What is the Bill?
Essentially this bill is updating the Immigration Act 2014 passed by the last coalition government. The 2014 Immigration Act aimed to create an indiscriminately “hostile environment” for undocumented migrants in the UK, and the 2015/16 bill continues the government’s agenda to crack down on the legitimate rights of asylum seekers and immigrants to a peaceful life. The Conservative party failed in its pledge to reduce immigration to tens of thousands by 2015, and this bill is aiming to make significant reductions a reality.
Why should we be concerned?
There are a number of provisions set out in the bill which would impose discriminating, unjust and inhumane rules on immigrants and asylum seekers:
- The ‘deport now, appeal later’ provision stops immigrants from lodging an appeal against deportation from inside the UK. The government claims that this is to cut down on the time and money spent on legal deportation appeals. However, anyone who has outstayed their visa (irrespective of the reason why) is technically a criminal, and could therefore face deportation without a proper appeal. In addition, once outside the UK, the government will not provide legal aide which makes it incredibly difficult for an immigrant to lodge an appeal. The idea of ‘deport now, appeal later’ was struck down by a High Court ruling earlier this year; the government is using the new immigration bill to bypass the British judiciary, and legalise a process that the High Court has rejected as unlawful.
- The new laws would require landlord to check the immigration status of new tenants. This could result in landlords discriminating against prospective tenants who do not hold a British passport. Furthermore, an eviction notice served by a landlord would be “enforceable as if it were an order of the high court”; not only is this process open for abuse, it also places unwieldy power in the hands of potentially discriminatory landlords and could result in the marginalisation of lawful immigrants.
- The bill would increase the powers of immigration officers to search properties for any documents. The new laws would mean that an official “may seize .. for so long as is necessary”. This offers little restriction on the power of officers, especially since it relies on the concept of “reasonable grounds” (which in itself is difficult to define and monitor).
- The proposed bill would make it a criminal offence to drive in the UK when the driver of the vehicle is staying unlawfully in the UK. Illegal drivers would face a jail term of up to six months. Therefore, anyone who has overstayed their visa (which may be for legitimate reasons) could face up to six months in jail for driving in an otherwise legal manner.
- The new bill places significant restraints on immigrants who have overstayed their visa, by giving enforcement officers the right to seize wages (as the “proceeds of crimes”) and tag people so they cannot leave. This potentially deprives the family of any means of sustenance and could result in destitution for dependents.
- The government will raise the earnings benchmark for non-EEA migrants facing deportation. Non-EEA migrants who have spent more than five years working in the country will be required to earn £35,000 per year or else face deportation. This raises the requirements for lower skilled workers, meaning that after 5 years of low paid work (and contributing to the economy accordingly), the person would then be required to return to their home country.
- A new “immigration skills charge” (a fee paid for each skilled worker from outside the EEA by their sponsor) would be introduced, making it less appealing and less economically viable for organisations to employ skilled immigrants. The bill would also make it an offence for businesses and recruitment agencies to hire abroad without first advertising in the UK.
Is it likely to become law?
In short, yes. Although there is significant concern amongst the Labour benches that the bill will cause “everyday racism”, the party does agree with some of the provisions (such as the requirement that all workers in public-facing roles must speak English, which was in the party’s 2015 election manifesto). Liberal Democrat spokesman Alistair Carmichael has condemned the bill describing it has “not fit for purpose”. The new measures have also faced extensive criticism from a human rights watchdog – the Equality and Human Rights Commission (the EHRC) – which says the bill “may lead to inhuman and degrading treatment”.
However, despite considerable opposition from both external organization and inside the House of Commons, the bill successful progressed to the Second Reading by a margin of 49 votes, and it is now awaiting a committee report (due to conclude no later than the 17th November). After the committee stage, the bill will return to the House of Commons for another vote; if successful, it will progress to the House of Lords, where it is thought many provisions of the legislation will face substantial challenges.