HOW THE IMMIGRATION BILL IMPACTS ON THE BME THIRD SECTOR
The Bill has profound implications for ‘race’ and community relations beyond Third Sector organisations dealing specifically with asylum and immigration. The likely impact of the Bill would increase discrimination against British citizens from visible minorities too.
If passed in its’ current form, the Bill would:
1. Requirement for employers to carry out right-to-work checks
This applies to the Third Sector as well as every other employer. There is proposed be a £10,000 – £20,000 fine (per person) for an organisation or company employing someone who is not entitled to work due to immigration status. The Bill would abolish the ‘first warning’ to employers so a fine would automatically apply.
There is also concern that:
1. Some employers may exercise value-judgements about who they apply checks upon (extra scrutiny may apply to those that “look like” immigrants or are visible minorities.
2. If British citizens from visible minorities are subjected to checks that are not applied to White citizens this may amount to discrimination under the Equalities Acts and potentially prompt an Employment Tribunal case.
3. Some individuals who are entitled to work may not have original documentation, which could be held by the Home Office, and therefore those individuals may be unfairly rejected for employment.
4. Some employers could become confused about the numerous immigration / asylum statuses in a complex area of law and consequently reject an individual who is entitled to work due to confusion.
For organisations working with asylum seekers and immigrants:
Campaigners are concerned that the Bill would encourage racial profiling of all visible minorities, and this will exacerbate the already severe workplace discrimination against BME people, particularly those who are foreign-born but legally entitled to work.
2. Requirement for landlords to carry out immigration checks
Third Sector organisations that deal with housing advice and other housing matters will want to pay attention to this aspect of the Bill. The proposed requirement for landlords to carry out immigration checks or risk fines of £3,000 per person would effectively turn landlords into quasi-immigration officers.
This measure has the possibility of causing discrimination against British citizens as well as immigrants as some private landlords may not want to ‘take a risk’ with a possible tenant and turn them away based on their appearance even though they may have a right to that tenancy.
There is also concern that:
1. Individuals without a passport will find it harder to secure accommodation, increasing the risk of homelessness and consequently the inability to secure work and contribute to Britain’s economy;
2. The Bill does nothing to tackle ‘bed in a shed’ landlords who exploit immigrations and are already outside the law.
The provisions do not affect individuals who have been nominated to landlords by a Local Authority, although those authorities will need to challenge landlords who refuse to take tenants due to concerns about their status.
Although hostels are exempt, the Bill currently includes lodging and sub-tenants. It is unclear at this stage whether the Bill would cover ordinary citizens who, for example, allow an irregular migrant to sleep rent free on their couch.
3. Charging for the NHS
Third Sector organisations dealing with public health issues and advice will want to consider the possible consequences of all non-EEA immigrants being denied healthcare. There is the possibility of this measure leading to an increase in communicable diseases such as tuberculosis, which could affect British citizens as well as immigrants and asylum seekers. This may be concentrated in economically deprived communities and neighbourhoods with the most need.
The ‘health charge’ (which does not apply to GP surgeries or ‘emergency’ NHS care) is expected to be £200 per year (and £150 a year for students) and could lead to a reduction in take-up of health services, including services that immigrants are legally entitled to.
There are additional concerns that:
1. There is evidence GPs are already turning away immigrants even though they are not covered by the Bill;
2. That the take-up of pre-natal care, which is already lower for foreign-born pregnant women, could reduce further and therefore increase rates of neonatal deaths.
Many organisations believe there is a lack of substantial evidence of ‘health tourism’ to justify the health levy.
4. Appeal Rights and Article 8 Right to Family Life
The Bill proposes to reduce the grounds for appeal against an immigration or asylum decision from 17 to just four. Clients of Third Sector organisations dealing with immigration and asylum will be most affected. Reduction of appeal rights centre on circumstances when a deportation order has been served.
The Bill seeks to significantly water down Article 8, thereby undermining the legal argument used in many appeals that established family ties to the UK and the British nationality of children of asylum seekers provides a reason for them to remain in the UK. The Bill elevates the will of Parliament above that of the European Convention on Human Rights which judges must consider when considering appeals.
Under the Bill, as it stands, there will also be less scope for appeals in the first place as a new administrative review process is intended to replace the need for Judicial Reviews, which so often find in favour of the asylum seeker. There are no measures in the Bill to improve initial decision-making, which are notoriously bad as evidenced by the extent (over 30%) of Home Office decisions overturned on appeal.
There are also concerns that:
1. The cuts to Legal Aid will compound the position of ‘failed’ asylum seekers, who will have reduced rights to appeal against a removals notice;
2. The relegation of Article 8 of the Convention on Human Rights ‘right to family life’ below that of the ‘will’ of the UK parliament is likely not only lead to more families being split up, but also presents a fundamental conflict between UK and international law.
What happens now?
Voice 4 Change England is joining forces with a coalition of organisations to lobby Parliamentarians to reform the Bill. The Bill has almost finished the first half of its’ journey through Parliament (Commons scrutiny) and will shortly be heading to the House of Lords before a brief return to the Commons and Royal Assent.
Critics have expressed concern over the ‘rushed’ timescale. The Lords will consider the Bill during February and the Government intend for it to be on the Statute Book before the European Elections in May 2014.
How you can help
1. Do you know any Lords or Baronesses? Let us know, so we can co-ordinate lobbying efforts. We will provide you with a model letter to apply pressure on those Peers. Even if you don’t know any, please get in touch and we will allocate you one to lobby.
2. Lobby your local MP. The chances are your local MP will listen to you because of your local networks. Get in touch so we can equip you to lobby them.
For more information contact Lester Holloway (Policy Officer) on: firstname.lastname@example.org