ICYMI: Home Office reclassifies modern slavery as illegal immigration issue

Despite all the chaos in UK politics, the UK government still has time for further policy errors:

The Home Office has taken the modern slavery brief away from the minister responsible for safeguarding and classed it as an “illegal immigration and asylum” issue, updated online ministerial profiles show.

The move is seen as a clear sign that the department is doubling down on Suella Braverman’s suggestion that people are “gaming” the modern slavery system and that victims of the crime are no longer being prioritised.

The previous safeguarding minister, Rachel Maclean, had modern slavery on her official list of ministerial responsibilities but her successor, Mims Davies, has no mention of the crime on her list. Instead, modern slavery is listed at the bottom of the “illegal immigration and asylum” brief of immigration minister Tom Pursglove.

Under Theresa May, the government pledged to be world leaders in combating modern slavery but Braverman said last week that trafficking claims from “people gaming the system” were “derailing the UK’s policy on illegal migration”.

The shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, said: “The largest single group of modern slavery victims under the referral system last year were British children – including those who were exploited through county lines

“The evidence shows the majority of exploitation takes place in the UK rather than across borders.

“The government should be treating this as an enforcement and safeguarding issue and taking stronger action against the crime of modern slavery wherever it takes place.”

Charities working with victims say characterising the crime as an illegal immigration issue is dangerous. More than a quarter of all people identified as potential modern slavery victims are British, according to official statistics.

Olivia Field, head of policy at the British Red Cross, said: “Modern slavery is a crime that can impact people no matter where they are from or where they are in the world.

“From our work supporting people who have been through horrific experiences including sexual exploitation and human trafficking, we know there are urgent improvements needed to better protect and support survivors.

“So it doesn’t become any harder for people to get the help they need, we would urge the lens on tackling modern slavery to be a safeguarding one focused on protecting people impacted by this crime, as opposed to being treated as an immigration issue.”

Despite Braverman’s claims of people “gaming” the system, 97% of all modern slavery referrals concluded in the first half of this year were confirmed as genuine by the authorities.

The home secretary’s comments were contradicted by the chief executive of the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority, Elysia McCaffrey, who said: “We don’t see people gaming the system … What we see is vulnerable people who are being exploited by opportunists and criminals.”

Kate Roberts, head of policy at Focus on Labour Exploitation, said: “Modern Slavery is a serious crime which is carried out against individuals and to see it as an immigration matter is wrong and is risky.

“Preventing and addressing modern slavery should take a person centred approach – starting with safeguarding and ensuring the rights of potential victims. While restricted or insecure immigration status can be abused by exploiters who use immigration detention as a threat against seeking help from the authorities, this is only one of many tools traffickers use, as evidenced by the fact that many British people are victims of trafficking.”

In another sign that the government is no longer prioritising tackling the crime, there has been no independent anti-slavery commissioner in post since Sara Thornton left in April, despite it being a legal requirement since the introduction of the Modern Slavery Act in 2015.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “We are committed to tackling the heinous crime of modern slavery and in the UK we have a world-leading response. However, it is clear people are abusing our system when they have no right to be here, in order to frustrate their removal.”

Source: Home Office reclassifies modern slavery as illegal immigration issue

UK Home secretary pledges to crack down on ‘unexamined drive’ towards multicultural Britain

Trying to change the channel after a disastrous mini-budget? Even more hardline that previous home secretaries. But again, a reminder that visible minorities and immigrants have diverse views:

In a sweeping speech which pledged to regain control of Britain’s borders and fight back against left-driven “identity politics”, Suella Braverman also said police in England will be given “all the powers necessary” to stop guerilla demonstrations and jail participants – and added that officers should never “take the knee” – a symbolic gesture against racism – or take part in any protests themselves.

Speaking at the Conservative Party Conference, Ms Braverman said she would create legislation to allow the government to send back refugees who crossed the Channel on small boats, or arrived in the UK helped by people smugglers, without giving them a chance to apply for asylum.

She told a fringe event at the conferrence earlier that it would be “her dream” to see a newspaper front page with a photo of a plane taking off to Rwanda with asylum seekers on board.

Unveiled earlier this year to heavy criticism, the scheme would send refugees who arrive in the UK and are considered “inadmissible” – ie have not arrived on a government-sanctioned scheme – to the African country, where they will stay if their application is granted.

“We cannot allow a foreign court to undermine the sovereignty of our borders,” she said, referring to a last-minute move by the European Court of Human Rights to stop the first plane of refugees from taking off in June. “We need to find a way to make the Rwanda scheme work.”

