Immigration Bill 2015 - What you need to know
The Immigration Bill 2015-16 was laid before Parliament. It contains an unprecedented expansion of the powers of immigration officials to detain individuals, to seize property, and to otherwise interfere with everyday activities, often on the mere suspicion that someone involved is in the UK without authorisation.
The Bill comprises measures which will encourage discrimination against minorities whether British Citizens or migrants. It will encourage exploitation of migrant workers, by removing all safeguards and protections from them, and will help to create an underclass of people removed from the protection of the law. This can only increase social ills, wage theft and abuse, and divide communities. Here is an initial look at some of the most important provisions of the Bill.
The Bill creates a new offence of illegal working and allows immigration officials wide ranging powers to seize property, to seize earnings, to close down businesses, to enter and search properties, and focusses on small businesses such as late-night takeaways, off-licenses etc.
The proposal to create a criminal offence which could lead to a twelve month prison sentence with an unlimited fine for anyone found working without the right papers is grossly disproportionate to any harm which migrants in a vulnerable position may be considered to have done. The research which has been carried out on the impact of the employment of irregular migrants has failed to find evidence of anti-social effects which would merit penalties of this nature.
Those working illegally in the UK are already at risk from deportation and it appears unlikely that the additional measures will materially impact on the numbers. What it will do, is to drive workers further away from any kind of interaction with authority. Employers of such workers will hold huge power over them, and this measure will increase exploitation and the number of people in a condition of modern day slavery. The business sectors targeted are those where people of migrant background have established themselves on high streets across the country. These are small businesses who will be less able to deal with the additional burden of carrying out and recording frequent and complex immigration checks. Meanwhile, there is very little in the Bill to address the problem of large corporations in cleaning, logistics, and agriculture who exploit workers and drive down wages.
At the very least, the Bill should contain a guarantee of full financial compensation for anyone whose livelihood and reputation is compromised by action taken by immigration officials that later turns out to be mistaken.
Landlords and Tenants
Landlords across the country will be liable for a fine or for imprisonment for up to five years if they let out a property to a migrant without the ‘right to rent’, instead of merely a fine as set out in the 2014 Immigration Act. In some circumstances they will be guilty of an offence even if that migrant isn’t the tenant named on the lease, but simply someone staying in the property.
This scheme was piloted across the West Midlands, but despite promising to review the pilot scheme before rolling it out country-wide, the government is now intent on pressing ahead, and widening its scope and increasing the severity of the punishments. Research from amongst others, the Economist, and the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants shows that this policy encourages discrimination.
The right to rent policy encourages discrimination against tenants who look or sound foreign. There are hundreds of different documents that can show someone has the right to be in the country, and even experts can struggle to ascertain status. Landlords have prospective tenants queuing up for rooms, and the evidence suggests that when facing a hefty fine or prison many will simply refuse anybody who they are sceptical about and turn to someone who is obviously a British citizen. This will drive many into the hands of slum landlords who will use their position to abuse and exploit them.
Bank Accounts & Driving Licenses
The Bill introduces a new criminal offence of driving in the UK whilst an migrant without status and measures requiring banks and building societies to take action in respect of existing accounts held by undocumented migrants & duty on banks and building societies to perform periodic checks and to notify the Home Office.
There will be severe consequences for the individuals whose bank accounts are wrongly closed or frozen mistakenly. Given the poor quality of Home Office record keeping and decision making, it is inevitable that this will happen, and highly likely that it will disproportionately affect ethnic minorities. Again the Bill must at the very least make provision for full compensation for those who are affected.
Meanwhile, by excluding a portion of the population from banking services, the Bill again encourages the creation of a subclass of people in the UK who will become dependent on criminal loan sharks, and other exploitative individuals.
Given the historical issues with stop and search policies, it is likely that ethnic minorities will disproportionately be subjected to driving licence checks, and again mistakes in the system will result in citizens being wrongly arrested. It is doubtful whether the harm caused by denying a group of people in the UK the ability to take driving lessons and pass a driving test which promotes public safety, is outweighed by the whatever the supposed benefits are of such a policy.
Deport First Appeal Later
In the last Immigration Act of 2014 the majority of appeals against immigration decisions were removed, in addition measures were brought in to allow the deportation of any person with a non-human rights related appeal before the appeal was heard. Now the ‘deport first, appeal later’ provisions have been extended to human rights cases as well.
Given the huge delays in the appeals system we have not yet seen how the removal of appeals rights, and the introduction of deport first, appeal later, has affected people. However it is important to remember that the Home Office has a long history of extremely poor decision making, with a very high rate of appeals being successful.
It seems that rather than trying to get things right, this Bill, and the last Immigration Act, are designed to ensure that those who are wrongly removed from the country have no redress. This is a severe infringement of the rule of law in a democratic country. Similarly, the removal of those with human rights claims before their appeal has been heard is inevitably going to result in a percentage of people having their human rights violated.
The Bill significantly restricts asylum support from asylum seekers whose claims have been rejected. Only those with a “genuine obstacle to removal” will be entitled to support. Families who previously were supported after their asylum claim was refused will not be entitled to support automatically. These proposals will leave families and children homeless and with no means of support or ability to feed themselves or to earn money. It is completely unacceptable for any piece of legislation to act in a way as to make vulnerable children and their families destitute. The bill will remove the majority of appeal against a decision by the Home Office to refuse or discontinue asylum support. At present over 55% of these decisions are overturned by the Asylum Support Tribunal. Removing this right to have a Home Office decision scrutinised independently is a complete attack on justice, and will mean those who may have a legal right to access accommodation and support will be left destitute.
The Bill introduces an English language requirement for all customer facing public sector workers.
This provision perhaps best exemplifies the extent to which this Immigration Bill is about looking tough, rather than in engaging with the reality of migration in the UK and how to best harness it for the public good. It is hard to credit the notion that local authorities do not already try to hire the best people for the job, and assess whether a candidate’s English skills are sufficient in doing so.
It is normally accepted that the creation of new criminal offences, and the handing out of new policing powers is something to be done only after careful consideration of the balance of harms. Giving officials wider discretion to arrest, or to punish inevitably results in a greater interference with the liberties of the public. Innocent people inevitably end up caught up in the system. After all, before the decision to remove almost all appeal rights, Home Office decisions in immigration matters were frequently overturned on appeal. Unfortunately this Bill continues the government’s policy of covering up for appalling decision making, and incompetence, by making it harder for those affected to complain.
In their blinkered pursuit of reducing the Net Migration Statistics his government has produced a legislative sledgehammer which will cause a great deal of suffering to those citizens and migrants caught beneath it, but do nothing to reduce levels of migration, the exploitation of migrant workers, or to increase the wellbeing of the public.
There will be a general debate on the Bill in the House of Commons called ‘second reading’ which will take place on 13 October 2015. The detail of the Bill will then be considered by a smaller committee of the House of Commons in a series of public debates in which amendments to clauses will be put forwarded, debated and sometimes voted on.
This will be the opportunity to briefing MPs on specific issues in the Bill which cause concern and to seek changes.