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

Home Office’s immigration boss quit ‘after run-ins with Priti Patel’

More chaos at the UK Home Office?

Bullying allegations engulfing the home secretary, Priti Patel, have intensified as it emerged that “major run-ins” had forced the resignation of one of her department’s most senior civil servants on immigration.

Union sources have revealed that “uncomfortable” demands by Patel had prompted Mark Thomson, the director general of UK Visas and Immigration and HM Passport Office, to announce his departure just weeks after her appointment.

Mick Jones of the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), the largest trade union for Home Office staff, said that Patel’s approach to various immigration issues had led to Thomson’s resignation.

“He’s indicated to our reps that it was mainly because they had had major run-ins. It was clear that [Patel] had come in and was trying to do things that they [Home Office officials] just weren’t comfortable with and [Thomson] sort of said ‘I’m off then’.”

Source: Home Office’s immigration boss quit ‘after run-ins with Priti Patel’

The only way around the Home Office’s cruelty is to get your story in the news

Cutting. Bureaucratic systems can fail common sense:

There are eight words in the English language that, read together, trigger a unique combination of fury, despair and laughter familiar to anybody with experience of the UK border and its gatekeepers at the Home Office: “Each application is considered on its individual merits.”

Like a caterer talking about its commitment to hygiene the day after a front-page splash about some photogenic couple’s wedding-day E coli disaster, you usually only find these words stuck to the end of a press release in which the Home Office is admitting that it’s been caught out, having not done its job very well. Instead, it has upended somebody’s life for no good reason, ignoring or misjudging the facts of their case or the basic requirements of the law, bowing to the political goal of saying no wherever possible. And now, after an intervention from the press has drawn attention to somebody’s shocking mistreatment, the Home Office has miraculously conceded.

We have all read the stories. In the past few weeks alone, we’ve read about the academic who was told her children couldn’t live here with her. The NHS doctor threatened with removal because of a small mistake on her application form. The singer told to leave the countrydespite being born here. Each decision lacked basic common sense and respect for the individual. Each and every one was overturned after it hit the headlines.

It’s a great outcome for those who are able to get their story in front of a journalist, but I worry every day about the thousands of people who have the same right to justice but will never have that kind of luck. People who don’t have the wherewithal or the networks to demand justice. Or those who are vulnerable and therefore fearful of media attention. People forced to submit to the whims of a system that has been designed to break them. No system can ever be considered fair if your access to justice within it is based on your ability to win a popularity contest.

And despite mounting evidence that the department responsible for the Windrush scandal needs to be rebuilt from the ground up, this well-documented sticking-plaster strategy of quickly responding to high-profile cases serves to shield the Home Office from the kind of scrutiny that will lead to deeper reforms; reforms that have been called for in the leaked Windrush Lessons Learned review that the government is yet to publish. Reforms that even the staff of the Home Office believe are necessary for the system to be able to genuinely respond to and respect the merits and dignity of every applicant. But the fish rots from the head. And as long as it is politically convenient to mistreat those who were not born here, one of the great offices of state will remain synonymous with scandal and cruelty.

So, in this particular episode of Black Mirror, if you are one of the thousands of people unlucky enough to be served with a poorly worded rejection letter on the basis of what you are certain is an incorrect decision, unless you can get your story to go viral within 28 days, your journey to justice will be long and fraught. It doesn’t matter if the decision maker has made clear and obvious mistakes, such as telling you that Iran is a safe place for a lesbian to live or that you aren’t in a genuine relationship with the father of your children. Your only way out of this bureaucratic nightmare now is to tunnel your way through it by hand. You must file an appeal within 28 days. And with no legal aid available for most immigration cases, you either have to do this on your own or find a way to shell out for a lawyer to protect you from an army of suits on the government’s payroll. This is after paying thousands in Home Office fees for the pleasure of having your application thrown on a pile for weeks before being rejected in error.

The average wait for an appeal to be heard is now at least a year. And that period of limbo, during which your rights are limited while you wait for a judge to decide your fate can be incredibly painful. It is not uncommon for people to be driven deep into depression. Just like the tens of thousands forced to undergo personal independence payment assessments, or appealing against flawed welfare decisions, it’s dehumanising by design, the hope being that you will simply give up. It’s why so many members of the Windrush generation had, so tragically, given up altogether, hounded into submission or “self-deportation”.

