The Home Affairs Committee has published its report on ‘the challenges facing the Home Office in delivering immigration services once the UK leaves the European Union.’
Entitled ‘Home Office delivery of Brexit: immigration’, the report contains a significant amount of criticism, not only in relation to a lack of planning on Brexit immigration related work, but also on the current operation of the UK’s immigration system generally.
The report outlines the UK Government’s current plans that EU citizens living in the UK when the UK leaves the EU, and those who enter during the transition phase, will need to register or make applications to the Home Office for evidence confirming their status. The Committee also raises concerns about individuals who currently benefit from EU law but who are not currently catered for in the UK Government’s proposals. Our Brexit Immigration Analysis covers many of these points.
The Committee’s main concerns
Lack of certainty and concerns as to UKVI’s capability
Citing a lack of detail and uncertainty for EEA nationals, one of the most serious concerns raised by the Committee is its lack of belief that ‘UKVI will be capable of delivering significant changes to the system either at the border or on registration by March 2019’ if ‘key questions are not swiftly resolved and delivery plans drawn up’.
Delay in publication of the White Paper
The Committee also notes with ‘deep regret’ that the Home Office does not intend to publish the White Paper on Immigration until autumn, meaning ‘continued anxiety for individuals’.
The overall immigration system
The Committee goes further than to simply consider Brexit related immigration matters and states that ‘leaving the European Union is likely to require a reconsideration of existing immigration policy..’.
Concerns as to current decision-making problems within UKVI, the number of mistakes that have ‘life-changing consequences’, a lack of supervision, a lack of access to justice, the overall costs of the system and pressures faced by UKVI and Border Force staff are also referred to in detail.
The Committee calls for the current immigration system to be streamlined with better use of IT and for there to be a reduction in repeated bureaucracy citing the numerous applications those who engage with the system often have to make, at considerable cost.
The hostile environment and EEA nationals
Crucially, the Committee raises concerns as to the Government’s hostile environment strategy and lack of any assessment of the effectiveness of it, citing studies that show that ‘some landlords and employers are refusing to engage with foreign nationals for fear of criminal sanctions if they make a mistake…’
It raises the concerns that ‘the hostile environment could be extended to include EEA nationals and apply to an estimated three million more people living legally in the UK without any evidence that the policy is working fairly and effectively’.
The Home Office’s response
The response from the Home Office to the report is alarmingly short, given the scope and detail of the Committee’s report and the very serious concerns raised.
Blunt comments such as ‘it is ridiculous to suggest that we are not preparing sufficiently for leaving the EU’ will instil little confidence among the millions of EEA nationals and their family members who are living in the UK and who are becoming increasingly anxious at the lack of secure plans.
The response does state that initial plans for a future immigration system will be set out in ‘the coming months’ and the proposals outlined in December’s joint report are reiterated.
Carter Thomas Solicitors founder, Nichola Carter, says:
‘Even though the vast majority of UKVI and Border Force staff work very hard and are dedicated, applications, which can take months or even years in some cases to be processed, are routinely refused. This is all too often due to caseworker error, arising from a lack of resource and training, or because the complex rules, which the Committee refers to, have caused an otherwise capable applicant to make a small, but fatal, error in their application.
We work with universities, businesses, charities and other stake-holders, including many EEA nationals and their family members, who use the system and want to see it work well and to the benefit of the UK. The Committee’s report raises, very clearly, the prospect that EEA nationals and their family members are at risk of crashing into a system which is unforgiving and unfit to deal with such additional pressures. It is essential that clear proposals are now set out urgently by the Government, discussed and agreed by stakeholders – who are ready to help the Government – and put in to place urgently.’
We work with the EU Rights Clinic in Brussels and regularly provide legal advice to EEA nationals and their family members to assist them at this time. If you would like an initial discussion about your situation with one of our specialists, please contact us.