The Digital Hostile Environment is growing.
The Government’s crackdown on the rights of migrants and refugees spans many areas of everyday life. The Immigration Minister has recently announced plans that data sharing with the financial sector will begin as the Government cracks down on so-called “illegal migrants” accessing banking services. In a Government press release, the announcement states that the Home Office will share details of disqualified people via an anti-fraud organisation. Furthermore, banks and building societies will then check personal current account holders against those details.
At the Migrants’ Rights Network, migrants’ data and digital rights has been a key campaigning area for a long time. At the end of last year, Rishi Sunak announced that the policy of data sharing with banks would be resurrected. From our previous work in this area, we knew that life was about to get even harder for migrants. These checks were introduced back in 2016 under the Immigration Act but were paused in 2018 by then-Home Secretary Sajid Javid in light of the Windrush scandal.
The Government claims that having access to a current account can assist those working “unlawfully” in obtaining work “illegally and securing credit”. However, we know that these plans are riddled with technical errors and could have devastating consequences on the lives of migrant communities. An independent investigation in 2016 where they discovered an error rate of 10%. They found people listed incorrectly as ‘disqualified persons’ from a sample of accounts (ICIBI, 2016).
Families with different immigration statuses will be negatively impacted by this policy and having a bank account closed can have huge ramifications for someone’s ability to work, live and thrive. In addition, these plans raise the important question of who is considered to be welcome in the UK, particularly at a time where the Government is intent on restricting ways to come to the UK and constructing the idea of the ‘illegal migrant’.
Along with our partners and migrant communities in our Network, we will renew our calls for these data sharing plans between the Home Office and the banking sector for the purpose of immigration enforcement to be stopped. These plans are part of the Government’s focus on deterrence rather than helping people arriving in the UK to start a new life and tackling many of the barriers that exist for them to do so.
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The Digital Hostile Environment