ABIL Global: United Kingdom
This article was prepared with the assistance of ABIL, the Alliance of Business Immigration Lawyers, of which Laura Danielson is an active member.
The United Kingdom (UK) government’s “hostile environment” policy was introduced in 2014 with the intention of identifying migrants in the UK without immigration permission with the ultimate purpose of removing those deemed to be without lawful status from the UK. This was achieved by restricting access to employment, housing, and vital public services such as health care, as well as detaining individuals who could not provide evidence of their immigration status. Unfortunately, it had a wider impact on those who were lawfully in the UK but had not previously been required to hold documentary evidence. One such group was the “Windrush Generation”—Commonwealth citizens who arrived in the UK before 1973 and who were given indefinite permission to reside in the UK by virtue of the Immigration Act 1971. Many came from the Caribbean in 1948 on a ship called the “Empire Windrush,” and more came in subsequent years. They did not need a document to prove their status; their initial date of entry was deemed to be sufficient. Children born in the UK to Windrush parents were also automatically born British.
There are reports of a number of individuals being wrongfully caught by the hostile environment policy by, for example, being prevented from returning to the UK following overseas travel, facing bankruptcy and destitution as a result of losing jobs and access to benefits, or having their housing taken away.
Following media pressure, the government committed to “swiftly put right the wrongs that have been done.” A new task force has handled more than 13,000 queries to date and guidance has been published for affected individuals. Concessions have been made for those who wish to naturalize as British citizens. Application fees have been waived for confirmation of immigration or nationality status.
In terms of the hostile environment policies, guidance for employers and landlords has been updated to deal with undocumented Commonwealth citizens. The government has also suspended a series of other policies, including checks on bank accounts and data-sharing with the revenue and customs, driver and vehicle licensing, and work and pensions agencies. A compensation scheme designed to help those wrongfully affected is to be set up shortly.
While it seems that much has been done to help those affected by the hostile policies, the government’s response was unacceptably slow after much of the damage had been caused. Not only should lessons be learned from this, but the system as a whole needs to be reviewed seriously, with transparency and public consultation, if the government wants to stop this from happening again.