The Immigration Act 2014 hasn’t even been in force for a year and the Conservative government is pushing another Bill through Parliament. In the immediate aftermath of the May election, Prime Minister David Cameron promised legislation that would make ‘Britain a less attractive place to come and work illegally’. However, looking at the potential impact of his new Immigration Bill, and the clampdown that will inevitably ensue, we are facing the prospect of a Britain that is a far less attractive place – even for its lawful residents.
Last year, the Immigration Act created a new norm of requiring proof of lawful leave before access to health care, to work, rent property, drive or maintain a current bank account. It has had an impact upon lawful residents who have no proof of their status as well as illegal migrants. Furthermore, the Act gave the government powers to remove foreign criminal appellants before their case has been heard on a ‘shoot first, ask questions later’ basis.
A cohesive society
The Immigration Bill 2015 was introduced into Parliament on September 17th 2015, containing eight parts covering the labour market, access to services, enforcement, appeals, support for migrants, border security, language requirements for public sector workers, and of course fees and charges.
It is clear that this is a government keen to tackle what it considers inherent socio-economic problems caused by migrants, rather than address the impact of its economic policy on the current infrastructure.
Theresa May’s speech yesterday clarifies the xenophobic rhetoric which this Bill relies on – namely, the belief that that immigration makes it ‘impossible to build a cohesive society’.
It is an attempt to marginalise migrants and move their lives further away from the mainstream British society, a refusal by the government to address properly the deficit in housing stock, under-resourced public services and ignore the Home Office’s lack of competence.
The previous Act removed the right to in-country appeals against a majority of decisions made under the immigration rules and now the current Bill seeks to extend this provisions of ‘deport first, appeal later’ to human rights appeals brought under Article 8. Only those who have an appeal against an asylum decision or under the Article 3 of the European Convention will still clearly retain the right to an in-country appeal. It appears that the consequences of disrupting an individual’s life in the UK and separating them from their family members will not cause ‘serious irreversible harm’. What is particularly striking is that before a review has even been conducted to investigate the practical difficulties with the new 2014 appeals/ administrative review regime, the government has decided to extend its reach further. The new regime already affects the notion of equality of arms, as individuals are forced, by the party whose decision they are appealing against, to appeal from abroad, without appearing before a judge in the immigration tribunal.
The Bill also proposes to remove temporary admission and expand immigration bail to anyone without leave waiting on a decision from the Home Office, suggesting that immigration detention is the norm rather than the exception.
Out of sight, out of mind
In 2013, more than 30,000 men and women were detained in immigration detention centres across the UK. The Bill protects the ability for the Home Office to re-detain people let out on bail and impose residence and electronic tagging conditions without judicial oversight. The UK will continue to remain the only country in Europe without a time limit on detention, having opted out of the EU Returns Directive to limit immigration detention.
Earlier this year Channel 4 uncovered the shocking conditions of Yarl’s Wood IRC, which included incidences of officers grossly invading the privacy of detained women. Despite the concerns raised in the documentary and subsequent reports the government has decided to give further powers for detainee and prison custody officers to search detained persons for evidence of their nationality, with offences being created if a detainee obstructs any search taking place. The provisions within the Bill seems to move towards entrenching detention as a routine part of immigration control and ignores the recommendations made only earlier this year in the joint report by the all-party parliamentary group on refugees and migration to limit detention to 28 days.
The powers of immigration officers will be expanded to enable them to conduct searches without a warrant, in order to find nationality documents. Immigration officers will be able to search, seize and retain documents, for the purposes of removing a person, imposing civil penalties and, where the officer is a trained criminal investigator, as evidence for criminal prosecution.
This flies in the face of the proverb ‘An Englishman’s home is his castle’ – as they will require proof of their immigration status in order to be accorded the right to respect for their home, private life and correspondence. In addition, immigration officers will even be able to close business premises if ‘satisfied on reasonable grounds’ that the employer is employing an ‘illegal worker’. The initial closure can last for up to 48 hours, which can be extended by an application to the courts to two years. The aim of making immigration officers able to act efficiently seems to be through targeting foreign owned businesses and migrants, causing disproportionate socio-economic harm to communities.
There will no longer be a power for the Home Office to support destitute migrants who have never claimed asylum (even if they can not be removed). Destitute non-asylum seeking migrants will fall under the responsibility of the local authority instead. Changes will also be made to the asylum support regime, removing section 4 and replacing it with a new section 95A. It removes the Home Office duty to support refused asylum seekers, who may have pending further submissions or judicial review challenges, replacing it with a power to support instead.
Threat of destitution
Families who do not have ‘a genuine obstacle to removal’ and fail to take steps to leave the UK voluntarily will no longer receive Home Office support under the proposed section 95A. The threat of destitution and family separation for the sake of immigration control will create serious safeguarding issues for children. Local authorities will be pressurised to pick up the tab under section 17 of the Children’s Act, and may even take children into care. In 2005, the Labour government piloted a similar scheme (section 9 of Asylum and Immigration Act 2004), restricting support for families who refused to return to their country of origin. The pilot failed to reduce the number of failed asylum seeking families living in the UK as many opted for destitution instead; only one out of the 116 families under the scheme actually left the country, and 32 left their accommodation without informing the Home Office of the local authority. The No Recourse to Public Funds Network has already raised concerns over a lack of detail in the current Bill to address the burden that such a scheme will place on local authorities.
The Bill fails to address the problem of immigration detention, and rather exacerbates the dire situation for migrants who may be forced into destitution by government policy. It continues the affront to the principles of justice, a two-pronged attack when considered with the legal aid reforms that have caused the deprivation in the ability to protect rights for swathes of people living in this country. This Bill panders towards a need to put party politics ahead of what is good for this country striving towards the creation of a humane society and welcoming labour that fills vital skill shortages.
Subashini Nathan is a paralegal at Birnberg, Peirce & Partners