Legal immigrants are continuing to feel the full force of the UK’s ‘hostile environment’ policy, says Maddie Grounds from the Immigration Advice Service (IAS).
‘What we don’t want is a situation where people think they can come here and overstay because they’re able to access everything they need’. Those were the words that marked the beginning of Theresa May’s ‘hostile environment’ back in 2013.
Fast forward to present and Sajid Javid’s promises to divert from Mrs May’s ‘hostile environment’ led to the phrase being rapidly hushed in Westminster. Yet amidst Brexit chaos and migrants in inflatable boats discussions surrounding the immigration ‘crisis’ have continued to show an attitude of hostility towards those entering the UK.
The Prime Minister’s post-Brexit targets of ending freedom of movement for EU migrants and the continual rising of visa and settlement application fees continues to make it harder for valuable workers to cross UK borders. Among the price increases is the cost of a settlement visa for a dependent relative from £585 in 2008-9 to £3,250 in 2017-18, equating to an increase of 450 per cent.
Additionally, it was reported that the Home Office had tried to force at least 300 highly skilled migrants to leave Britain under a terrorism law. Up to 87 highly skilled migrants including teachers, doctors, engineers and IT professionals have been wrongly deported despite the majority of them having lived in the UK for a decade or more and having British-born children.
Once entering the UK, becoming fulfilled members of the community is made even harder by the anti-immigrant hostility that many landlords encompass. A survey conducted by JWCI found that 42% of landlords said they would be less likely to consider someone without a British passport, while 27% said they would be reluctant to negotiate with potential tenants who had a ‘foreign-sounding’ name or accent. In many ways, this is a direct result of the Right to Rent Scheme which was introduced in 2016 when May was Home Secretary, which allows landlords to refuse anyone the right to rent their property if they do not have the proper documents.
Contrary to the claims that migrants ‘drain’ the economy is the fact that they pay disproportionate fees to the Home Office who have made £800m in revenue from fees alone in the last six years. Exploitative registration fees for children have displayed a prioritisation for money over a child’s wellbeing, leaving those who are entitled to British citizenship unable to rebuild their lives. Yvette Cooper, the chairwoman of the Home Affairs Committee, said: ‘Under the current system, children can be left in a precarious position, unable to study, work or access social security at the end of their teenage years.’
Protection for society’s most vulnerable citizens continue to fail at the expense of a persisting fear of deportation which traps victims of abuse in their dangerous environments. Figures have found that migrant, BAME women living in the UK on a Spouse Visa stay silent for 1.5 times longer than British-born women where they are being domestically abused. This is due to the fear that they will be deported if they speak to authorities, and this fear is not unfounded – 27 out of 45 police forces reported migrant domestic abuse victims to the Home Office in 2015-16.
What’s more, with MPs being criticised for calling an immigration enforcement hotline 68 times last year, immigrants are expected to incorporate into a society whose own representatives view them with suspicion. It was revealed by Labour MP David Lammy’s questions that between 30 September 2012 and 25 May 2018, MPs reported immigration abuse to the Home Office 723 times.
Views of scepticism towards immigrants push them away from seeking political help with the fear of deportation clouding their needs for support and preventing them from democratic representation. A pledge has since been signed by 107 MPs and a number of charities, directed to the Commons Speaker John Bercow asking MP’s to not inform on constituents.
The Home Affairs Select Committee has condemned the government’s hostile environment policies, insisting they assess their ‘efficacy, fairness, impact (including both intended and unintended consequences) and value for money’. Recommendations included a culture change within the Home Office to scrap a policy which currently treats immigration applications with suspicion and scepticism. The committee’s report has recommended that Home Secretary Sajid Javid should conduct a thorough review of the current immigration policies. Yet although he has complied, with his declared commitment to a ‘fair and humane’ immigration system, this is yet to be seen in practice.