She said Britain needs to “cut down on the numbers” of migrants in the country, saying the current system was not “meeting the needs of our economy”.

“We mustn’t forget how to do things for ourselves,” she said. “There is absolutely no reason why we can’t train up enough of our own HGV drivers or fruit pickers. The way we build a high skilled high wage economy is by encouraging businesses to invest in capital and domestic labour not relying wholly on low skilled foreign workers.

She insisted that it was not “racist”, or “xenophobic or bigoted” to tackle immigration.

“This is the best place on earth to come and live,” she said, adding that her own parents had emigrated to the UK from Kenya and Mauritius. “But I feel that we are losing sight of the core values and the culture that made it so. The unexamined drive towards multiculturalism as an end in itself, combined with the corrosive aspects of identity politics, has led us astray.”

Ms Braverman also warned that the “left are attacking our profound elemental values”, to replace them with the “poison of identity politics”.

“When this poison seeps into the public sphere, it distracts our public servants from doing their real job,” she said. “And that’s why it’s not only wrong for the police to take the knee. It is wrong for them to join in with political demonstrations. It is wrong for biologically male police officers to strip search female suspects. And it’s not just that pandering to identity politics is a huge waste of time. They need to stick to catching the bad guys.”

Source: Home secretary pledges to crack down on ‘unexamined drive’ towards multicultural Britain

Paddington, go home: Home Office staff pin up faked deportation notices

Witty but inappropriate behaviour by public servants:

Over the past week mocked up immigration enforcement notices have begun to appear on internal Home Office staff noticeboards, featuring photographs of Paddington Bear, stating that he is wanted so he can be placed on a relocation flight to Rwanda.

Elsewhere, staff have noticed a rash of Refugees Welcome stickers, affixed to Home Office printers and pieces of furniture in departmental buildings around the country.

The organiser of the Our Home Office protest group, bringing together staff opposed to Rwanda deportations, said unease about the proposed removals has galvanised employees from all over the government department to take subversive action.

“It’s still a small, low-level campaign, but it’s growing and is already networked in offices throughout the country,” the group’s founder said, asking not to be named in order to protect his job at the department. “The announcement of the Rwanda transportation plan was really a significant moment for a lot of staff members who were quite shocked by how barbaric a proposal it is, particularly the way that it seems to be against the refugee convention and the principles that we are trying to uphold of giving people fair treatment.”

More rolls of Refugees Welcome stickers have been posted out in the past few days to members of staff who have got in touch through a protest group website, the organiser said. “No one expects working in the Home Office to be easy but this has pushed a lot of people over the edge,” the employee said.

Refugees Welcome sticker
Refugees Welcome stickers have begun to appear in Home Office buildings. Photograph: Twitter

Source: Paddington, go home: Home Office staff pin up faked deportation notices

UK: Home Office makes £240m selling #citizenship to children

Not the first article I have seen on this money making scheme:

The Home Office has made more than £240m in profit from children caught in citizenship limbo since 2010, the New Statesman can reveal.

An exclusive analysis of registrations of children as British citizens has revealed that the department is making £640 per child by charging people far more in fees than an application costs to process. The figures show an estimated total surplus of almost £211m since 2010, which when adjusted for inflation comes in at more than £240m.

That total is likely to be an underestimate, because it only includes successful applications, not those of children who weren’t granted citizenship. The Home Office was contacted for comment, including on this number, but has not responded.

Under British law, since 1981, being born in the UK does not automatically entitle a child to citizenship. In the cases of some children whose parents have a certain immigration status, their families have to apply for citizenship for them. Currently it costs £1,012 to register a child as British, but Home Office documents show that the “unit cost” – the official estimate of how much an application costs the department – is only £372.

The analysis shows that fees for child registration have consistently outpaced costs. In 2010 it cost the Home Office £208 to register a child as British, but it charged people £470. Since then, fees have gone up 115 per cent, but unit costs have only risen 79 per cent.

The number of children registering as British has fallen over the last decade. In 2010 there were 48,659 successful registrations. In 2016 there were 30,799 and the last 12 months of data shows only 27,674 registrations. This trend suggests high fees may be putting people off applying, which may restrict people from living full lives, as the New Statesman reported in February. The children would not have a passport so would not be able to go on school trips abroad, for example.

