The Immigration Bill: an Act of good intentions?

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On May 14th the Immigration Bill received royal assent in the House of Lords. According to the Minister for Immigration and Security, James Brokenshire, the purpose of this new Act is to limit the factors that draw illegal migrants to the UK, and to ensure that the “immigration system works in the national interest”. This legislation may well have the good intention of reducing illegal immigration and abuse of the system, but the methods by which it seeks to accomplish this objective raise serious concerns.

As part of the new Act, the number of immigration decisions that will be open to appeal will be reduced from 17 to four. According to the Home Office, this policy will “reduce the cost to the taxpayer” through fewer appeals, as well as allow the UK to return “certain harmful individuals before their appeals are heard, if there is no risk of serious irreversible harm”. In essence the purpose of this policy is to protect the public from individuals who are considered a threat to public safety, and preserve appeals for migrants asserting fundamental rights. However, this permits the Home Secretary to revoke an individual’s naturalised British citizenship if their actions “have been seriously prejudicial to the interests of the United Kingdom”. This begs the questions: what scenario will permit the Home Secretary to invoke these new powers, and what actions would be regarded as ‘seriously prejudicial’?

The Home Office also says the Immigration Act will ensure that “the courts have regard to Parliament’s view of what the public interest requires when considering Article 8 of the Human Rights Act”. Article 8 gives everyone “the right to respect for his private and family life,” and demands that there shall be “no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right, except such as in accordance with the law” and with “the interests of national security.” According to the Home Office, however, the right to a family life is not to be regarded as absolute and unqualified, and therefore in certain situations the public’s interest should receive a fair hearing in the courts. In recent years there have been several court cases that have attempted to extradite individuals deemed a threat to public safety. These cases have incurred much public expense, yet have failed when certain conditions for extradition were placed in doubt by the courts. My concern is the actual influence of Parliament over the court’s judgement, although as elected representatives, it is their responsibility to ensure the safety and security of the public.

Finally, the Act requires that private landlords check the immigration status of tenants, while temporary migrants will be required to make a financial contribution to the NHS; a decision that could end up costing our own international students a great deal. According to the Home Office, checking the immigration status of potential tenants will “prevent those with no right to live in the UK from accessing private rented housing”. However, the Scottish Association of Landlords has stated that this “could lead to discrimination against legitimate tenants whose residency status may be unclear,” and potentially lead to even more migrants being forced into the hands of rogue landlords. The Home Office has offered to produce a code of practice, although the positive impact of this policy remains in doubt. With regard to the healthcare charge, an actual figure has yet to be disclosed, although in July 2013 the government proposed a levy of £200 per year for non-EU workers and students, with the intention of reducing financial pressure on healthcare services. This clause is likely to have a negative effect on international students, especially considering that the study costs of non-EU students significantly exceed those of UK students. Nevertheless, the NHS budget has its limitations, and exempting certain groups from financial contributions only serves to increase pressures on an ever expanding public service.

Clearly, the 2014 Immigration Act may well have the good intention of reducing illegal immigration and ensuring the security of the public, but it remains unclear as to when the Home Secretary will be able to invoke the new powers, while requiring private landlords to check the immigration status of tenants could potentially handicap legal migrants. The Coalition government has, to their credit, sought to tackle an issue that has been in the public eye for some years, although whether this Act will have a positive effect on immigration remains uncertain.

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