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The annual Queen’s State Opening of Parliament was of particular interest this May, laying out the legislative agenda of the newly elected Conservative majority government. Especially relevant to our work was the announcement of a new immigration bill – currently making its way through the various stages of parliamentary consideration – to supplement the Immigration Act of 2014.

The latter – intended by Home Secretary Theresa May to promote ‘a hostile environment’ for undocumented migrants – already curtails access to NHS services, use of bank accounts, obtaining a driving license and the ability to rent accommodation.

The forthcoming immigration bill compounds these restrictions by making it even more difficult for certain migrants to live and work in the UK. To that end it includes further measures to deny or restrict access to the labour market, additional powers of eviction for landlords, and greater governmental powers of imprisonment and deportation while limiting migrants’ legal recourse.

In terms of specific provisions, the bill creates a new offence of working illegally, and allows immigration officials wide ranging powers to seize property, confiscate earnings, close down businesses, and enter and search properties. Anyone found working without the right papers could face a twelve month prison sentence and an unlimited fine.

Concern has been voiced that the measures are counterproductive in terms of one of their stated aims to crack down on the exploitation of undocumented workers. It is feared that in actual fact they will drive these migrants further away from public authorities and exacerbate their exposure to modern day slavery, which the government has only recently committed to combat.

The bill has also been criticised for fostering discrimination in housing. The legal right to reside in the UK is no clear cut matter. It can be shown by a multitude of different documents, which even experts sometimes struggle to interpret. Research shows that, in the face of uncertainty, landlords will tend to select prospective tenants according to the criterion of unambiguous British citizenship or the absence of characteristics deemed foreign, such as ethnicity or spoken accent. That landlords themselves will now be liable to fines or imprisonment for renting to irregular migrants can only strengthen this tendency.

Circumvention of the UK government’s human rights obligations towards refugees and asylum seekers is a further concern that has been flagged up. The bill removes asylum support from asylum seekers whose claims have been rejected, threatening families and children with homelessness and destitution. Furthermore, the Immigration Act of 2014 removed the majority of appeals against immigration decisions, and provided for the deportation of any person with a pending appeal in cases outside the remit of human rights. Now the ‘deport first, appeal later’ provisions have been extended to human rights cases as well.

Given the unreliability of Home Office decisions on rights to residency – a very high number of which are overturned on appeal – this raises serious concerns about the human rights and welfare of migrants and the justice of procedures for evaluating asylum claims.

For further information on the details of the bill, have a look at this blog from Migrant Rights Network. For those who would like the track the passage of the bill through parliament, this can be done by clicking here.the immigration bill

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