The rising profit margin means the Home Office has consistently made more than £2m every quarter, even though the number of registrations has dwindled. Just 5,065 children registered as British in the third quarter of 2021, but that was still enough to make £3.2m – more money than when 10,586 children registered in the first quarter of 2012.

“Exploiting the need for people to formally register their British citizenship as a way to make money is shameful,” said Solange Valdez-Symonds, chief executive of the Project for the Registration of Children as British Citizens. She added that for many children, who were born and grew up in the UK, the fees effectively deprive them of their citizenship rights altogether, “leaving them alienated and excluded in their own country”.

The High Court ruled in 2019 that the government had set the fees without proper regard for children’s rights, a ruling that was confirmed by the Court of Appeal in 2021. In February this year, however, the Supreme Court concluded that parliament was entitled to allow the government to set the fees so high, so it would be up to MPs and peers to change that.

Source: Exclusive: Home Office makes £240m selling citizenship to children

UK: How have Priti Patel’s previous pledges on immigration fared?

Of note (somewhat comparable issues with respect to calls to close the Canada-USA Safe Third Country Agreement “loophole” for asylum seekers between official points of entry):

The viability of Thursday’s announcement by Priti Patel that small boats carrying migrants across the Channel will be turned back to France by Border Force officials has been questioned by politicians on all sides, and by the immigration services union, lawyers and human rights organisations.

So it may be that its chances of actually being put into practice are slim. Here is a quick guide to what happened after previous high-profile announcements by the home secretary.

Small boat arrivals

In October 2019 Patel pledged to halve migrant crossings by the end of that month – at that time there had been more than 1,400 people crossing in small boats since the beginning of 2019. So far in 2021, 13,500 migrants have crossed the Channel, including 1,000 in the past two days.

The statement from the home secretary about turning small boats back mid-Channel crossing was not an official Home Office announcement. It is not clear whether or not a published policy will emerge.

Toufique Hossain, director of public law at Duncan Lewis solicitors, said: “It is difficult to see a legal basis for what is effectively collective expulsion. The desperate need to look tough on immigration may lead to unlawful and dangerous consequences.”

Offshoring asylum seekers

Reports emerged in June this year that the new immigration bill would include plans to hold asylum seekers in processing centres outside the UK. It is understood that officials working for the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office were tasked with exploring whether any other country would be receptive to accommodating asylum seekers who had sought sanctuary in the UK while their claims were processed. Australia adopted this controversial system in 2001 and Denmark has passed legislation enabling it to do the same. Countries such as Rwanda, along with Ascension Island and disused oil rigs, were mooted. Installing giant wave machines in the Channel was also mentioned in media briefings last October. Since then no more has been heard about these plans.

Sending small boat arrivals who passed through safe European countries back there

This was promised after the conclusion of the Brexit transition period at the end of 2020. But nobody has yet been sent back. The Home Office said that this category of asylum claims would be ruled inadmissible. According to Migration Observatory evidence this week to the joint committee on human rights, 4,500 notices of intent have been served since the start of 2021 relating to cases that may be considered inadmissible. But so far only seven cases have been declared as such and nobody has so far been returned to a European country post-Brexit.

Increased number of deportations

Deportations and enforced removals have declined year on year since 2012, with 3,300 enforced returns in 2020, 54% fewer than in 2019. While the sharp drop last year can be partly attributed to Covid, the steady year-on-year reduction cannot. The Home Office says the reduction is partly due to some of those in detention prior to deportation raising “issues”.

Tougher provisions in new immigration bill

The nationality & borders bill itself is subject to a legal challenge questioning the lawfulness of the consultation process. Even some of the Home Office’s key contractors such as the charity Migrant Help, which operates a helpline on behalf of the Home Office for asylum seekers, have been critical of the new bill, saying they believe it will damage the UK’s reputation as a world leader in its approach to human rights and social responsibility.

Source: How have Priti Patel’s previous pledges on immigration fared?

Home Office handling of Windrush citizenship claims ruled ‘irrational’

More on Windrush:

The Home Office’s handling of some Windrush citizenship applications has been irrational and unlawful, the high court has ruled in a judgment that will prevent the department from refusing citizenship to Windrush-generation applicants due to minor, historical convictions.

The court was ruling on the case of Hubert Howard, who was repeatedly denied British citizenship over the course of a decade, despite having lived in the UK since he arrived from Jamaica at the age of three in 1960.

The Home Office sought to deny him citizenship, despite the 59 years he had spent continuously in the UK, because of a number of minor convictions, most of them committed in the 1970s and 1980s – none were serious enough to trigger a jail sentence. He was still fighting for naturalisation from his intensive care bed as he was dying in hospital in October 2019.

