance. In the US, the test is the last step to citizenship with zealously non-partisan questions about who was the first president or which side won the American civil war.

By contrast, half the UK’s test information on education is about setting up the government’s then flagship programme of free schools, but without any mention of a national curriculum, A-levels and more. Such partisanship needs to go. A test aimed at formally recognising the belonging someone has already earned is clearly preferable to what we have.

And if it is revised, it’s critical that there is a public dialogue about what is included. The government imposes this test of Britishness in the public’s name, but it is so alien as to render it absurd. People need to have confidence in our immigration system again, and imposing arbitrary knowledge tests won’t solve it.

Finally, migrants shouldn’t have a veto, but they deserve to have a voice. If the test doesn’t support integration, this needs to be fixed. Second-guessing the experience of migrants like me – who have passed the test and become British citizens – only continues the problem.

via Good luck with the British citizenship test, Meghan Markle. It’s a mess | Thom Brooks | Opinion | The Guardian

UK immigration latest: EU net migration falls over past year as Brexit uncertainty continues | The Independent

Not surprising:

EU net migration is falling as more European citizens leave the UK and fewer arrive in the wake of the vote for Brexit, new statistics show.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said overall net migration in the year to September was 244,000 – a similar level to early 2014 and down on record levels in the next two years.

The number of European citizens arriving has plummeted since the EU referendum, while the number of people from outside the bloc has increased.

“EU net migration has fallen as fewer EU citizens are arriving, especially those coming to look for work in the UK, and the number leaving has risen – it has now returned to the level seen in 2012,” said Nicola White, head of international migration statistics at the ONS.

“The figures also show that non-EU net migration is now larger than EU net migration, mainly due to the large decrease in EU net migration over the last year. However, migration of both non-EU and EU citizens are still adding to the UK population.

“Brexit could well be a factor in people’s decision to move to or from the UK, but people’s decision to migrate is complicated and can be influenced by lots of different reasons.”

The number of EU citizens coming to the UK plummeted by 47,000 in the year and the number leaving – 130,000 – is the highest recorded level since the 2008 financial crisis.

Almost a quarter of a million people arrived in the UK to work in the period 2017, with the number of EU citizens falling by 58,000.

Most of the Europeans arriving had a definite job lined up, while a smaller proportion were looking for work.

The biggest nationality starting work in the year to September, according to National Insurance number registration data, was Romanian, followed by Polish, Italian, Bulgarian, Spanish and Indian – who accounted for over half of all skilled work visas granted.

The ONS said that the overall employment rate for EU nationals was 81.2 per cent, followed by Brits at 75.6 per cent and non-EU nationals on 63.2 per cent.

George Koureas, a partner at immigration law firm Fragomen, said: “The UK has become a significantly less attractive place for European citizens to work since Brexit, so it’s no surprise that more EU workers are leaving the country.

“Although the Government may see this as good news, it presents a significant threat to UK businesses, already struggling to hire the skilled workers they need to thrive.”

He said there could be a further impact from the Government’s plan to double the Immigration Health Surcharge, which is paid by migrants to use the NHS, and caps on visas for skilled workers.

via UK immigration latest: EU net migration falls over past year as Brexit uncertainty continues | The Independent

Businesses are floundering while Whitehall dithers on immigration

Interesting commentary from Adam Marshall, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce:

You might not know it, but a crisis is looming on the business parks, industrial estates, construction projects and farms of Britain. As the Brexit process dominates politics – and diverts Westminster’s energy away from virtually every other issue – businesses are struggling to fill vacancies and to find the people they need in order to grow.

In some sectors firms report that labour shortages have reached critical levels. A combination of record employment levels for UK-born people, significant falls in immigration following the devaluation of sterling in 2016, and the total absence of job candidates in some areas is biting hard. British Chambers of Commerce surveys show nearly three-quarters of firms trying to recruit are experiencing difficulties – this is at or near the highest levels since our records began more than 25 years ago.

Pragmatic solutions are needed to this acute and immediate problem. Job vacancies at all levels in the workforce are being left unfilled, damaging not only individual businesses and their growth prospects but also supply chains and the wider economy. While many firms report they are investing long term in the training and development of their workforce, this will take years to have the desired impact, particularly for very highly skilled roles. We cannot afford any gap in the supply of skills and labour. Businesses that have not planned ahead for their future needs will be wishing they had.

