While parliament is gridlocked over Brexit, far more has happened than trying to work out how to move forward after the EU referendum. During the current extended parliamentary session, there have been several surprising, even shocking, revelations hidden in unreported ministerial responses led by shadow immigration minister Afzal Khan and Labour’s frontbench team in the House of Lords. Labour’s forensic investigation raises new concerns about how unfit for purpose the immigration system has become under the Tories.
1. Identity checks haven’t exposed anyone new to be unlawfully in the UK.
Theresa May’s hostile environment was justified by its supporters as a means to catch migrants residing in the UK unlawfully. New identity checks were introduced for anyone opening a bank account, getting a driver’s license or renting privately. It turns out that these checks have not, in fact, exposed a single person not previously known to be in the UK unlawfully. The checks are made against a list of persons already known. Nobody new has been discovered since the checks were introduced, but their use led to the Windrush scandal in which citizens were wrongfully threatened with deportation.
2. The ex-lover report form flopped.
The Home Office created a form for the public to help expose sham marriages. It asks for confirmation that a couple is no longer in a relationship. Not only did the Home Office fail to conduct any formal assessment as to whether this might have an impact on domestic violence, the Home Office is “unable” to reveal whether it has ever received a form, nor whether any arrests or deportations have been made. It doesn’t help that the form fails to say where it should be sent and does not ask for any contact information from the person submitting the form or the migrant being reported. Another example of how the hostile environment has been not only cruel, but ineffective.
3. Most of the money earned from immigration fees pays for non-immigration services.
The immigration system earns far more than it costs to run. Most of the income received is spent on non-immigration services. The public does not pay £1 for the immigration system. It is entirely self-funded from immigration-related fees, such as visa applications.
4. No records are kept of how much is spent reimbursing the public for mistakes.
Many documents are sent to the Home Office for processing in the post. Some of these go missing and applicants are reimbursed. A useful measure of how big a problem lost documents at the Home Office has become would be to count the cost of reimbursements paid out to the public as a result. But the Home Office does not keep records of what it has spent, so no such useful measure is available.
5. The immigration health surcharge is based on non-health costs.
The government introduced an immigration health surcharge, which is supposed to cover the costs of migrants using the NHS. It has since been revealed that the costs used to set the health surcharge are not all health-related. This means migrants are effectively paying to plug spending gaps in the Treasury unrelated to any impact on the NHS. The government has not yet decided whether to charge EU citizens after Brexit. Money paid in by a migrant does not follow that person to cover any additional costs of that person’s use of the NHS in their locality. This is further evidence that the surcharge is about plugging non-migration related spending gaps rather than NHS costs.
6. Cost of lost reviews are not kept.
The Home Office loses over 60% of appeals made against it. This will have significant administrative costs in contesting so many cases unsuccessfully. Unfortunately, the Home Office keeps no records of how much it spends in contesting these cases, though has suggested it might do at some point in the future.
7. No guidance on what constitutes a ‘complex’ case.
The Home Office is notorious for missing its targets, such as the timely processing of application forms. However, if an application is deemed ‘complex’, then it is not subject to any target and may take longer to process without negatively impacting on the Home Office’s performance results. It conveniently turns out the Home Office lacks any guidance on when an application is deemed complex.
8. No data on ethnicity, race or religion of people detained in enforcement operations.
The government is not keeping track of the race or religion of migrants caught up in its immigration enforcement operations. If it did keep such data, it would be easier to investigate allegations of discrimination. There are also no records kept of people who are survivors of sexual and gender-based violence and otherwise vulnerable under their Adults at Risk policy.
9. Detained migrants are paid £1 per hour.
Migrants held in immigration removal centres are paid £1 per hour and £1.25 per hour for ‘specified projects’. There were 2,249,747 hours of such paid work from November 2014 to April 2017. Migrants are almost certainly being heavily exploited.
10. Dad’s Army border force is still being considered.
To help an understaffed and under-resourced Border Force, the government was rumoured to be considering launching an all-volunteer unpaid ‘Dad’s Army’ of Border Force agents in all but name to close the gap. The Home Office is “continuing the process of taking advice” and hasn’t decided whether to implement the idea.
11. Home Office is now making you pay to email them.
The Home Office charges individuals £5.48 to email them from abroad. Non-UK-based phone calls are charged £1.37 per minute. Both are run by a private company SITEL UK Ltd. The Home Office refuses to say how much has been earned, as it considers this information to be “commercially sensitive“. This is supposed to make non-UK citizens to pay for accessing Home Office services, but British citizens contacting the Home Office from abroad are also charged. The Home Office does not keep records of how often this happens.
12. The government knows it could restrict EU migration more, but has decided not to.
The great myth of the EU referendum was the claim that EU citizens enjoyed free movement that is unrestricted, and that only by leaving the EU can EU migration be controlled. This is untrue. Like any freedom, the freedom of movement enjoyed by all EU citizens is subject to a number of restrictions. Nobody can go wherever they want, whenever they want, for as long as they want, without meeting set criteria to be enforced in each member state.
It didn’t take long for the government to admit that it has more powers to control EU migration than it chooses to use. There you have it: EU migration can be regulated more if the government so chooses – without Brexit.
13. Dual nationals are unchecked.
The government bases its policies around a commitment to reduce net migration. Yet net migration has never been higher than under the Tories. Nonetheless, it’s important to get right the numbers. But dual nationals are unchecked. This means a US-UK dual national going to the US counts as an American citizen leaving, but as a British citizen when returning. As a result, the figures are deeply flawed.
14. There are no plans to review the citizenship test.
Six years ago, I published the only comprehensive report on the UK’s citizenship test being like a bad pub quiz. I found errors, inconsistencies and a continuing failure to consult with old or new citizens alike to ensure the test was fit for purpose. Over two million tests have been sat, and there are still no plans to review or consult on what is best described as the test for British citizenship that few British citizens can pass.
15. …but the citizenship test might be published in Cornish!
In 2013, the government stopped permitting anyone to take the UK’s citizenship test in any language but English. It was previously available in Welsh or Scots Gaelic. Interestingly, there were no complaints at the time, including from nationalist parties.
Protected minority status was granted to the Cornish two years later. This gave the Cornish equal recognition with the Welsh, Scots and Irish in matters like the citizenship test – in which there is no mention of Cornwall, its patron saint or its famous pasty. When asked what plans the government had to honour this new status, it revealed it would consider making the test available in Cornish. This is not, in fact, required by the granting of protected minority status.
All of the above contributes to the impression that the government’s immigration system is unfit for purpose. May’s hostile environment has not only been proven to be cruel towards the Windrush generation and others, but utterly ineffective.
These problems have been kept out of headlines so far, given continuing paralysis over Brexit, but no plans for leaving the EU will make these concerns go away without urgent, necessary root-and-branch reforms. The opposition frontbench deserves more credit for exposing these problems, which only a Labour government can put right.