Source: Home Office handling of Windrush citizenship claims ruled ‘irrational’

UK Home Office: new deportation law may discriminate against ethnic minorities

Of note:

The Home Office has admitted that a new immigration rule to criminalise and deport migrant rough sleepers may discriminate against ethnic minorities, including Asian women who have survived domestic violence.

An internal document outlines the department’s analysis of how the new power – which prompted widespread outrage when it came into force four months ago – would also indirectly affect at-risk groups, including people with disabilities.

The eight-page equality impact assessment, obtained by Liberty Investigates, accepts the potential of the rule to indirectly discriminate on the grounds of race, since some factors leading to homelessness disproportionately affect people from particular ethnicities. “The main reason Asian women give for being homeless is because of domestic violence,” the assessment states.

Source: Home Office: new deportation law may discriminate against ethnic minorities

Home Office immigration unit has ‘no idea’ – MPs

Another apparent weakness in Home Office policy and management:

The Home Office has “no idea” what its £400m-a-year immigration enforcement unit achieves, meaning it is unprepared for Brexit, MPs have warned.

The cross-party Public Accounts Committee said a lack of diversity at the top of the department also risked a repeat of the Windrush scandal.

Its policies may be based purely on “assumption and prejudice”, it warned.

A Home Office spokeswoman said it used a “balanced” approach to maintain “a fair immigration system”.

The Home Office’s 5,000-strong Immigration Enforcement directorate, and other parts of the system, have been repeatedly reorganised since being branded “unfit for purpose” 15 years ago by the then home secretary.

The latest massive changes will come in January to deal with the end of freedom of movement.

In the highly critical report, the influential committee said officials were reliant on “disturbingly weak evidence” to assess which immigration enforcement policies worked, and why.

Officials had no idea how many people are living illegally in the UK, no idea what their impact was on the economy and public services – and no means of countering claims that could “inflame hostility”.

“We are concerned that if the department does not make decisions based on evidence, it instead risks making them on anecdote, assumption and prejudice,” said the MPs.

“Worryingly, it has no idea of what impact it has achieved for the £400m spent each year.”

The MPs said the the department showed too little concern over failures.

It risked a repeat of the Windrush scandal in which people with a right to be in the UK were treated as illegal immigrants because the Home Office had lost records of their status or did not believe the evidence they provided.

“The significant lack of diversity at senior levels of the department means it does not access a sufficiently wide range of perspectives when establishing rules and assessing the human impact of its decisions,” said the MPs. “Professional judgement cannot be relied upon if an organisation has blind spots, and the Windrush scandal demonstrated the damage such a culture creates.”

From January, unless the UK reaches a deal with Brussels, it will no longer be part of a system that obliges EU members to take back some migrants who have no right to be in another state.

But the MPs said they had been provided with “no evidence” that the Home Office had begun discussions “internally” or with EU nations over how to prepare for the possible impact of that change.

“Without putting new arrangements in place successfully,” warned the MPs, “There is a real risk that EU exit will actually make it more difficult to remove foreign national offenders and those who try to enter the country illegally.”

Committee chairwoman Meg Hillier said: “The Home Office has frighteningly little grasp of the impact of its activities in managing immigration.

“It accepts the wreckage that its ignorance and the culture it has fostered caused in the Windrush scandal – but the evidence we saw shows too little intent to change, and inspires no confidence that the next such scandal isn’t right around the corner.

In response to the report, a Home Office spokeswoman said: “We have developed a balanced and evidence-based approach to maintaining a fair immigration system.

“Since 2010, we have removed more than 53,000 foreign national offenders and more than 133,000 people as enforced removals.

“On a daily basis we continue to tackle those who fail to comply with our immigration laws and abuse our hospitality by committing serious, violent and persistent crimes, with immigration enforcement continually becoming more efficient.”

Source: Home Office immigration unit has ‘no idea’ – MPs

UK: Hostile environment has fostered racism and caused poverty, report finds

Of note:

The “hostile environment” policy has fostered racism, pushed people into destitution and wrongly targeted people who are living in the UK legally, a study has concluded.

The measures formally introduced by Theresa May while she was home secretary have also failed to achieve their key objective of increasing the numbers of people choosing voluntarily to leave the UK, according to the report published by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR).

Instead, the policy has “severely harmed the reputation of the Home Office” and caused a climate of “policy paralysis” within the department, where officials remain in principle committed to the objectives of the hostile environment approach but are “increasingly uncomfortable about its practical implications”, the thinktank says.

