School may have been out all summer, but this week our blog is looking at the Home Office’s report card. Summer is usually a quiet time in the world of politics, but with Brexit negotiations back underway and daily arguments in the national press over immigration, there has been no holiday for the Home Office this year. We look back over the 5 biggest mistakes the Home Office made this summer, and 3 things they have done right.
- The exit check scandal
This story didn’t receive an overwhelming level of coverage when it broke last week, perhaps because it was overshadowed by the news of a drop in net migration figures. However, the story itself is extraordinary, and calls into question domestic immigration policy and rhetoric which have prevailed for years. In data published by the Office for National Statistics, it became clear that it is not (and perhaps has never been) the case that the UK has a real problem with people overstaying their visas. The most significant findings are those considering students, for years cited as key offenders for remaining in the UK when they shouldn’t. The ONS statistics show that at least 97% of students are complying with their visa requirements, and therefore pose no threat to immigration control. The PM is yet to offer an explanation as to why she has dedicated years to reducing international student numbers when their biggest impact has been providing essential funding to our universities and supporting local economies
- Sending detention and removal letters to EU nationals legally present in the UK
Last week we learned that almost 100 people living normal, law-abiding lives in the UK have been told that they are here illegally and should leave. The problem was highlighted by coverage of the case of Eva Johanna Holmberg, a Finnish national lawfully present in the UK with her British husband: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/aug/23/home-office-apologises-for-letters-threatening-to-deport-eu-nationals. The rights of EU nationals to move freely in and out of the UK are unchanged by the Brexit referendum, and will remain so until at least March 2019 (when the UK leaves the EU). There are requirements to be met of course, but it is unclear quite how the Home Office managed to wrongly produce and send letters to so many people.
- Using secretly acquired data from charities to target rough sleepers without immigration status
The issue here isn’t the Home Office identifying and acting against those present in the UK unlawfully, but the means they used to do it. Information uncovered by the Observer (https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/aug/19/home-office-secret-emails-data-homeless-eu-nationals) showed that the Home Office used access to a map created by the Greater London Authority (to identify and protect vulnerable rough sleepers) to categorise and then target those without immigration status. The Home Office is usually upfront about the “hostile environment” it is creating for migrants without status, but the use of charity data in this way went further than what we are used to. Outreach workers who collated information to aid those in most need of assistance have found that they have been unknowingly complicit in targeting the most vulnerable for removal from the UK. The Home Office has acted in a cynical and uncaring way, and the human rights group Liberty has said that it will make an official complaint to the European Commission.
- Failed to properly address the big issues on Brexit
At the start of August, the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) opened its consultation window on the economic and social impact of the UK’s exit from the EU (https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/call-for-evidence-and-briefing-note-eea-workers-in-the-uk-labour-market). The MAC will collate evidence and views, write a report, and then present its findings. Clearly this is an issue which requires serious consideration; only last week the food and drink industry issued a warning that Brexit may cause a serious shortage in the essential workforce (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-41025082). The Home Office ‘s big failing here is not directing the MAC to act, but the delay in doing so. The future of the UK’s economy is an issue which should have been fundamental to the Brexit debate, but more than a year after the UK voted to the leave the EU, we are only now beginning to understand the potential scale of the problem. Exacerbating this, the MAC has not been tasked to report back to the Government until September 2018, only 6 months before the UK leaves the EU. How can the Government properly participate in Brexit negotiations when it does not have all the data concerning the changes Brexit will cause?
- Poor decision making
Sub-standard Home Office decision making is not something we are unfamiliar with, and that so many decisions are starting to receive national press coverage is encouraging, as it highlights deficiencies in the system and lends support to individuals who find themselves in a vulnerable position. In the last week alone we have learned about heavily pregnant Wanwan Qiao (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-beds-bucks-herts-41012762), denied permission to remain in the UK with her British husband despite their comfortable finances and loving home life; a promising young chef who has been in UK foster care now facing enforced removal to Albania (https://www.buzzfeed.com/hannahalothman/this-talented-young-chef-who-is-training-in-a-michelin?utm_term=.hhpqPNBOm3#.kxYERYeDWZ); and Shane Ridge, a 21-year-old born and raised in the UK who has been told not only that he is not British (for the simple reason that his British father and British/Australian mother were not married) but also that he should now leave the UK and live elsewhere (https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/aug/29/joiner-shane-ridge-born-and-raised-in-britain-told-to-leave-home-office). An immigration system with clearly identifiable rules is essential, but a system that cannot bend to accommodate the human lives which it governs is broken.
Now let’s look at some of the things that have gone right this summer:
- Overturning poor decisions
Thankfully, the individuals mentioned at point 5 above might have some good news to look forward to. August 2017 also saw the Home Office approve visas for Irene Clennell, a married mother and grandmother of British children who had been forcibly removed from the UK after 27 years’ residence here (https://www.buzzfeed.com/emilydugan/a-grandmother-who-was-deported-from-britain-after-30-years?utm_term=.jnGvROYGwK#.lpQ8Z06yrB) and the adopted children of Patrick and Gillian Thies, initially refused entry to travel to the UK with their parents (https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/aug/17/american-nhs-surgeon-adopted-sons-granted-visas-patrick-thies-home-office).
- Post-Brexit Britain probably won’t ask EU tourists to obtain a visa (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-40957301)
This is good news for many reasons. Firstly, it means that tourism won’t be impacted by the introduction of a cumbersome new visa system; EU-member or not, there is little point in dissuading our European neighbours from ever setting foot in the UK again. In addition, the ability to visit the UK for short periods of time without first securing a visa is likely to be good for business, meaning that meetings can still take place in the UK without all participants needing a visa to travel here. If we maintain an open and fair policy of visa-free travel for some visitors (agreements already exist with the USA and Australia, for example), then we can hope for the same in return. Travel with non-EU passports will already add disruption to European trips after March 2019, but the absence of a tourist visa requirement may do something to soften that blow.
- The income requirement for spouses was finally reconsidered
Following the Supreme Court’s ruling that the application of the income requirement was unlawful in some cases, the rules and guidance have now been amended. You can see our summary of the changes and the top 5 things to know here, but the key message is that there now exists a degree of flexibility which was not available pre-August 2017. This is a step in the right direction in achieving fair results for families, but only time will tell how the Home Office now applies the concessions it has agreed to make.
If you would like to talk to one of our experts about your immigration matter, please call our Manchester office on 0161 234 6800 or Liverpool on 0151 305 9600.