Yet, with few exceptions, businesses tell us that breezy Whitehall assumptions about artificial intelligence and automation remain years away from fruition. While some jobs may change or disappear in future, businesses will always need people because they are more flexible and adaptable than robots to the fast pace of change in the workplace. There’s no doubt, in the here and now, that UK firms require continuing access to labour, from Europe and farther afield, to plug the gaps.

Amid all the uncertainty our businesses and communities face, the UK government must act swiftly to define an open and responsive immigration policy. Businesses accept that, in future, there will be some form of registration for European workers, but they are equally clear that they must be able to access skills and talent from the European mainland with minimal costs, barriers and delay after Brexit – irrespective of the final settlement between the UK and the EU.

Taking back control of immigration should not mean pulling up the drawbridge. It means knowing who’s coming in and out, and ensuring that only those who are entitled to work in the UK can do so. Tighter enforcement of the law, with individuals and with rogue employers, alike, is much more important to addressing legitimate public concerns over immigration levels than an expensive, draconian and damaging visa or work permit regime. At the same time, firms across the country must demonstrate, day in and day out, real civic commitment to train and invest in staff here at home. We in business must hold up our side of the deal, too.

Civic-minded businesses aren’t making the case for immigration because they’re seeking cheap labour from abroad. Despite the oft-repeated myths, our research clearly shows that a tiny percentage of businesses consciously recruit outside the UK for reasons of cost. Businesses in the communities I represent are far more likely to try to address skills shortages locally, by investing in their workforce or seeking new employees through word-of-mouth advertising or UK recruitment agencies. Firms in a small number of areas, such as agriculture and personal care, do advertise overseas – but only because they fail to recruit local workers to do the jobs on offer.

These skills gaps won’t disappear after Brexit, but many firms’ production targets will be scaled back, and expansion plans shelved, if the loathed and expensive system used for non-EU recruiting is expanded across the board. The current rationing of non-EU work permits is already a clear and present threat to investment in our business communities, and extending that cumbersome system to European workers would make a difficult situation even worse.

A brave government would either unilaterally keep a preferential approach, or adopt a level playing field that radically reduces costs and administrative burdens across the board, rather than put them up.

In recent months, the Home Office under Amber Rudd has made welcome efforts to open up after years of defensiveness, and talk more to businesses about the UK’s future immigration rules. The migration advisory committee is also taking a clear-eyed look around the country at different communities’ future workforce needs. This enhanced engagement, rather than dictation, is a major step forward. Ministers must now avoid an unwelcome and untimely step backwards to an expensive and bureaucratic immigration system – and make a bold commitment to meet the needs of the economy.

The simple fact is that many businesses can’t afford to wait much longer for a clear UK immigration policy to emerge. This makes it all the more troubling that the planned immigration white paper, meant to cover the short to medium term, is now delayed. As the prime minister herself has repeatedly noted, workers of all skill levels from Europe play a huge role in the success of British businesses and communities. Now it is up to the cabinet as a whole – including Theresa May – to send a clear and swift signal that businesses can access the people and skills needed to remain competitive in a global market.

A failure to act swiftly would hamstring UK firms’ competitiveness, and even send some to the wall. It’s not just about “the best and the brightest” coming to work in the City, our universities and the creative industries. If ministers wish to avoid the sight of unfinished urban buildings, fruit rotting in Herefordshire fields, and care homes and hotels from Bournemouth to Inverness shutting their doors, as well as manufacturers investing in their overseas operations instead of here at home, the time to act is now.

Source: Businesses are floundering while Whitehall dithers on immigration

Anne Applebaum: In Britain, anti-Semitism is back | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Applebaum on the mainstreaming of antisemitism and some of the possible reasons:

Anti-Semitism is back. Not just as a nasty little fringe sentiment, and not just in the Breitbart comment sections. Not just in social media either, although anyone who posts or tweets and has a Jewish-sounding surname (and even many who don’t) has had to get used to the fact that social media is a perfect conduit for language that would once have been too filthy to use.

The best antidote is not to care; that is what the “block” button on Twitter is for. But when the sentiments begin to creep into mainstream institutions in European countries, then some deeper analysis is required. Here, I am going to bypass the would-be authoritarians of central Europe — some of whom have lately fallen all over themselves trying to live up to old stereotypes. I am instead going to write about reasonable, pragmatic Britain, where both major political parties have lately been incubating distinctly un-British forms of conspiracy thinking and paranoia.

