Why this is important
We recognise the following couple of years will be significant. Immigration remains a contentious issue, and is the easy scapegoat for politicians and the media alike. Conversations about immigration, migrants and refugees have intensified for several reasons, enabling politicians to be seen to be ‘tougher’ on immigration. This ‘toughness’ has led to an acceleration of policies and legislation to make the lives of some migrants and refugees more complicated and to make it more difficult for them to make the UK their home. This has resulted in immensely provocative government policies, like the Nationality & Borders Act. These are rewriting the rule books on refugee rights, in addition to the established laws and policies, such as the ‘hostile environment’, which continues to have a detrimental impact on migrant and refugee communities.
These policies are designed not only to speak to their members and base, but also to distract the public from the government’s many failings, including the cost-of-living crisis and rising poverty.
The Home Office is clearly not ‘fit-for-purpose’. There are now regular and unjustified delays to decision-making for migrant and refugee applications. These delays have consequences. People are losing their jobs as employers misunderstand the ‘right to work’ checks, and family members are separated for significant life-changing moments. All this takes place with impunity as the Home Office considers itself above rebuke.
The government is constantly reshaping the immigration plans and developing new systems and processes which may harm migrants. Recently, the government has accelerated the digitalisation of systems for migrants, and stated there will be further data-sharing between government departments. All of this compromises migrants’ privacy and data rights.
This is all in the context of increasing numbers of migrant workers, which is exceeding pre-Brexit numbers. Lobbying by sectors for exemptions and reductions of thresholds and criteria has led to new visa schemes emerging. Shortage occupation lists for sectors are being expanded to meet the urgent needs of the health and social care sector and others like butchery, because they are failing to recruit the workforce locally. And this results in rushed and poorly drafted visa schemes that have consequences for the migrant workers and the employers in the long-term. This means more migrant workers may be exposed to illegal recruitment fees, and be be at risk of exploitation because of the power imbalance which exists between the sponsor and employee.
Migrants and their communities face many risks over the coming years, including the cost of living crisis with no access to a safety net, as well as a general erosion of their rights e.g. family rights. We will focus on the systemic ‘change’ needed for migrants to thrive in our society. We will remain reactive but we must start to become proactive and pre-emptive to imagine our vision in practice.
What MRN intends to do:
- Tackling the Hostile Office– the Home Office is not working. It is creating misery and leaving a wake of heartbreak and painful experiences. We will use our policy and communications activities to demonstrate the inefficiencies in the operating of its services. These include areas such as visa delays and under-resourcing as well as grounds for refusing applications (e.g. grounds for ‘good’ or ‘bad’ character), deprivation of citizenship and implications of delays such as appeals, their cost and emotional impact. There is also scope to incorporate wider work on the hostile environment policies generally, such as detention and deportation.
- We want and need transformational change to our immigration systems and policies to ensure a positive and welcoming experience for anyone that chooses to make the UK their home.
- Exposing employment exploitation– With an increase in migrant worker visa routes, and more hostile immigration and refugee policies, this will force more people to go underground, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation and modern slavery.
- We will build on our work around right to work and exploitation, specifically compliance, sponsorship, immigration raids and hiring practices. This will enable us to demonstrate what harms migrant workers face when they are in sponsorship-employee relationships. We also call for visa routes to be created to prevent abuse or exploitation.
- A ‘Hostile Digital Environment’ – In collaboration with others, we will seek to raise awareness of data and technology for immigration enforcement, data sharing (HMRC), the discriminatory use of identification and abuse of personal data. To complement our work on employment rights, we will understand how ‘right to work’ checks and increasingly common apps impact migrant workers and their communities.
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