Ultimately, in most cases that do make it to appeal, courts find that the Home Office was wrong. That equates to months and years of unnecessary suffering that could have so easily been avoided if the Home Office just committed to making quick, fair and correct decisions the first time around. There’s no publicly available data on how much money the Home Office spends defending decisions it knows are flawed but it is likely in the tens of millions of pounds. That’s money that could be spent on training and support for Home Office decision makers and caseworkers, or on legal aid.

For every person who manages to make it through the appeals process, there are many more who can’t afford it and give up, leaving an unwelcoming Britain behind, or staying here and becoming undocumented because, whatever the law says, they equally cannot be expected to leave their families and their homes. We see the cost of this ever-growing scandal every day, in lost lives and lost potential, and in the acceptance that it’s OK to treat people like this. And with the rollout of artificial intelligence and racial profiling algorithms into decisions that must, by their nature, be focused on the complexities of the human, this crisis will only get worse.

A lot will be said about immigration in this election campaign: about points-based this and Australian-style that. But a year and a half after the lid was blown on the Windrush scandal, the “hostile environment” policy and the deep failings of the Home Office, no party and no candidate should be allowed to get away without answering the question: how are we going to fix this? How are we going to ensure that justice is afforded to everybody, not just those who catch the spotlight?

Source: The only way around the Home Office’s cruelty is to get your story in the news

Home Office outsourcing immigration operations ‘on the cheap’ due to funding shortages and lack of ministerial interest, says chief inspector

Pretty damning indictment of poor political and bureaucratic management:

The Home Office has been outsourcing immigration operations “on the cheap” because of funding shortages and a lack of interest from ministers, the government’s own chief inspector of borders has admitted.

David Bolt, who provides independent scrutiny of the UK’s border and immigration management, told The Independent that in order to “manage its capacity”, the Home Office had made subcontracting part of its “modus operandi” – and as a consequence had reduced control over its own operations.

He questioned whether there was “sufficient visibility” around the way the department had increasingly placed the onus on external agencies, such as landlords and doctors, to carry out immigration checks, and around the manner in which immigration detention, visa processing and other provisions had been outsourced to private firms.

The department has come under fire over the past year for wrongly treating those with a right to live in the UK as illegal immigrants under its hostile environment policies – an issue encapsulated by the Windrush scandal – and has been accused of creating barriers to applying for UK status through its decision to privatise the visa system.

The chief inspector said that while Home Office processes that had adequate funding and “enthusiasm” from ministers were working well, such as the EU settlement scheme, other operations were not being so effectively executed.

“The EU settlement is working better as a process,” he said. “You’ve got senior ministerial interest; you’ve got funding; the Home Office was essentially able to design the system to suit itself; you’ve got enthusiasm around delivery; you’ve got a clear target – all of those are ingredients that will make something work.

“Much of the rest of the business doesn’t feel like that. It doesn’t have clear targets; it doesn’t have the same ministerial interest; it doesn’t have the funding; and it’s not prioritised so it doesn’t necessarily have the resources, so I think that’s the department’s challenge.

“That’s why outsourcing is part of its modus operandi. That’s one way in which it can try and manage all this capacity – to give the task to somebody else.”

Mr Bolt raised concerns about difficulties for visa applicants and for other immigrants to access the services of private firms who have commercial contracts with the Home Office, such as Sopra Steria, a French firm that took over in-country visa processing in November.

The Independent revealed last month that the company had raked in millions for providing what lawyers branded a “substandard” service, which had forced some applicants to pay high fees and travel hundreds of miles to submit applications on time.

MPs and lawyers subsequently called for an independent investigationinto the outsourced system, raising “extreme concerns” about Sopra Steria’s “capacity and ability” to run the service.

Speaking after an event organised by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Visas and Immigration on Thursday, Mr Bolt said: “When you hear that people have difficulty accessing Sopra Steria or any of the other outsourced commercial contracts, what is the Home Office doing to ensure that what they’re providing is actually meeting the terms of the contract?

“In earlier contracts, one of the challenges was whether the contract had been properly funded, so there’s been an attempt to try and do things slightly on the cheap. And then it always feels rather reluctant to press the provider, because they realised they’ve got the provider over a barrel.

“The question is, does it retain sufficient visibility of what’s going on and sufficient control over it? And to what extent is it accountable for what’s delivered?”