Weird forms of anti-Semitism on the far left of the British political spectrum have been around for some time. The former mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, is famous for, among other things, having compared a Jewish journalist to a Nazi. He also accused the Jews of collaborating with Hitler, a statement that got him suspended from the Labour Party last year. Once an outlier, Mr. Livingstone is now mainstream. Over the past couple of years, as the party has moved left, internal party squabbles have broken out over a Holocaust denier being invited to speak at a fringe event during a party conference, over a local council candidate who posted anti-Semitic comments, over a member of the Labour Muslim Network accused of the same and so on.

Some of the lines of paranoia seem to stretch back to the “rootless cosmopolitanism” propaganda of the old Eastern Bloc. Remember that Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, is a former writer for the Morning Star, a pro-Soviet British publication that furtive-eyed young people used to hand out on street corners. Some of it seems to be coming from the Muslim community. There are constant calls to do something more about it — to stamp it out, to protest, none of which ever quite seems to solve the problem.

But the other side of the British political spectrum is catching up. Here, the sources of the conspiracy theories are different: the international alt-right and the authoritarian states of Eastern Europe. Nigel Farage — the pro-Brexit, anti-European friend of President Donald Trump and Steve Bannon — has mused aloud about the vast power of the “Jewish lobby.” The Daily Telegraph, once the reliably conservative newspaper of the English shires, has picked up that theme, too.

On Feb. 8, the paper ran an extraordinary front-page headline splash about George Soros, the Jewish financier, and his “secret plot to thwart Brexit.” The same story — also reported in more ordinary language in other British papers — in fact concerned a non-secret donation that is by no means unique. There are several anti-Brexit groups in Britain with private funding from wealthy people, just as there are several pro-Brexit groups with private funding from wealthy people.

The headline — in a newspaper owned by two genuinely secretive billionaires who live in what is considered an offshore tax haven — was accompanied by an article that repeated some of the slander about Mr. Soros that has been peddled for years, starting in Russia and then spreading west, including the fact that his foundation, which supports democracy and free speech in that part of the world, was chased out of Russia and Uzbekistan — as if that were a mark against it. The following day, the Daily Mail — a newspaper owned by a billionaire — and the Sun — a newspaper owned by Rupert Murdoch, a nonresident billionaire — picked up the same story with the same imagery. The latter referred to Mr. Soros as a “puppeteer.”

The most charitable explanation is that the Telegraph, in conjuring the age-old specter of a secretive Jew manipulating politics behind the scenes, did not know what it was doing. The less charitable explanation is that it was dog-whistling on purpose. The Sun and the Mail almost certainly could care less.

Still, this is new, even by the low standards of British tabloids. Why is it happening now? My best explanation is that the British, having unmoored themselves from Europe, are experiencing an unfamiliar sense of powerlessness. The campaign to leave the European Union told them they would “take back control.” Instead, negotiations with the EU have forced a humiliating series of concessions. Although the deadline is only a year away, the most important questions are still unresolved, because the ruling Conservative Party is too badly divided to resolve them. Hard choices on trade deals and the status of Northern Ireland have not been made because they will make too many people angry. The Labour Party, meanwhile, maintains strategic ambiguity and says  little.

As centrists and pragmatists retreat, wounded, from political life, new fantasies and fantasists blossom in the vacuum. Surely it can’t be the case that a directionless Britain is floundering; surely someone else must be to blame for all of this chaos and ill will. Some seek scapegoats, others uncover conspiracies. Maybe it’s unsurprising, then, that the oldest scapegoats and the most familiar tropes are among them.

via Anne Applebaum: In Britain, anti-Semitism is back | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

UK: Home Office citizenship fees ‘scandalous’

Not just cost recovery. as in the case of expensive US and Canadian fees, posing a barrier to integration:

The Home Office has been criticised for making more than £800m from nationality services over the past six years.

Young people who have citizenship rights – including thousands born in the UK – have to pay up to £1,000 to register formally as citizens.

Campaigners claim the fees, which they say many youngsters cannot afford, are a “terrible injustice” and “nothing short of a scandal”.

The Home Office says the fees are fair and fund the wider immigration system.

What is registration?

Nationality services include naturalisation fees, registration fees, and other nationality-related payments. Naturalisation is the process of applying to become a British citizen.

Registration is the process where someone who has an existing right to British citizenship – for example, through residency, parentage, or birth – but does not currently hold citizenship, applies to obtain it.

If a young person does not register, and does not otherwise gain settled status, they could risk being subject to immigration controls, despite having grown up British.

Fees have risen since 2011, and the cost of registering two children has more than tripled due to fee increases and the abolition of second child discounts.

Another freedom of information response showed registrations cost the Home Office £264 to complete, despite applicants being charged £936 in the 2016-17 financial year.

