Intended consequences?

Rosser4x3.jpgRichard Rosser on key issues coming up in the Immigration Bill

The purpose of the Bill, according to the Explanatory Notes, “is to tackle illegal immigration by making it harder to live and work illegally in the United Kingdom”, with an intention that “without access to work, illegal immigrants will depart voluntarily”.

A key part of the government’s measures to achieve these objectives were debated earlier this week, when Labour Peers voiced our strong concerns about the new criminal offence of illegal working for employees without the required immigration status to be in the UK.

This is an offence for which there can be no defence. Criminalising the individual worker, while failing to go after the employer will almost certainly lead to fewer whilstleblowers on illegal exploitation. The fear of arrest, criminal charges and twelve months in prison will mean it is even less likely that those being exploited in the labour market will come forward to report their abusers.

Today, on the second day of Committee, we will be discussing another measure in the Bill purportedly designed to create a hostile environment for those without the required immigration status. The government are making it a criminal offence to rent or lease residential accommodation to people in this position. But once again this is an issue of unintended consequences, and likely to increase discrimination in the rental market against those who do not have a British passport and have a foreign sounding name. Landlords will not want to run the risk of falling foul of the offence.

We will also debate our own amendment seeking to reverse the government’s 2012 visa changes for overseas domestic workers. This rule change has resulted in many such workers being effectively ‘tied’ to their employer by their visa, unable to change jobs without deportation and therefore more vulnerable to exploitation by their employer.

An independent review instigated by the government has recently been published. It concludes that the existence of a tie to a specific employer, and the absence of a universal right to change employer and apply for extensions of the visa, are incompatible with a reasonable protection of overseas domestic workers while here. All of this is clearly not in line with the declared purpose and intention of the Bill.

In addition, we will debate our amendment to allow asylum seekers to work if they are still awaiting a decision on their application after six months.

It remains to be seen if the debates on these various issues will simply confirm the government’s harder line towards those already in this country and its view that illegal immigrants will simply ‘depart voluntarily’ if the right measures are in place. Either way, Labour Peers will continue to argue for a controlled but fair system.

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

Published 20th January 2016

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