He also said that when the department placed requirements on agencies such as the NHS, schools and landlords to carry out immigration checks as part of its hostile environment measures, he was “not sure that it [took] enough responsibility for what then happens”.

A report published by Mr Bolt in 2016, which aimed to understand how the Home Office was going to assess the effectiveness of the hostile environment policies, found there were “no real measurements in place to collect, analyse and evaluate” the measures.

But the chief inspector questioned whether the department had “the capacity to do anything about it” because they were “short of resource generally, meaning everything is under pressure” – likening the situation to “changing a tyre as you’re driving down the motorway”.

Why is the Home Office getting so many immigration decisions wrong?

“Across all of the Home Office, its business is bigger than its capacity to manage. It’s constantly having to make decisions about priorities, and getting dragged off to do things. That for me is one of the key issues – whether it’s got the bandwidth to cope with everything,” he added.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “We welcome the independent scrutiny of the chief inspector and take his comments, criticism and recommendations very seriously.

“We are committed to delivering an immigration system that is fair and delivers value for money for the taxpayer and the inspector is a crucial part of that work. It is only right that the department and ministers give full consideration to the recommendations made in ICIBI (independent chief inspector of borders and immigration) reports, which can be complex and wide-ranging.”

Source: Home Office outsourcing immigration operations ‘on the cheap’ due to funding shortages and lack of ministerial interest, says chief inspector

How an immigration crackdown is hurting UK startups

Long read to note:

The two people who sat down in reception without an appointment would not leave the startup’s office until the end of the day.

Two months later, a letter followed informing the company it had been suspended from the United Kingdom’s register of licensed sponsors, the database of companies the government has approved to employee foreign workers. The business had 20 working days from the typed date to make “representations” and submit “evidence” and “supporting documents” to counter the “believed” infractions spread across 12 pages, threaded through with copious references to paragraphs, annexes and bullet points culled from the Home Office‘s official guidance for sponsors.

Early in the new year another letter arrived, and an assessment process that had begun with an unannounced visit one autumn morning delivered its final verdict: The revocation of Metail‘s sponsor license with immediate effect.

“There is no right of appeal against this decision,” warns paragraph 64 of the 22-page decision letter — in text which the sponsor compliance unit has seen fit to highlight in bold. “Whilst your client can no longer recruit sponsored workers under Tier 2 and 5 of the Points Based system, they can continue to recruit UK and EEA workers as well as non-EEA nationals that have the right to work in the UK. The revocation of the license does not stop a business from trading,” the letter concludes. Tier 2 is the general work visa for regular employees, while Tier 5 is for temporary workers.

The government department that oversees the UK’s immigration system gets to have — and frame — the last word.

London-based Metail is a decade-plus veteran of the virtual fitting room space, its founders having spied early potential to commercialize computer vision technology to enable individualized sales assistance for online clothes and fashion shopping. It now sells services to retailers including photorealistic 3D body models to power virtual try-ons; algorithmic size recommendations; and garment visualization to speed up and simplify the process of showcasing fashion products online.

In the story below, we’ll look at how Metail’s situation sits within wider issues facing startups in the United Kingdom today. We also dig into the details of the company’s encounters with immigration rules, and what startups in the UK can do to hire the people they need without similar problems, in this article for Extra Crunch subscribers.

Metail has approached research-heavy innovation in the field of 3D visualization with determined conviction in transformative commercial potential, tucking $32 million in VC funding under its belt over the years, and growing its team to 40 people (including 11 PhDs) at a head office in London and a research hub located close to Cambridge University where its British founder studied economics in the late ’90s. It’s also racked up an IP portfolio that spans computer vision, photography, mechanics, image processing and machine learning — with 20 patents granted in the UK, Europe and the US, and a similar number pending. Years of 3D modeling expertise and a substantial war-chest of patents might, reasonably, make Metail an acquisition target for an ecommerce giant like Amazon that’s looking to shave further friction off of online transactions.

Nothing in its company or business history leaps out to suggest it fits the bill as a “threat to UK immigration control.” But that’s what the language of the Home Office’s correspondence asserts — and then indelibly inks in its final decision.

