BBC drama Collateral puts the spotlight on immigration in the modern UK, but is it getting the facts right?

21 February 2018 

At the outset, I’ll be clear that I am enjoying Collateral.  I think the acting is great – Carey Mulligan is wonderful, as ever – and the plot has already started twisting and turning so I’m not sure exactly what’s going on, in a good way.  However, as an immigration lawyer I can’t help but critique the legal issues brought up by the characters in the show.  I think it’s great that a topic as important and divisive as immigration is examined in mainstream drama, but there’s a need to get basic details correct.  Here are the most obvious mistakes so far:

  • David Mars “signed the visa application” for Linh Xuan Huy:  I can overlook the reference to a ‘visa’ application instead of an application for leave to remain, but I can’t let go of these repeated references to David having signed a Tier 4 extension form and that being a problem for him.  The Tier 4 student extension application is available online only; it doesn’t get signed by the applicant, let alone by their local MP.  It’s not that David is a financial sponsor, because sponsorship from an unrelated individual is not permitted in that immigration category, so what has he signed?  Has he just provided a letter of support saying Linh is a nice person who wants to complete a course here?  If so, David can probably relax a bit, and then I can stop shouting “chill out, David” at my telly. 
  • The lady Fatima Asif met at the removal centre told her that she’d been an overstayer for 30 years, but she’s still being removed from the UK: The (I think unnamed) character told Fatima that she’d spent more than 30 years in the UK including her childhood, but that she was being removed as an overstayer.  What’s puzzling here is that there is a clear immigration route available to this person, based on her life in the UK.  It might have been helpful if the character’s history could have been explored further – needing a longer conversation – to explain why someone with such a strong claim would still be facing removal.  It’s not that instances like this don’t happen (you only have to look at the experience of Paulette Wilson to realise that some people are treated appallingly by the Home Office), but this individual’s case was presented as if it was always straightforward to remove an overstayer.  In fact, the immigration system can be much more complicated (and more personally devastating) than that, and I would have really welcomed a more detailed explanation of how that individual was being forced out of the UK despite her unaccountability for her situation (having either been born here or having arrived so young). 
  • MI5 agent Sam Spence said that Syrian nationals are automatically accepted as refugees in the UK: In short, no.  A Syrian national seeking asylum in the UK will still need to prove that they satisfy the requirements for refugee status.  This means establishing a realistic risk of persecution in Syria, and for one of the reasons named in the Refugee Convention.  Due to the horrifying conflict in Syria, some individuals may be at particular risk of persecution, but to quote the Home Office’s own guidance, “…a state of civil instability and/or where law and order has broken down does not of itself give rise to a well-founded fear of persecution for a Convention reason.”  What the UK does have is a policy not to return Syrians to the country at this time, because “…the humanitarian crisis, which continues to deteriorate, is such that for most returnees removal would breach Article 3 of the ECHR.”  This is not the same as accepting an individual as a refugee, and I would have loved it if someone had been able to tell the odious Mr Spence just how wrong he was. 

These are not major issues, and they certainly do not derail the drama, but it would be great if Collateral could be a little more accurate, especially given the central theme of migration in modern times.  Nevertheless, I also want to applaud inclusion of the following details, because it was good to see them acknowledged:

  • The private company employed by the Home Office to process the papers of Mona and Fatima Asif appear to mess things up and take the women to the wrong place at the wrong time – I think most immigration lawyers will have sympathised with that one;
  • The difficulty in arranging an appointment to see Mona and Fatima at the immigration removal centre – you really do need to book everything well in advance and take a letter of instruction with you, and if the case is urgent, that can be problematic;
  • The admission by a custody officer that she had no idea how long Mona and Fatima would have to stay locked up – there was even a reference to some detainees having been there for years, which sadly is a reality for some people in immigration detention right now. 

I’m really looking forward to seeing where Collateral’s story takes us, and you can watch it on BBC2 on Monday night (or catch up on iPlayer).  

If you would like to speak to an immigration lawyer from Latitude Law, call us on 0161 234 6800 (Manchester) or 0151 305 9600 (Liverpool)