Migrants' Rights Network

Cross-party parliamentary committee strongly critical of ‘hostile environment’

As reported by The Guardian earlier this week, the cross-party Home Affairs select committee in the House of Commons has published a report that is strongly critical of the government’s “hostile environment” policies. 

The 12-month inquiry, informed by the views of citizens’ panels held in towns and cities across Britain, calls for the government to build greater consensus and trust on immigration as part of framing a post-Brexit immigration policy.

Of particular concern to the MPs drafting the report are:

  1. The complexity and related lack of clarity of immigration rules, causing confusion and anxiety for migrants – but also for immigration tribunal judges. The report states: “There have been 11 Immigration Acts passed in the last 50 years and amendments to the Immigration Rules are made on a regular basis with, in reality, little or no significant parliamentary scrutiny and little, if any, public consultation. This has led to many people, including immigration tribunal judges, to complain that the system has become far too complex. Colin Yeo, immigration and asylum barrister at Garden Court Chambers, explained to us that the rules had become so complicated that it was now very hard to make a successful application without a lawyer. He described the current situation as ‘a terrible way to run an immigration system’. Not only does complexity hinder those who must engage with the system, it increases the challenge faced by officials tasked with making life-changing decisions. It is also difficult for the public to consent to a system they cannot understand.”
  2. An unacceptably high rate of error in immigration decisions by the Home Office. As The Guardian notes,  there is “a 10% error rate in a Home Office list of ‘disqualified people’. Some people have been refused a new bank account because they were wrongly included on the list of those at risk of being told to leave the country.” This situation has recently been brought to light by high-profile cases such as that of Paulette Wilson
  3. The report also flags the fact “that enforcement performance has deteriorated, causing significant problems for the credibility of the system, and consequently for public confidence in the integrity of the rules. […] A 2015 report by the ICIBI found that less than a third of the fines levied on companies hiring illegal [sic] workers were collected and it took an average of more than two years for the money to be paid.
  4. The “hostile environment” is cited as “a major concern,” with the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration David Bolt quoted as saying: “the Home Office does not have in place measurements to evaluate the effectiveness’ of the hostile environment provisions. In particular, he reported that there had been a failure to ‘understand the effects of the provisions that have been brought in through the 2014 and 2016 Immigration Acts’.” The report adds – as MRN has also long been arguing – that “hostile environment” policies affect people and communities who are not even meant to be targeted. The report concludes: “The Government should not rely on its ‘hostile environment’ policy as a panacea for enforcement and building confidence, especially given the current concerns about accuracy and error. We are concerned that the policy is unclear and, in some instances, too open to interpretation and inadvertent error. Not only can these errors be deeply damaging and distressing to those involved—as with letters being sent to EU nationals about their right to live in the UK—they also undermine the credibility of the system.” 
  5. Lastly, the report mentions that indefinite detention for immigration removal ought to be revised as a policy. Stephen Shaw, a former Chief Inspector of Prisons, is quoted as saying “it would be in everyone’s interests” to reform the detention system so as to make it less opaque and more humane, addressing international criticisms of the UK’s current policy and practices. 
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Fabien Cante

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