“I took them into a meeting room. And at that point, they hand me a bunch of documents and say: ‘We’re here to see and understand about your sponsored migrants.’ So at the beginning, the language is all very dehumanizing,” says Metail founder and CEO Tom Adeyoola, recounting the morning of the unannounced visit. They hand me a bit of material which includes the sentence ‘you’ll be allowed a toilet break every two hours’. And I’m like, ‘am I being arrested?! What’s going on?’

“Then they ask ‘are your sponsored migrants here?’ I said I don’t know, I don’t manage them directly. I only had two.

“‘Can we see your lease? Can we see your accounts?’ Genuinely everything. ‘Can we see proof that this is your office?’ I was like, well you’re in the office… So [it was] very much a box-ticking exercise.

And then the interview process going through with [the HR manager] was effectively ‘why have you hired sponsored migrants over the settled workers? Talk me through your process about how you track everybody in the organization?’

“‘What happens when they are not in one day? What happens when they’re not in at work the second day?’

“A bit of this thing was like an assumption that they’re not human beings but they’re like prisoners on the run.”

Immediate effects

The January 31 decision letter, which TechCrunch has reviewed, shows how the Home Office is fast-tracking anti-immigrant outcomes. In a short paragraph, the Home Office says it considered and dismissed an alternative outcome — of downgrading, not revoking, the license and issuing an “action plan” to rectify issues identified during the audit. Instead, it said an immediate end to the license was appropriate due to the “seriousness” of the non-compliance with “sponsor duties”.

The decision focused on one of the two employees Metail had working on a Tier 2 visa, who we’ll call Alex (not their real name). In essence, Alex was a legal immigrant had worked their way into a mid-level promotion by learning on the job, as should happen regularly at any good early-stage startup. The Home Office, however, perceived the promotion to have been given to someone without proper qualifications, over potential native-born candidates. We detail the full saga over on Extra Crunch, along with the takeaways that other startups can learn from.

For Metail, the situation suddenly became about its own existence and not just the fate of one hardworking younger employee.

Metail’s other Tier 2 sponsor visa was for Dr. Yu Chen, who is originally from China, and leads the startup’s research efforts based at its Cambridge office. Chen has been with the business for around seven years — starting his relationship with Metail projects while still working on his computer vision PhD at Cambridge University.

Adeyoola describes him as “critical” to the business, a sentiment Chen confirms when we chat — albeit more modestly summing up his contribution as “quite theoretically involved in all these critical algorithms and key technologies developed by this organization since the very beginning”.

A major first concern for Adeyoola was what the loss of Metail’s sponsor license meant for Chen — and by extension Metail’s ability to continue business-critical research work.

The Home Office letter provided no guidance on specific knock-on impacts. And the lawyers Metail contacted for advice weren’t sure. “Our lawyers told us that that was the implication. In their revocation notice, they do not tell you what it means explicitly. You have to figure that out for yourself,” says Adeyoola. “Hence it is confusing and unclear.”

The lawyers advised Chen’s employment be suspended to keep the rest of the company safe — which instantly threw up further questions.

“Can I suspend his employment with pay or not with pay? Because the Home Office had his passport and they’ve had his passport since he’d applied for indefinite leave to remain in October and in January he still hadn’t had his passport back. He can’t go anywhere or do anything, so backward and forth it worked out that, yeah, we could suspend him with pay. But he couldn’t be seen at that time to be doing any work — and he’s critical for us.

“We had government R&D grants, he runs all our research — so I was like well we’re going to have to talk to the government and add an extension to that project.”

They had to tell everybody in the office that while Chen’s employment was suspended they weren’t allowed to talk to him. “He wasn’t allowed to use Slack,” Adeyoola recounts. “So if you were going to talk to him you had to meet him off-premise.”

“Nobody knows whether you can normally work,” says Chen of the uncertainty around his status at that point. “Are you just allowed to stay at home legally but not allowed to work? Lot of question marks. It’s a very, very rare scenario I think.”

Adeyoola says he was also concerned whether Metail having its sponsor license suspended might negatively impact Chen’s in-train application for ‘indefinite leave to remain’ in the UK — which he had applied for in October, before the sponsor license suspension letter landed, having been in the UK the requisite ten years by then. And because, ironically enough, he had been “panicking” a bit about his future status as a result of Brexit.

Metail used an online email checking service, available via a Home Office portal, which suggested Chen could, in fact, work while the company license was suspended. At the same time Adeyoola had reached out to Chen’s local MP for help confirming his status — and with the aid of a political side-channel did manage to get it firmly confirmed in writing from the Home Office that Chen could still work while the license was suspended.

