Immigration Scandals

Ben Jackson

Dawn Foster reported recently that 196 MPs are now landlords, a rise of a quarter since the last parliament. Nearly 40 per cent of Tory MPs are letting out properties; more than 20 per cent of Labour MPs are. From 1 February they will be obliged to check the immigration status of their tenants, in line with the government’s Right to Rent scheme, which means we won’t have long to wait for the next phony immigration scandal. (Remember when Mark Harper, the minister behind the ‘Go Home’ vans, resigned after being caught employing an illegal immigrant as a cleaner in 2014? She was arrested at her daughter’s wedding, taken to Yarl’s Wood and two weeks later sent back to Colombia. Harper is now chief whip.)

Landlords can be fined up to £3000 if they’re found to be renting to illegal immigrants; once the Tories pass the Immigration Bill 2015-16 (Right to Rent was part of the 2014 Act), repeat offenders will face up to five years in prison. The government’s code of practice for landlords runs to 10,000 words and includes flow diagrams. Why risk getting on the wrong side of it? A by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants found that 27 per cent of landlords were reluctant to engage with prospective tenants who had foreign-sounding accents or names. (A Home Office evaluation of the trial scheme in the West Midlands found instances of discrimination, but suggested that ‘on the whole these instances were not impacting on BME shoppers’ access to rental accommodation’.)

Tim Farron, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, has called Right to Rent ‘the worst kind of ineffectual, dog whistle politics’. It’s hard to argue with that, but he might want to come up with a new invective: he recently used the same expression to describe David Cameron’s preoccupation with Muslim women when speaking about new rules on English language skills for immigrants (people who come into the country on a spousal visa will have to take an English test after two and a half years).

Here are a few other things that are going to happen to immigration policy in the UK this year. From April, any non-EU citizen earning below £35,000 after five years of work will be denied indefinite leave to remain. (A hint of how that might be enforced came on 17 January, when Dr Paul Hamilton, an American Shakespeare scholar, discovered that his application for further leave to remain had been rejected when immigration officials arrested him at his home in Stratford-upon-Avon and sent him to Morton Hall immigration removal centre, where he remains today.) If the 2015-16 bill becomes law, the home secretary will be allowed to overrule independent first-tier tribunal decisions on bail conditions. Asylum seekers whose applications are denied, and who face the prospect of destitution, will no longer be entitled to government support unless they face a ‘genuine obstacle’ to leaving the UK, though what would count as a ‘genuine obstacle’ isn’t specified. The bill will also criminalise illegal work in the UK for the first time, and introduce unlimited fines so that wages can be seized as the ‘proceeds of crime’.

The aim of these policies is, first, to bring net migration down to the tens of thousands (a fantasy) and, second, to create ‘a hostile environment for illegal immigrants’. But that doesn’t explain the £200 annual charge that legal immigrants now have to pay to use the NHS (in addition to national insurance) or the 25 per cent hike in visa fees that are coming in the 2015-16 bill. Those must come down to the ‘actuarial passion’, as Jeremy Harding put it, with which Britain calculates whether a migrant will be a net asset or a net drain. Hannah Witty, the Home Office’s acting director of finance, told the Migrants’ Rights Network that the rise in visa fees was designed to ensure that ‘the system is self-funded by those who access services’ – which is, quite apart from immigration policy, the wider government project.


  • 27 January 2016 at 12:49pm
    Michael Schuller says:
    The Home Office is keen to be seen to be acting tough on immigration, although I'm not sure that the wider project has anything to do with real numbers of migrants.

    By way of anecdata: I was recently forwarded a letter notifying me that I had overstayed my visa (which was incorrectly referenced in the body of the letter) and that I was due to be deported -- despite the fact that I left the UK for Germany over a year ago.

    As someone to studied in the UK (both undergraduate and postgraduate) and worked there for a number of years, and still has many friends there, I have a lot of sympathy for Paul Hamilton and the ringer that he's been put through. But university-educated Americans are not the people who bear the largest brunt of this, whether it is being arrested at their child's wedding, or any number of other countless, serious indignities -- in addition to the economic and personal safety hardships they may suffer besides). And I think the argument can be made that in all cases, it will also be totally unnecessary. But no one will be shouting on their behalf, or writing about them by name in the Times Higher Education supplement, or have a network of people who can raise thousans of pounds in bail money.

    There is a reason why, as the Guardian reports today, race hate crimes are on the rise in Britain, and it is not unrelated to the fact that the government stands before the electorate and advocates creating a "hostile environment for illegal migrants", which should be a horrifying phrase in any context, let alone government policy.

    • 4 February 2016 at 2:15pm
      John Cowan says: @ Michael Schuller
      They are, alas, merely imitating what the American right has been shouting for years. Americans can't very well be anti-immigrant (what, give the country back to the Indians?), so they have to be anti-illegal-immigrant, shouting that these people have committed CRIMES (they haven't, for the most part; visa overstaying is not criminalized) and deserve whatever happens to them.

      It all reminds me of Hannah Arendt's tart comment when one of the German churches admitted in the 1950s that they had "sinned against the God of Mercy" by collaborating with the Nazi regime during the Holocaust. If the Jews, she said, were being killed for some terrible crime they had committed, that would be a sin against the God of Mercy, but as things stood, the mass murders were sins against the God of Justice.