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Time To End The Hostile Environment

It is excruciatingly difficult to live as a migrant in the UK or the child of one. It is even more burdensome for undocumented and asylum-seeking individuals who become orphaned or shackled by the Government’s callous immigration rules. The failing immigration system has ripped families and individual’s lives apart in the most unimaginable of ways – and this is before Brexit subscribes EEA nationals to the same set of rules.

The hostile environment has become a disease to this country, infecting every policy and law while conscripting unwilling participants as its gatekeeper. For example, the Right to Rent scheme is the policy that forces landlords to verify the immigration status of every potential tenant or face prison time. The same model is found within schools, hospitals and workplaces. Even homeless charity outreach workers have had their hands tied to report migrant rough sleepers to immigration control – an instruction 11 councils have commendably disobeyed. Midwives and doctors have battled over the grave and often fatal impact the hostile environment is having on their patients as it emerges numerous are dying in the absence of being barred from life-saving treatment while others, including pregnant women, are refusing healthcare to avoid Home Office officials from billing them or deporting them.

The court has since come into action to assess the nature of private housing companies evicting asylum seekers and whether or not the Home Office’s reliance on computer algorithms to rate visa applicants based on their nationality is radically discriminatory. The Law Society and the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association (ILPA) have further launched investigations into the use of private outsourcing firms that are inappropriately charging migrants and refugees for services the Home Office should be doing. Yet despite Court interventions, nothing has changed.

The 'no discount rule' for second and additional children is elsewhere driving single mothers to prostitution to raise money for British Citizenship fees while their British-born children are starved of their rights, including school trips, free school meals and university. The recently tightened ‘good character’ requirement has resulted in 10-year olds being discriminated against while adults are penalised for failing to declare old parking tickets. One child a week was denied citizenship between 2013-2018 while as many as 15,000 other British children of migrants are segregated from one parent in the UK because the Spouse Visa rules dictate a minimum salary requirement which 41% of the population can’t meet.

The fees alone feature heavily in the immigration system’s catalogue of injustices. Visa charges have rocketed beyond inflation since 2010 as new hidden charges have been added, including the Immigration Health Surcharge in 2015 which doubled to £2,000 in 2019 per adult and child. Migrants have no access to public funding either, plunging many into near-destitution and even homelessness to afford renewals. Yet the Home Office rakes in profits from every application made, which are also non-refundable in the increasingly likely chance the application is refused.

Further still, a lack of safe, legal routes is pushing refugees into the paths of peril which the UK and EU collaboratively litter with obstacles to make even more life-threatening. Family reunification – the process that unites lone refugee children with any surviving family members – is in jeopardy now due to Brexit. Yet, millionaires from anywhere around the world can invest £2 million for a fast-track British passport for themselves and their family members.

Brexit presents a real scope of possibility to change how we treat our migrant neighbours and friends, yet the currently proposed post-Brexit rules mean EEA nationals will feel the wrath of the hostile environment in every aspect of their lives in the UK from 2021 onwards.

It is imperative that we vote for a government that is willing to throw the current rule book away and start again. A fairer immigration system isn’t too hard to imagine. For a start, it would learn the lessons of the Windrush fiasco by automatically granting all EU residents with Settled Status. It wouldn’t send vans with ‘go home’ emblazoned on it nor would it allow millionairs to waltz through borders while refugees die just trying to have their asylum claim heard. It wouldn’t deport its own commonwealth citizens or 2,500 doctors and nurses at a time when the NHS is understaffed or barricade African researchers from attending conferences.

What the next government must do is end the hostile environment. It must cancel the indefinite nature of detention and reinstate Legal Aid. The system doesn’t need to be this way – and it cannot carry on for much longer – the immigration rulebook has too much blood on its pages.

By Olivia Bridge, political correspondent for the Immigration Advice Service.