Samson Adeola, 18, from Walthamstow, had to borrow money to pay his fees last year and said he was angry the Home Office was making so much money.

Mr Adeola, who was born in Nigeria, moved to London with his family when he was five and although had rights to citizenship, did not hold it.

He said without it, if he was going on to university, he would be forced to pay significantly higher tuition fees as an international student.

He also said he had missed out on the chance to perform in the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics because he did not have citizenship at the time.

“It was very difficult for my mum, going around finding the money [for the Home Office fees],” he said, adding the family borrowed a “substantial amount” from their local church.

Chart showing the changes in fees for nationalist services

He said the family still had not repaid all the money, and he had taken a job as a pizza delivery boy to contribute.

“Balancing it with schoolwork is difficult – last night I got back really late,” he said.

“It’s really tiring and draining and it can take your mind off your studies.”

He said it was “really upsetting” the fees were so high, “especially for people who can’t scrimp and save the money together, and can’t put forward an application because of the cost”.

The family will also have to pay for each of Mr Adeola’s siblings, aged 10 and 15, to register if they want British citizenship, despite the fact the ten-year-old was born in the UK.

Solange Valdez-Symonds, director of the Project for the Registration of Children as British Citizens said: “For the Home Office to be exploiting this to make vast sums of money to spend on its immigration responsibilities is nothing short of a scandal and an especially terrible injustice to those children who cannot afford the Home Office’s fees.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “When setting fees, we also consider the benefits that a successful applicant is likely to gain and believe that it is right that those who use and benefit directly from the system make an appropriate contribution towards meeting associated costs.

“British nationality applications are not mandatory and many individuals decide not to apply.”

Source: Home Office citizenship fees ‘scandalous’

Antisemitic incidents in UK at all-time high

Latest UK data – not police-reported but CST plays a similar role as B’nai Brith does here:

Antisemitic hate incidents have reached a record level in the UK, with the Jewish community targeted at a rate of nearly four times a day last year, figures indicate.

There were 1,382 antisemitic incidents recorded nationwide in 2017 by the Community Security Trust.

This was the highest tally that the trust, a charity that monitors antisemitism, has registered for a calendar year since it began gathering such data in 1984. The figure rose by 3%, compared with a total, in 2016, of 1,346 incidents – a tally that itself was a record annual total.

There was no obvious single cause behind the trend, the trust said. “Often increases in antisemitic incidents have been attributable to reactions to specific trigger events that cause identifiable, short-term, spikes in incident levels. However, this was not the case in 2017. Instead, it appears that the factors that led to a general, sustained, high level of antisemitic incidents in 2016 continued throughout much of 2017.”

The report pointed to a rise in all forms of hate crime following the EU referendum as well as publicity surrounding alleged antisemitism in the Labour party. These factors may have caused higher levels of incidents as well as encouraged more reporting of antisemitic incidents from victims and witnesses in the Jewish community, the trust said.

The trust’s figures showed a 34% increase in the number of violent antisemitic assaults, from 108 in 2016 to 145 in 2017. The most common single type of incident in 2017 involved verbal abuse randomly directed at Jewish people in public.

There was a fall in the number of incidents that involved social media, from 289 in 2016 to 247 last year. Three-quarters of all the antisemitic incidents were recorded in Greater London and Greater Manchester, home to the two largest Jewish communities in the UK.

The trust’s chief executive, David Delew, said: “Hatred is rising and Jewish people are suffering as a result. This should concern everybody because it shows anger and division that threaten all of society. We have the support of government and police, but prosecutions need to be more visible and more frequent.”

The home secretary, Amber Rudd, said antisemitism was a “despicable form of abuse” which had “absolutely no place in British society”.

She said: “I welcome this report’s findings that the rise in reported incidents partly reflects the improving response to these horrendous attacks and better information sharing between the CST and police forces around the UK. But even one incident is one too many, and any rise in incidents is clearly concerning, which is why this government will continue its work protecting the Jewish community and other groups from antisemitism and hate crime.”

The shadow communities secretary, Andrew Gwynne, said the findings were extremely concerning and emphasised “just how important it is that we all make a conscious effort to call out and confront antisemitism”.

A spokesperson for advocacy group Hope Not Hate said the levels of antisemitism remained unacceptably high and it was concerning to see that incidents had not declined.

Stephen Silverman, director of investigations and enforcement at the Campaign Against Antisemitism, said the trust figures were indicative of official 2017 police statistics. “Antisemitic crime has been rising dramatically since 2014 and that rise is not explained by an increase in reporting, and we have seen no noticeable impact from Brexit,” he said.

