A minor is denied support at a children’s services department. A heavily pregnant woman avoids seeking healthcare. A rough sleeper asks for help from a homeless charity and is deported. A survivor of a fire avoids emergency services.
This is the reality of life in the UK under the Government’s dystopian ‘Hostile Environment’ policies. These policies are turning our society and public services into border control agents, and forcing doctors, nurses, teachers, police – as well as landlords and members of the public – to undertake immigration enforcement. The result is persecution of vulnerable people and discrimination against anybody who sounds or looks ‘a bit foreign’.
This blog page introduces how these policies works and why they present such a threat to our society, links to the main resources explaining its impact and introduces the organisations and groups resisting the ‘Hostile Environment’.
What is the ‘Hostile Environment’ and why does it matter?
The Hostile Environment policy refers to legislation, progressively introduced, designed to make lives for migrants without status so unpleasant that they either “voluntarily” leave, or choose not to enter the UK. Since 2012, these policies have explicitly stated the creation of a ‘hostile environment’ as their primary objective. These policies now permeate many public and private services, turning public sector workers and ordinary citizens into border control agents.
The Hostile Environment has two main components. The first is to exclude certain migrants from working, renting, accessing public services, or to charge them for using these services. This is leading to vulnerable families being made destitute, denied healthcare, or unable to work or find somewhere to live.
The second part of the policy is directed at collecting data from schools, banks, councils, the National Health Service (NHS) and other Government departments to be used by the Home Office to determine an individual’s immigration status and deport them. This is taking place through a weakening of data protection laws and makes migrants fearful of accessing the services they need lest their information be used for immigration enforcement.
These policies are incredibly harmful for migrants, and their implementation further isolates already vulnerable communities. Crucially, charging in the NHS, dismantling the welfare safety net and sidesteping data protection laws are practices that, after being directed at migrants, lay the groundwork for similar attacks on broader society. These practices are thus a testing ground for the harshest aspects of austerity, starting with those communities most dehumanised, marginalised and with the least voice and representation.
The below section lists how these policies are being implemented in different sectors. For more information you may also wish to visit the websites of some of the organisations and groups leading the challenge, amongst them Docs Not Cops, Against Borders for Children, Doctors of the World and The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants.
Schools and Child services:
- The School Census – is an agreement between the Home Office and Department of Education to share the information of more than 1,500 pupils a month and to request country of origin information from children.
- ID checking – the Government has expressed interest in introducing this to schools – thus far it has been resisted by the Department of Education, but there are still reports of schools asking for passport details from students.
- Embedded Immigration Officials: At present, a number of London councils have immigration officials embedded in their child services departments. The is taking place as part of the poor treatment of families who do not have recourse to public funds (NRPF) and is resulting in incorrect immigration advice, gatekeeping practices, intimidation and threats against vulnerable children.
- Children’s Act S.17 – Local authorities are unclear regarding how to help children and families under Section 17 of the Children’s Act, a provision requiring councils to ensure adequate housing for children. Even where S.17 is granted, there are still significant problems – with families left without enough money, poor accommodation conditions and often out-of-borough support.
Hospitals and the NHS:
- Memorandum of Understanding – since January 2017 it has now become a legal requirement for hospitals to provide confidential patient information to assist the Home Offices to trace ‘immigration offenders’.
- Collaboration between the NHS and Home Office has been occurring for some time – “Department of Health figures show that the Home Office made 8,127 requests for patient details in the first eleven months of 2016, which led to 5,854 people being traced by immigration enforcement. The first three months of 2014 saw just 725 Home Office requests compared with 2,244 between September and October last year.”
- Upfront ID checking – since April 2017, immigration status must be verified before non-urgent treatment is provided.
- Immigration health surcharge – £200 must be paid by non-EEA nationals who have applied for Leave to Enter the UK for more than 6 months.
- Charging regulations – if you are not eligible to pay the surcharge, you may be subject to charging regulations – 150% of the cost of treatment to the NHS must be paid by the patient.
- Overseas Visitor Managers” (OVMs) have been created to oversee charging and “educate” hospital staff about its necessity.
- Home Office collaboration – Homeless charities being asked to provide the Home Office with immigration information on clients; with the Home Office being given access to a confidential database (for 6 months following September 2016) which it has used to deport rough sleepers; frontline outreach workers that have given data to the Greater London Authority have inadvertently been providing info to the Home Office to target the vulnerable people they work with.
- Patrols with ICE teams – A migrant charity in North London have recently revealed that council patrols specifically targeting migrant rough sleepers happen 9 times a year. Patrols carried out collaboratively by local authorities and Immigration Compliance and Enforcement (ICE) teams. At least 95 individuals have been removed in this way, although this figure is likely to be higher.
- Local boroughs contract out charities to run street outreach services e.g. St Mungo’s and Thames Reach. Their work is tied to their success with immigration enforcement, with the St Mungo’s “Route Home” program including a 10% fee dependent on the number of rough sleepers removed from UK as a result of their work.
- Workplace raids – ICE teams carry out 6000 workplace raids a year, often just “fishing expeditions” e.g. at South Asian restaurants and takeaways.
- Criminal sanctions – the 2006, 2014 and 2016 Immigration Acts have escalated the criminal sanctions on both “working illegally” and employing someone who is an “illegal worker”, thus increasing employer and Home Office collaboration.
- Landlords’ immigration checks under Right to Rent – Landlords are punished for not checking the immigration status of potential tenants. This is resulting in racial discrimination in the rental sector. A recent JCWI report showed that 42% of landlords are unlikely to rent to those without a British passport, with 25% less likely to rent to someone with foreign name or accent.
- Punishment – Renting to someone without the right immigration status can mean a civil penalty of up to £3,000 and up to 5 years of prison. Creates black market opportunity for those willing to house “illegals”.
- This is creating a cottage industry to ‘right to rent check services’, with letting agents and local authorities can profiting by offering these services, most of which are fees paid by renters.
- Letting agents also reported to be informing the Home Office of “illegal renters”.
- Undertaking immigration enforcement is carried out by the Home Office and not the police, however recent policies have begun to change this. One such example is Operation Nexus which embeds immigration officers in police stations and standardises ID checks.
- The Metropolitan Police have handed over immigration status data to Home Office of victims and witnesses of crime – a practice that undermines the notion of community policing and public trust in the police.
- The “Controlling migration fund” encourages local councils to launch immigration enforcement operations, moving local councils further away from serving the public.
- Since the 2014 Immigration Act, banks required to check people applying for a current account with HO’s list of “disqualified persons” who are known “immigration offenders” – including refugees who have been denied asylum.
- However, the list contains many errors – Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration (ICIBI) report found: 10% should not have been on list – 5% still had outstanding appeals/applications and 5% actually had leave to remain.
- From January 2018, over 70 million bank accounts will be subject to immigration checks.
- Collaboration between DVLA and Home Office
- Up to 5 years prison for driving if an “unlawful resident” .
- “Double hostile environment” as migrants are both cut off from another right, but also lose ability to use driver’s license as an ID document to help them access other services.
Members of Parliament:
- It was recently reported that Members of Parliament have been using an immigration enforcement hotline, reporting constituents seeking representation to the Home Office.