As EU citizens continue to wait with baited breath on their future status and rights in the UK, this lack of clarity has started to affect their treatment by employers, and service providers. One, because lay people being asked to interpret immigration status easily leads to confusion, and secondly, the lack of certainty on EU nationals’ status creates an opportunity for individuals to be discriminated against.
BY FIZZA QURESHI
Last week, a letter from Paul Blomfield MP to the Brexit Minister detailed examples where EU citizens were being excluded from employment, the rental market, and travel agencies refusing to take bookings from those who were non-UK or Irish citizens. His letter points out that ‘unlawful discrimination’ is taking place now, and the Government needs to take action, by confirming the status of EU citizens, and reverse this trend.
While a spokesperson for the Department of Exiting the EU (DExEU) on hearing of these issues stated “We are crystal clear that it is completely unacceptable for people to experience discrimination because of their nationality: any such discrimination is illegal.”
Yes, discrimination is illegal but when you ask non-legally qualified individuals to determine whether someone is legally entitled to rent a room, to be employed, or have free access to healthcare, based on their immigration status, you are creating the atmosphere for discrimination. Add to this, the confusion around EU nationals’ status in the UK, and you may just about forgive some for interpreting these rules incorrectly, and inadvertently discriminating.
What we should be less forgiving of – and definitely not forget – is the fact that enforcement of immigration rules have been pushed on to civil society through the fear of criminal and financial penalties. The fear of breaking the law has meant that some employers and agencies are being overly cautious in who they employ, rent to or provide services to. It therefore will and has led to discrimination as described by Paul Blomfield MP.
In turn with some migrants unaware of their rights, much of the discrimination they are experiencing will go uncontested. We must ensure that our migrant communities have avenues to understand their rights and receive the support to ensure these practices are challenged.
Migrant discrimination is not a new phenomenon
Pre-Brexit though, we know of instances where migrants, including EU nationals, have been refused access to healthcare, and that the interpretation of the rules for renting mean landlords are already discriminating against anyone without a British passport.
In 2016, a health advocacy programme found that 2 out of 5 of the patients they saw had been refused GP registration, and of these 13% had been refused on grounds of their immigration status. This was compounded by a lack of guidance, and therefore each health provider interpreted the rules as they saw fit. And in the past, it has been documented how EU nationals are either having difficulty or are being refused access to healthcare.
The right to rent scheme, when it went under scrutiny through a mystery shopping survey, found that 51% of landlords surveyed were less likely to consider letting their property to foreign nationals from outside the EU. A fifth of those were less likely to rent to EU nationals as well.
When civil society is asked to interpret immigration rules, and enforce them, it in turn puts all migrants (including EU nationals) in a precarious position, and at risk of discrimination.
How we talk about migrants fuelling discrimination
Our report where migrants’ were asked for their perspective on Brexit and the UK’s immigration policy, also described how racism and discrimination had increased since the EU referendum vote. A majority of respondents in this listening exercise felt that the result of the EU Referendum had already had an impact in the UK, and referenced an increase in hate incidences, prejudice or discrimination towards migrants, and the uncertainty about migrants’ right to remain in the UK post-Brexit and the impact on their ability to travel outside of the UK (55 felt that the UK’s decision to exit the EU had led – or would lead – to an increase in hate incidence, prejudice or discrimination towards migrants).
A Bulgarian national in Boston summed up the issue migrants are facing, in that the combination of negative media coverage towards migrants, lack of funding for over-subscribed public services and language barriers had “All combined [to] create the monster of xenophobia’ in the lead up to the referendum.” The issue is that this monster is still hiding under the bed.
When politicians blame migrant workers for driving down their wages, or the lack of housing (and the loss of their electoral seat), they add fuel to the fire, and create an environment that makes it acceptable for others to put their issues at the feet of migrants, rather than hold their local and national politicians to account.
Lobbying our MPs
One avenue to hold our politicians to account will be through the mass lobby organised by the 3Million & British in Europe, and supported by us and others. We also need to be alert to any new immigration bills published which will also be used to limit migrants’ rights.
We urgently need to continue our dialogue with our politicians to secure the rights of all EU citizens, and use it as an opportunity to improve the situation for anyone that migrates to the UK, and is exposed to its immigration system. Let’s make this not a race to the bottom but one which moves the rights of everyone upwards.
To join the mass lobby on 13 September 2017, please register here
Fizza Qureshi is Director of MRN