“It is clear that despite the wide-ranging impacts of the hostile environment on individuals and communities, there is no evidence to suggest that it meets its primary objective to increase voluntary returns. The available evidence suggests that the hostile environment forces people into poverty and destitution, denying them rights to essential goods and services, but it does not necessarily encourage them to leave the UK in greater numbers,” the report says.

“Restrictions on access to benefits can force people without immigration status into destitution. There is evidence of malnutrition, cramped and substandard accommodation, and mental ill-health among undocumented migrant families unable to access public funds … The hostile environment does not appear to be working for anyone: for migrants, for the Home Office, or for the wider public.”

The number of people voluntarily returning to their country of origin has fallen considerably since 2014, when some of the key hostile environment measures were introduced. According to the research, around 12,000 more people without immigration status were voluntarily leaving the UK in 2014 than they were in 2018.

A series of measures have been introduced over the past decade aimed at making life harder for people who are unable to prove that they have the right to live in the UK. The hostile environment, since rebranded as the compliant environment, makes it harder for individuals without proof of their right to be in the UK to take up employment, rent property, open bank accounts, get driving licences, and access welfare and public services.

Employers, landlords and frontline workers are now frequently expected to conduct immigration checks, as well as immigration officials. This shift of responsibility has prompted “discrimination against people from minority ethnic backgrounds by leading to new forms of racial profiling,” according to the IPPR.

Healthcare workers have expressed unease at having to perform immigration checks on patients, the report states, and some patients with uncertain immigration status have been discouraged from seeking vital healthcare as a result of the policy.

“There is anger over what frontline workers are being asked to do. People in the NHS are already exhausted from the underfunded, under-resourced conditions, and they are overworked,” an NHS worker told IPPR researchers.

Amreen Qureshi, a researcher for the IPPR and the report’s lead author, said:“The hostile environment is a policy based on ideology, not evidence. Our report finds that it has forced people into destitution without encouraging them to leave the UK, highlighting both its poisonous impacts and its ineffectiveness.”

The report Access Denied, the Human Impact of the Hostile Environment – is the latest in a series of detailed and critical studies of the Home Office’s hostile environment policy, following damning reports by the public accounts committee, the home affairs select committee and the National Audit Office, among others.

Last year the high court found that the hostile environment’s rental checks, which require landlords to assess whether a prospective tenant is living in the UK legally, were racially discriminatory. On appeal, however, the measures were ruled justified.

An inquiry into the Windrush scandal, in which thousands of legal UK residents were classified as illegal immigrants and denied the right to work, rent property, access healthcare and benefits, also criticised the workings of the Home Office’s hostile environment.

The present home secretary, Priti Patel, has committed to implementing all the recommendations in the Wendy Williams Windrush review, including a requirement to commission “a full review of the Home Office’s hostile environment policy”, and to “develop a major programme of cultural change within the Home Office”.

The IPPR report is timely, since that review is expected to begin this autumn.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “The Windrush generation suffered unspeakable injustices and institutional failings spanning successive governments over several decades. The government is implementing the findings of the Wendy Williams review.”

Source: Hostile environment has fostered racism and caused poverty, report finds

Home Office to scrap ‘racist algorithm’ for UK visa applicants

Of note and a reminder that algorithms reflect the views and biases of the programmers and developers, and thus require careful management and oversight:

The Home Office is to scrap a controversial decision-making algorithm that migrants’ rights campaigners claim created a “hostile environment” for people applying for UK visas.

The “streaming algorithm”, which campaigners have described as racist, has been used since 2015 to process visa applications to the UK. It will be abandoned from Friday, according to a letter from Home Office solicitors seen by the Guardian.

The decision to scrap it comes ahead of a judicial review from the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), which was to challenge the Home Office’s artificial intelligence system that filters UK visa applications.

Campaigners claim the Home Office decision to drop the algorithm ahead of the court case represents the UK’s first successful challenge to an AI decision-making system.

Chai Patel, JCWI’s legal policy director, said: “The Home Office’s own independent review of the Windrush scandal found it was oblivious to the racist assumptions and systems it operates.

“This streaming tool took decades of institutionally racist practices, such as targeting particular nationalities for immigration raids, and turned them into software. The immigration system needs to be rebuilt from the ground up to monitor such bias and to root it out.”

Source: Home Office to scrap ‘racist algorithm’ for UK visa applicants