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A better way, a fairer way

Rosser4x3.jpgRichard Rosser on the government’s clumsy plans for tackling illegal immigration

Tomorrow is the Second Reading of the Immigration Bill, the second paragraph of the Explanatory Notes to which sets out in two stark and blunt sentences the Government’s objectives:

“The purpose of the Bill is to tackle illegal immigration by making it harder to live and work illegally in the UK. The intention behind the Bill is that without access to work, illegal migrants will depart voluntarily, but where they do not, the Bill contains other measures to support enforced removals”.

No one is opposed to reducing illegal immigration. This Bill however, contains some measures that are unlikely to realise this stated objective and instead may well prove to be counterproductive and harm community cohesion.

Labour supports parts of the Bill. For example the establishment, if not the precise functions, of a Director of Labour Market Enforcement should provide much needed strategic leadership in protecting the victims of exploitation. But they should not have any role connected to immigration control.

We also support the strengthening of sanctions for employers of illegal workers, which builds on our 2006 Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act; the requirement for banks to carry out immigration status checks on current account holders, although this must provide sufficient redress for those who are wrongly identified; and the introduction of a duty on public authorities to ensure those of its workers in public-facing roles can speak fluent English.

The aspects of the Bill where we have most concern include the introduction of a new criminal offence of illegal working. This risks disempowering the vulnerable and empowering would-be exploiters. It could also lead to trafficking. Criminal provisions covering those who have breached immigration rules are already in place. Rather than create a new offence, why not put more resources into inspections, a focus on exploitative employers, and mechanisms to encourage those who believe they are being exploited to come forward? The current proposals will cut across these objectives.

The Bill also includes measures to end support, without right of appeal, for asylum seekers and their children who have had their application refused but have not been removed from the UK. This increases the likelihood of absconding, and with it a further risk of vulnerable people being exploited.

Terminating support may also make it more difficult for the Home Office to remain in contact with people liable for removal and undermine efforts to promote voluntary departures. Evidence suggests that support for families facing removal, including help with advice, is the best means of ensuring they leave. Withdrawing this seems like a threat of destitution as a way of enforcing immigration rules.

The best way to reduce expenditure on support for asylum seekers is to conclude cases as quickly as possible. That does not require legislation but better resourcing; as well as better decision making to reduce the high number of successful appeals.

We also have concerns over the proposal of a new criminal offence for landlords and letting agents who do not comply with the right to rent scheme, or who fail to evict tenants who do not have the right to rent. Criminalising landlords in this way could lead to widespread discrimination in the rental market as they would be more likely to seek to play safe over those whom they accepted as tenants.

So our concerns with this Bill are that it could undermine the progress made on tackling modern slavery and human trafficking, leave families – including children – destitute, and lead to discrimination of already vulnerable people in both the workplace and the housing market. Illegal immigration in the UK does need bringing under control but Ministers must come up with better and fairer, and also less clumsy, ways of tackling the problem.

Lord Richard Rosser is Shadow Home Office Minister in the House of Lords

Published 21st December 2015

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