- Tory cuts to immigration staff mean they can’t cope with existing workload, let alone prepare for Brexit.
- Government refuses to show clarity over post Brexit immigration.
- 3 million EU born citizens still face unnecessary uncertainty.
- British businesses with EU employees unable to prepare.
- Austerity-hit immigration department regularly makes mistakes.
- EU born citizens detained in Britain’s cruel immigration detention system.
- Theresa May’s Hostile Environment which passes immigration enforcement from government to landlords, bosses and doctors may be pointlessly cruel.
- Policy flip-flops on EU citizens causing an increase in discrimination.
- Indecisiveness proving a distraction for border security.
The Home Affairs Committee’s Report into the Delivery of Brexit: Immigration has just been published and it’s even more damning than expected.
It will make uneasy reading for Theresa May, criticizing cuts that have left immigration services chaotic. It also highlights an indecisiveness over a post-Brexit system making it impossible for any of the already “overstretched” institutions such as enforcement and Border Force to prepare or “do their job properly.”
The damning report insists that “the Government has a responsibility to Parliament, the public, EU citizens who will be affected, employers and the public servants it expects to deliver the policies to provide some urgent clarity on its intentions.”
The report concludes: “we have examined the capacity of the Home Office to deliver new immigration processes to support the UK’s decision to leave the European Union. We have found that many existing processes are under strain, and under-resourced.”
The cross-party Commons committee has heard oral and written evidence for many sources and its report was always a worry for the Government being attacked from all sides over a lack of preparedness for a Brexit process it started with article 50 last March.
– Especially as Theresa May has just overruled Amber Rudd and the Home Office by insisting EU citizens arriving in the UK during a Brexit transition period would not have automatic rights and need to be registered.
May refused to heed warnings from senior Home Office officials about the practicalities of creating a whole new system for them by March 2019.
Somehow employers, landlords, medics etc will now be expected to tell which EU-born citizens arrived during a Brexit transition period and how to treat them differently.
But as none of this seems to concern Theresa May, maybe she should read some of the report’s damning findings that cast serious doubt on the practicalities of any of her suggestions for post-Brexit immigration changes.
“We were told that pressure on staff in the immigration directorates is considerable, that it is contributing to high turnover rates and that poor decisions are being made as a result,” concluded the embarrassing report which finds “insufficient… “the resources required to cope with the increased workload and challenge that Brexit will bring.”
The Home Affairs Committee report calls for rapid improvement. It finds “urgent clarity about what the Government intends for EEA nationals” is needed to stop chaos ensuing.
The Government was due to publish an Immigration White Paper and make clear the position of EU citizens. But it has failed abysmally on both counts.
“We find the Government’s delays to the promised White Paper, and the lack of any timetable for resolving questions about registration and transition, to be completely unacceptable,” says the report.
“These delays risk not only making it impossible to deliver on time, but also distracting UKVI, Border Force and Immigration Enforcement from their wider vital work on immigration and border security…
“The Government should immediately set out more detailed plans for the registration of EU nationals already here, and its objectives for the negotiations over the transition period. Failure to do so soon will deny Parliament and those affected the opportunity to scrutinise or debate the Government’s plans before they are finalised with the EU, despite the fact that this is such a crucial policy area. That is unacceptable.”
Evidence submitted to the committee included a frightening trend towards EU nationals being detained in Immigration Removal Centers. These detention centers, some Home Office-run, others outsourced to multinationals such as Serco and G4S, have been associated with abuses, people being held indefinitely without legal representation, vulnerable people, pregnant women and children being incarcerated on administrative grounds rather than by trial.
The inquiry heard that “a significant increase in the detention of EU nationals following Brexit would potentially put increased pressure on a detention system which is already struggling to cope with the current volume of people detained, and which fails properly to safeguard vulnerable individuals.”
The report is particularly damning of what is called the “Hostile Environment” that Theresa May as Home Secretary created to outsource many Home Office tasks for monitoring immigrants to employers, educators, landlords, NHS staff and other public servants.
