What you need to know about the Immigration Bill
Today the controversial Immigration Bill is subject to more debate in the House of Lords as part of the final Ping Pong stages of its passage through Parliament. These are the final stages of the Bill, where debate is limited to issues that have proven to be particularly contentious between the two Houses of Parliament. The Bill entered Parliament in the House of Commons in October 2013 and, after being voted through by MPs in January this year, has been subject to scrutiny in the House of Lords. The Bill is now in the process of being passed back and forth between the two Houses, in order to secure final agreement on its content.
Looking back over the eight months since the Bill first entered Parliament, there has been a barrage of lobbying by charities, lawyers, trades unions and others across a wide range of the clauses in the Bill. In addition to picking up specific issues, many have criticised the Government’s underlying objective of creating a hostile environment for migrants and the tough rhetoric that has accompanied the Bill.
Although there have been some limited wins in ameliorating some aspects of the Bill, overall it has survived its passage through Parliament relatively unscathed. Dispiritingly for those with real concerns about the implications of the Bill, debate about some of its key provisions – including the removal of the right of appeal, the introduction of landlord checks and the introduction of a new charging regime for migrants accessing healthcare – was relatively limited. Instead, the efforts by the anti-EU wing of the Conservative party to hijack the Bill late last year, and the last minute introduction of a new deprivation of citizenship clause by the Home Secretary, ended up dominating debate at the expense of other issues.
So, on the eve of the Bill passing into law, here’s a brief update on some of its key provisions and their implications for migrants’ rights.
1. Landlord immigration checks
One of the more contentious elements of the Bill, the landlord immigration checks generated inter-coalition conflict and widespread concern about their implications for ethnic minority and migrant communities. The Conservative wing of the Government has remained committed to introducing the checks, which remain within the Bill. However, the resistance of the Lib Dems has meant that a series of compromises have been reached within the Coalition regarding their roll-out.
At this stage, it has been confirmed that there will be a pilot of landlord immigration checks in one geographical area apparently ‘big enough to allow for a proper evaluation before national roll-out’. Given that this will presumably be just before the next general election, it is possible that the national roll-out will not, in the end, happen. In the meantime, campaigning from charities and lobbying groups appears to have had some success, as there will be some exemptions from the landlord checks. Lettings to students will be exempted (including in private sector halls, houses and flats), as will homeless hostels, refuges for women fleeing violence and accommodation for vulnerable people in immediate need. It looks like, unlike the employer checks, there will only be repeat checks on tenants "in exceptional circumstances", and landlords will not have responsibility for checking on anyone else moving into the property after the tenant moves in, provided any additional occupier does not pay rent to the landlord. There will be a Home Office hotline which will apparently respond to queries within 48 hours, and a consultative group including the British Property Federation, Crisis and the Residential Landlords Association will be formed to advise on the legislation & codes of practice in this area.
2. The right of appeal for immigration cases
Unfortunately, no gains were made on the retention of the right of appeal against decisions made under the Immigration Rules. In future, only three types of decision on immigration cases will be appealable: a decision to refuse a claim of asylum or humanitarian protection; a decision to refuse a human rights claim; or a decision to revoke asylum or humanitarian protection. This change will affect migrants across the immigration system who will be subject to poor Home Office decision-making with much reduced ability for legal challenge, and has been widely criticized.
Although this was apparently a key priority area for the Labour party, its frontbenches made a lackluster case for the retention of the right of appeal in the House of Commons. It was more robustly debated in the House of Lords, but an amendment tabled by Baroness Smith (Labour), the shadow minister for home affairs in the Lords, to maintain the right of appeal for immigration cases proposed was voted against by 164 votes to 205. It is not yet clear how, in practice, the removal of the right of appeal will work and the knock-on implications for the First Tier Immigration Tribunal in particular. More on this anon.
3. Access to healthcare
The introduction of a new charging regime for migrants seeking to access UK healthcare was another aspect of the Immigration Bill which has grabbed some headlines. In the end, the framework for a new healthcare levy for temporary migrants, as well as for charging for some GP and A & E services, has been successfully established by the Government through the Bill. The wider framework for a new healthcare charging system for migrants are currently being worked on by the Department of Health and a statement is expected imminently from the DoH indicating their plans for implementation.
However, some useful statements were made by Ministers during the Immigration Bill debate which may provide fuel for further lobbying of the Department of Health on the details of the new system. Government spokesman Lord Taylor of Holbeach, for example, assured the House that “GP and nurse consultations will remain free to all and... that is not limited to the first consultation.” He also said that “The Department of Health has committed to give further thought to strengthening exemptions in the current NHS charging regulations for vulnerable groups”.
4. Deprivation of citizenship clause
And so to the show-stealing Government clause to deprive naturalized British citizens of their passport if their conduct is considered to be ‘seriously prejudicial to the vital interests of the UK’, regardless of whether it would make them stateless. Following opposition to the clause in the House of Lords, the Government last week introduced two amendments to the Bill aimed at alleviating concerns. Firstly deprivation of British citizenship for naturalized Brits under clause 60 may now take place only ‘when the Home Secretary has reasonable grounds to believe that, under the laws of a country or territory, an individual is able to become a national of that country or territory’. In addition, there will be an independent review of the power, which will report after one year and then on a rolling three-yearly basis. Although these amendments were met with robust opposition by some MPs in the House of Commons who argued that the Home Secretary’s view on whether a person may gain citizenship of another country and the reality may be very different. Fundamentally, the amendments do not address some parliamentarians' concerns about causing individuals to become stateless. However, this amendment received a majority vote by the Commons overall so the next step for the Home Secretary is to get the support of the House of Lords before wrapping up the Bill.
In addition, the Bill will introduce a wide range of additional changes in areas including detention, removals, and guardianship for child victims of trafficking, which MRN will continue to update on and point to more detailed briefings by others. More on all these issues as and when we have it.