The government has published its Immigration Bill.
The Bill, if enacted in its current form, would mean that every adult who resides in the UK, be they British citizens, EEA nationals, non-EEA nationals with leave or non-EEA nationals without leave, risks being subjected to intrusive checks at various stages of their life.
The proposals risk the introduction of a system whereby individuals who cannot clearly and quickly demonstrate their right to live in the UK (see below) would face delays and/or discrimination and/or hostility. The proposals could also lead to thousands of migrants who play by the rules and contribute significant amounts to the UK economy, through high student fees, taxes on legitimate earnings, council tax, etc, having to make additional contributions to the NHS. Those same people would also be subjected, at the very least, to potentially intrusive scrutiny when trying to rent homes.
The NUS, UKCISA and Universities UK have highlighted the fact that these measures are likely to have a serious and disproportionate affect on international students who already have to undergo a multitude of checks. There is legitimate concern that some would struggle to find suitable accommodation, whilst others may decide to study elsewhere and that could lead to serious consequences for education providers in the UK and local communities.
The proposals also seek to restrict the right of individuals, including international students, to appeal against certain immigration decisions, despite the fact that high numbers of refusal decisions are held to be unlawful, and introduce significant changes to the manner in which judges deal with Human Rights cases.
Through the Bill, the government is seeking to introduce measures that will force:
- thousands of migrants who have leave to remain for a limited period of time to contribute towards the NHS,
- the authorities to carry out checks to be conducted on the immigration status of driving licence applicants when issuing licences and revoking licences where immigrants are found not to have appropriate permission to live in the UK,
- landlords to check the immigration status of tenants and prospective tenants, and
- banks to refuse to open current accounts for anyone identified as being in the UK unlawfully by requiring them to check against a database of known immigration offenders before opening accounts.
The Bill also includes powers to enable the government to:
- identify illegal migrants by extending powers to collect and check fingerprints, implement embarkation controls and examine the status of migrants seeking to marry or enter into a civil partnership, and
- remove and deport illegal immigrants by restricting the number of appealable decisions from 17 to 4, extend the number of appeals where deportation occurs first, ensuring that the courts have regard for Parliament’s view in Article 8 cases, and restrict the ability of detainees to apply for bail if they have previously been refused it.
The right to private life
We won’t repeat the entire Bill at length, but some aspects do need to be highlighted. In particular the government wishes to force the courts to give:
“Little weight….to private life established by a person at a time when the person’s immigration status is precarious.”
It is difficult to see how this approach could ever be a legal whilst the UK remains in the European Union.
The government has introduced new phrases in the Bill:
- ‘limited right to rent’ – is likely to mean that many migrants who have valid permission to reside in the UK will be faced with a restriction on their tenancy agreements simply because they have leave to enter or remain for a limited period. Landlords who did not restrict the tenancy agreement would be subjected to a penalty if the individual continued to reside in the property but did not secure an extension of leave.
- ‘disqualified person’ – means a migrant for whom the Secretary of State considers that a current bank account should not be opened.
The reality of these checks
The measures contained in this Bill may result in every person in the UK who is seeking to rent accommodation, access the NHS, apply for a driving licence or open a bank account having to produce evidence of their nationality or immigration status.
If those who are empowered with performing checks cannot satisfy themselves immediately that the evidence provided by the individual is satisfactory then, regardless of their nationality or status, the individual will almost certainly find themselves subjected to delays whilst more detailed checks are carried out or, worse, will find that they are simply rejected (and possibly reported).
Many British nationals do not have a passport and will therefore need to find other ways to demonstrate their nationality or face disruption. Family members of EEA nationals have the automatic right to live and work in the UK under European Union legislation. However, it can take months for the Home Office to issue them with evidence of that right and during that time they would be unable to clearly demonstrate their status. They too will face serious disruption. Those from overseas who are in the UK and have permission to work, study or invest, for instance, must submit a number of applications to the Home Office to obtain extensions and indefinite leave to remain. These applications can take months to be processed. During that time, those individuals would also find it difficult, if not impossible, to demonstrate their status. They would risk having to deal with accusations that they are illegal migrants along with associated hostility. Those who are exercising a perfectly legitimate right to appeal against a negative immigration decision would also face similar difficulties.
The UK’s proud tradition
In addition, there are thousands of individuals who are in the UK because the majority of people in Britain believe that it is important to offer safety to people who are at risk of persecution in their own country. The Home Office’s UK Visas and Immigration website (still) states:
The measures contained in this Bill would make it impossible for the British population to uphold its proud tradition of providing safety for and restoring dignity to some of the most vulnerable people in the world.
There is a significant risk that the proposals contained in this Bill could create a hostile migrant/non-migrant culture which could cause serious harm to Britain’s global standing, its reputation for fairness and transparency, its ability to attract the brightest and best students and workers and the desire of the majority of British people to act in a non- discriminatory and sensible manner.
Whilst these measures would undoubtedly affect British citizens, EEA nationals and migrants who are in the UK lawfully, there is a real risk that they would also drive those individuals who do not comply with UK immigration law, either intentionally or because of fear, even further under ground.