The report mentions “evidence that hostile environment measures are changing behaviour towards people lawfully resident in the UK. Studies show that some landlords and employers are refusing to engage with foreign nationals for fear of criminal sanctions if they make a mistake in applying the rules.”
The consequences of the cruel environment that Theresa May has burdened public servants with, to carry out what is essentially immigration enforcement, is illustrated with one particularly horrific case.
A five months’ pregnant woman who reported being kidnapped and raped was arrested on immigration charges while being cared for at a center for sexual assault victims.
The report finds “concerns that people are refusing to report crime or seek medical help because they are afraid their details will be shared with the Home Office.”
As removals from the UK have fallen, the report finds no evidence that the Home Office’s Hostile Environment has actually succeeded in anything but causing a whole lot of suffering and anxiety all round – both for foreign-born citizens and for UK landlords, employers, doctors who face a massive headache now.
“We are very concerned at the possibility that the hostile environment could be extended to include EEA nationals and apply to an estimated three million more people living legally in the UK without any evidence that the policy is working fairly and effectively. This has the potential to create further errors and injustices, which we have already seen causing unnecessary distress, and to increase the administrative burden on individuals, employers and landlords, without any evidence that the system works. It also cuts across the strong words of the Prime Minister that the UK wants EU citizens living here to stay, if the Government then chooses to subject them to a policy described as the ‘hostile environment”.”
Some Conservative ministers want Theresa May to announce that EU citizens will need to apply for work visas in the same way as non-EU citizens have to. – This addition to the workload of an immigration system hopelessly unprepared for Brexit and barely fit for purpose is even more unrealistic. – Especially by March next year. – While all the time three million EU born citizens in the UK still need to be registered and processed.
Last year the Home Office issued 164,000 work-related visas to non-EU citizens. If all the EU citizens arriving for work currently also needed visas, a total of 400,000 would be needed. The Government’s immigration system is clearly unready for this.
Nor is it ready for Theresa May’s new announcement, that despite all Amber Rudd’s previous pronouncements, and Government assurances to businesses, EU nationals arriving during Brexit transition will need a whole new system.
“The Home Office has failed to convince us that UKVI will have the necessary resources to manage the huge challenge of Brexit. We do not believe sufficient staff and systems are yet in place to operate a smooth and effective registration system for EU citizens currently resident here,” this new commons committee report makes clear.
The Government is set to be attacked from all sides over Brexit preparedness. And it is not just the complex changes to immigration rules that look increasingly unachievable.
There are currently 300 separate “workstreams” across Whitehall that need to be completed by Britain’s departure from the EU scheduled for March next year. Readiness reports are compiled on all of these, but still the Government has refused to reveal any details of how ready the UK actually is on any of these fronts.
Hardline Brexiteer Conservative MP and chairman of the European Research Group faction of Eurosceptic Tories Jacob Rees-Mogg warned The Times newspaper this week that if the Government does not get the new system that Theresa May just declared for EU migration during the transition period in place on top of all its other problems, it will be a sign of Whitehall “incompetence.”
But if Theresa May does not back down in the face of the unreadiness portrayed in today’s report she appears hopelessly out of touch.
And all of this ignores the fact that the EU has stated that without freedom of movement Britain cannot enjoy the other freedoms of trade of a single market and customs union.
“While the delay of the White Paper is perhaps sensible in view of the fact the Government won’t have the Migration Advisory Committee’s recommendations for our post Brexit immigration landscape until the Autumn, the impact is that Brussels negotiations on EEA migrant rights are taking place without any real public discussion of the issues.
“It is also ludicrous that registration of the 3 million EEA nationals will begin before we potentially see any Immigration Act in force. It is so frustrating for the many people whose lives are affected, as well as for British businesses to plan when there is so little certainty to play with,” senior immigration lawyer Vanessa Ganguin of Vanessa Ganguin Immigration Law reacted to today’s report.
There is of course, an obvious way to avoid a whole lot of suffering and a total shambles. The Government can go back to the reassurances it has been giving businesses, stick to the immigration system with the EU that that the EU insist on for a transition deal, and give themselves the time and resources they need to design a new immigration system for when the transition period ends in 2021.