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10 March 2023

What’s going on with the UK’s immigration laws?

Small boats, asylum seekers, digital legislation and immigration raids? What's going on with the UK's immigration laws?

Immigration law and asylum has been in the news a lot recently. You might be finding it hard to get your head around what’s going on, so we’ve put together this little summary to help. 

At the end of last year, the Prime Minister stood up in Parliament and announced his five point plan for tackling ‘small boat’ arrivals.

1.Asylum, small boats and deportations

At the end of last year, the Government hinted that tougher measures for tackling arrivals by ‘small boats’ would be coming in early 2023. This week, we got a sense of what those plans will be in the form of the ‘Illegal Migration’ Bill.

In a nutshell, the Government is attempting to effectively criminalise anyone who comes to the country through an irregular route, such as crossing the English Channel. In a statement, the Home Secretary said they will detain and “swiftly remove” anyone entering via these means. People will either be removed back to their country of origin if the Government deems it safe or to a “safe third country like Rwanda”. They are trying to use this new Bill to place a legal duty on the Home Secretary to remove people and reduce the number of challenges and appeals that can suspend removal. 

Other measures include:

  • The creation of a new Small Boats Operational Command with over 700 new staff. 
  • Doubling of National Crime Agency (NCA) funding to tackle smuggling gangs and signed a deal with Albania to enable the return of “illegal arrivals” i.e. vulnerable people seeking safety and a new life 
  • Enabling detention without bail or judicial review within the first 28 days of detention until they can be removed 
  • Procurement of accommodation including military land to end the practice of using hotels to accommodate people arriving in the UK 

While the emphasis has been on small boats, this Bill will be focused on cracking down on all forms of unauthorised routes including smuggling via lorries. 

There are probably a few reasons why the Government is focusing so much energy on small boats. Sunak’s predecessors faced a lot of pressure from Tory MPs to tackle the issue of small boats and previous Home Secretary, Priti Patel, tried to come up with some “magic solution”. This included putting a processing centre on an isolated volcanic island in the South Atlantic before the now infamous Rwanda plan was announced. 

Legislation like this is doomed to fail while increasing the suffering of refugees because it places the emphasis on deterrence rather than acknowledging the real underlying issues impacting the UK’s asylum system. The majority of displaced people do not come to the UK. The majority remain in their country of origin or neighbouring countries, while those that do come to Europe claim asylum with our European neighbours. Germany, for example, takes three times the number of refugees that the UK does. 

What we are seeing unfold is the age-old tactic of scapegoating immigrants to distract from numerous Government policy failures such as NHS waiting times or the cost-of-living crisis. It is also placing the blame for the issues in the asylum system on the asylum seekers, rather than taking accountability for the mess they have made. The asylum backlog is more than ten times bigger than it was in 2010. There are many reasons for this including administrative problems, inadequate training, low morale and high staff turnover. 

2. Immigration enforcement

Alongside the Government’s new favourite “stop the boats” phrase, the Prime Minister also committed to a renewed focus on immigration enforcement. This included a pledge to boost raids on “illegal working”, hiring 200 new Immigration Enforcement staff and restarting data sharing with banks to ensure people don’t have access to bank accounts. 

The Home Office has launched Operation Brycem which will focus on people working without permission in the care sector. They have already started raids on care homes in spite of the fact that we have a significant shortage of labour in the health and care sector, and these raids will significantly impact the wellbeing of those needing care.

At the end of January, the Government published a press release which stated there had been a 10% rise in the number of enforcement visits since 11 December 2022 totalling 1,152 raids. As hostile rhetoric and policies are becoming more embedded, community resistance is swiftly becoming the strongest form of opposition. Anti-Raids Networks and CopWatch are helping spread the word about raids happening in communities across the UK. They directly intervene with raids and try to distribute information and legal support in communities targeted by enforcement. At the Migrants’ Rights Network, we worked with allies across the sector to compile a Know Your Rights Guide which includes vital information on banking and the hostile environment, exploitation and knowing your digital rights. 

3. Digital Hostile Environment

Data Protection and Digital Information Bill

There are additional measures being introduced by the Government  to weaken data protection rights. Our partners at the Open Rights Group are helping to lead opposition to the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill. Legislation will reduce proper oversight of data processing, jeopardise sensitive information about UK residents and create new opportunities for discrimination against marginalised groups..

Protections for workers, women, racialised groups, migrants and the LGBTQ+ community by the UK GDPR and 2018 Data Protection Act are essential to making the UK an equitable place to live. The public has shown support for more robust regulation of data-driven technologies such as protection against surveillance, unfair dismissals, data misuses by law enforcement and against the exploitation of medical conditions for commercial purposes.

Digital Right to Work checks

Migrants face a wealth of issues exacerbated by the digital hostile environment. Recently, there has been another update to the Right to Work checks guide produced by the Home Office. This time they have included those individuals with an outstanding, in-time application for permission to stay in the UK, or an appeal, or Administrative Review (3C leave) to have this reflected in their digital profile, and will not need to prove their right to work using the Home Office online checking service. However, we know in practice that many employers do not understand that holding Section 3c leave entitles someone to continue working in the UK. Also, this change is only reflected for those who applied after 26 January 2023, and others will have to continue to use the Home Office’s online checking service.

And, we know that digital right to work checks are riddled with issues. The Government’s online checking service has been identified as holding incorrect information such as showing someone else’s status, wrongly showing someone else’s status, wrongly showing a status as pending or showing an error message. In some cases this has resulted in unfair dismissal or job offers being revoked. If you want to learn more about how these checks impact lives, please read here.

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