Silverman added: “We believe that Jews are being singled out disproportionately and with increasing violence due to the spread of antisemitic conspiracy myths originating from Islamists, the far-left and far-right, which society is failing to address, as evidenced by the ongoing disgraceful situation in the Labour party, and because the Crown Prosecution Service declines to prosecute so often that antisemites no longer fear any consequences to their actions.”

Until the criminal justice system and political parties stopped “paying lip service to antisemitism,” he said, “the threat to the security of British Jews was at risk of reaching crisis point”.New data this week revealed that hundreds of hate crimes have been committed at or near schools and colleges in the last two years, most linked to race and ethnicity.

Source: Antisemitic incidents in UK at all-time high

Extremists use schools to pervert education, says Ofsted head Amanda Spielman | The Times

Increasing muscular language by Ofsted. It would be helpful if she could cite some examples of other religions rather just highlighting legitimate concerns with some Muslim schools:

Religious extremists are “perverting” education by using schools to narrow children’s horizons and cut them off from wider society, the head of Ofsted is warning.

Parents and community leaders see schools as vehicles to “indoctrinate impressionable minds with extremist ideology” in the worst cases, Amanda Spielman says. In a speech today, she will call on head teachers to “tackle those who actively undermine fundamental British values”, facing them down using “muscular liberalism” rather than being afraid of causing offence.

Ms Spielman will also throw her weight behind Neena Lall, the head of St Stephen’s primary school in east London, who has tried to stop girls under eight from wearing the hijab in class and to prevent younger pupils taking part in Ramadan fasting during school hours.

Ms Lall was compared to Adolf Hitler in a video circulated by a group of parents and community leaders. Councillors also protested, accusing the head teacher of undermining the freedom to practise faith and insisting that it was up to parents to decide how to dress and bring up their children. The school, a secular state primary in a largely Pakistani and Bangladeshi community, was forced to reverse the decision.

In an unusual move, Ofsted inspectors arrived at the school yesterday to check on the welfare of staff and pupils and to show solidarity with the head. In a speech to be made today at a Church of England schools conference, Ms Spielman attacks those who opposed the stance taken by St Stephen’s, saying it is a matter of “deep regret” that the school, considered one of the best in the country, has been subjected to “a campaign of abuse by some elements within the community”.

Head teachers must have the right to set uniform policies as they see fit to promote cohesion, Ms Spielman says. “Rather than adopting a passive liberalism, that says ‘anything goes’ for fear of causing offence, school leaders should be promoting a muscular liberalism,” she says. “It means not assuming that the most conservative voices in a particular faith speak for everyone — imagine if people thought the Christian Institute were the sole voice of Anglicanism. And it means schools must not be afraid to call out practices, whatever their justification, that limit young people’s experiences and learning.”

Since starting the job as Ofsted’s chief inspector a year ago, Ms Spielman, 56, has made tackling religious extremism one of her main goals. Her speech is her most outspoken attack yet on religious communities who seek to limit the education and opportunities of youngsters in the name of faith.

“Ofsted inspectors are increasingly brought into contact with those who want to actively pervert the purpose of education. Under the pretext of religious belief, they use education institutions, legal and illegal, to narrow young people’s horizons, to isolate and segregate, and in the worst cases to indoctrinate impressionable minds with extremist ideology. Freedom of belief in the private sphere is paramount, but in our schools it is our responsibility to tackle those who actively undermine fundamental British values or equalities law.”

Ms Spielman has confronted unregistered faith schools when she believes they are not serving communities well. She also took legal action against Al-Hijrah, a state-funded faith school in Birmingham, to stop it segregating girls and boys on religious grounds. Another 25 mixed-faith schools will have to follow suit as a result of the ruling by judges in the Court of Appeal.

The Ofsted chief has challenged primaries that allow girls to wear a hijab or similar headscarf, saying that it could be seen as sexualising those as young as five or six. The practice of head covering is usually associated with modesty only after the onset of puberty. She said that inspectors would question girls seen wearing headscarves in primary schools to establish why they did so. As a result of her stance, she and other inspectors have received threats. Last year she told The Times that security measures had been put in place for herself and some Ofsted staff.

Ofsted says that zealous parents and community leaders dictating school policies is not widespread but happens “enough to be a cause of concern”. Its inspectors have identified at least 170 unregistered faith schools, attended by up to 3,000 children.

via Extremists use schools to pervert education, says Ofsted head Amanda Spielman | News | The Times & The Sunday Times