Stop this shocking proposal

From time to time, the JC has been criticised - and so have I, personally - for reporting and commenting on events from a narrow ethnic or religious perspective.

Appearing at a charity fund-raising panel last year, I was asked whether it was really "a good thing" for me to use this column simply to air "Jewish" concerns.

The questioner wondered whether it might not serve "the communal image" (oh dear!) a little better if I were to comment from time to time on matters that had little if anything to do with the Jewish world narrowly defined, and which would demonstrate that my expertise extended beyond this introverted universe and its idiosyncratic preoccupations.

Being the good Jew that I am, I answered the question with a question.

Bogus students should be kept out but not by racist measures

I asked whether the questioner had in mind a column on - say - the fate of the UK's aircraft carriers from a Jewish perspective, or perhaps a column dealing with the Jewish view of traffic enforcement cameras (on which I happen to be an authority).

But I hastened at once to defend the questioner, and myself. For there are times when I have unashamedly used this column to raise matters that are primarily of national rather than of parochially Jewish concern. Today is another such occasion.

Buried in the website of the UK Border Agency (UKBA) is a proposal so outrageous that, although it has little immediate relevance to British Jewry per se, it should be of concern to every JC reader.

The proposal is contained within a consultation document touching upon the future policy of the present coalition government towards what is known as Tier 4 of the points-based immigration system.

Tier 4 relates to those intending immigrants from beyond the European Economic Area who wish to obtain visas to come to the UK for the purpose of pursuing approved courses of study. The proposal is that, in order to better regulate Tier 4, the UKBA should be able to discriminate (for that is what it amounts to, although in typical civil-service jargon the word used in the proposal is "differentiate") between what are termed "lower risk" and "higher risk" students.

In a nutshell, the proposal is to profile student applicants based on their national, racial or ethnic background, and the UKBA makes it crystal clear in the document that such an approach "is likely to require an exemption from the Race Relations Act".

In other words, what we have here, in a text prepared under the authority (one presumes) of the current Home Secretary, is an intention to permit state-sanctioned racism. I find this shocking as a Jew and as a British citizen. Let me explain why.

I find it shocking as a British citizen because legally sanctioned discrimination based on race, ethnicity or national origin ought to play as small a part in deciding whether a student can enter this country for the purpose of study as (dare I say?) it should play in deciding whether a child can enter a particular school. Which is to say it should play no part at all.

I don't need to be told that there's a problem with bogus students, who enter the UK ostensibly for the purposes of study but who actually want to exploit the Tier 4 route in order to settle permanently in the UK.

Not only do I know that there is such a problem, I have given evidence to parliamentary inquiries on this subject and I would like to think that, in some small way, I have contributed to the formulation and implementation of legitimate policies to meet this legitimate concern.

Much has been done to curtail the entry into this country of bogus students and to shut down bogus educational establishments. More needs to be done.

More can be done --- without resorting to out-and-out racism.

I have been assured - off the record, naturally - that, as a Jew, I have absolutely no need to worry about the proposal, which is aimed (I am assured) solely at students from certain parts of the Indian sub-continent and sub-Saharan Africa.

But you know as well as I do that if the UKBA were to be exempted from the Race Relations Act there would be calls (you as well as I know from whence these would come) for this exemption to be employed against Israeli nationals.

In brief, this is a thoroughly shameful and perverse proposal. I hope, both as a UK citizen and as a Jew, that you will join me in publicly denouncing it.

    Last updated: 10:38am, February 9 2011