“We had to operate on lowest common denominator basis until we had written notice. Because systems operate on a ‘with prejudice’ basis,” says Adeyoola of the week Chen had been suspended from work.

“It was not in the letter. There was nothing in the letter about what it means for your people. Again, the human aspect of it seems to be the last thing on their mind. I think that’s part of the indoctrination of the people there — so they’re highly process-ified and trained so that they do their job.”

Chen’s period of suspension turned out to be mercifully brief, although that was purely due to lucky timing. Had he waited a month or so longer to lodge the original paperwork for his indefinite leave to remain, then his situation and Metail’s could have panned out very differently.

“In my case, I was just lucky because I started to apply for indefinite leave to remain before this stuff blew up,” he says, saying he filed the application around nine months before his Tier 2 visa was due to apply.

Nearly six months after filing for it in October, Chen’s indefinite leave to remain came through.

But by that time Metail’s sponsor license had gone. Now they wouldn’t be able to hire more people like Chen without overcoming major hurdles.

A hostile environment for immigration

A photograph of the UK prime minister, Theresa May, smiles down at the reader of the Wikipedia page for the Home Office hostile environment policy.

As smiles go, it’s more rictus grin than welcoming sparkle. Which is appropriate because, as the page explains, the then-home secretary presided over the introduction of the current hostile environment, as the coalition government sought to deliver on a Conservative Party manifesto promise in 2010 to reduce net immigration to 1990 levels — aka “tens of thousands a year, not hundreds of thousands”.

The policy boils down to: deport first, hear appeals later. One infamous application of it during May’s tenure as home secretary saw vans driven around multicultural areas of London, bearing adverts with the slogan ‘Go Home’. The idea, criticized at the time as a racist dog-whistle, was to convince illegal workers to deport themselves by making them feel unwelcome.

Summarizing the broader policy intent in an interview with the Telegraph newspaper in early 2012, May told the right-leaning broadsheet: “The aim is to create here in Britain a really hostile environment for illegal migration.”

Associated measures introduced to further the hostile environment have included a requirement that landlords, employers, banks and the UK’s National Health Service carry out ID checks to determine whether a tenant, worker, customer or patient has a legal right to be in the UK, co-opting businesses and non-government entities into policing immigration via the medium of extra bureaucracy.

But in seeking to make life horribly difficult for workers who are in the UK without authorization, the government has also created a compliance nightmare for legal migration.

A Channel 4 TV report last year highlighted two cases of highly skilled Pakistani migrants who, after more than a decade in the UK had applied for indefinite leave to remain — only to be told they must leave instead. The Home Office cited small adjustments to their tax returns as grounds to order them out, apparently relying on a clause that allows it to remove people it decides to be of ‘bad character’.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg where the human impact of the Home Office’s hostile environment is concerned. There have been a number of major scandals related to the policy’s application. The most high profile touches Windrush generation migrants, who came to the UK between 1948 and the early 1970s — after the British Nationality Act gave citizens of UK colonies the right to settle in the country but without providing them with documentary evidence of their permanent right to remain.

The combination of thousands of legal but undocumented migrants — many originally from the Caribbean — and a Home Office instructed to take a hostile stance that pushes for deportations in order to shrink net migration has led to scores of settled UK citizens with a legal right to be in the country being pushed out or deported illegally by the government.

The Windrush scandal eventually claimed the scalp of May’s successor at the Home Office, Amber Rudd, who resigned as home secretary in April 2018 after being forced to admit to “inadvertently” misleading a parliamentary committee about targets for removing illegal immigrants.

Rudd had claimed the Home Office did not have such targets. That statement was contradicted by a letter she wrote to the prime minister that was obtained and published by The Guardian newspaper — in which she promised to oversee the forced or voluntary departure of 10% more people than May had during her time at the Home Office by switching resource away from crime-fighting to immigration enforcement programs.

May chose Sajid Javid to be Rudd’s replacement as home secretary. And while he has sought to distance himself from the hostile environment rhetoric — saying he prefers to talk about a “compliant environment” for immigration — the reality is the architect of the policy remains (for now) head of the government in which he serves.

Her government has not directly repeated the 2010 Conservative Party manifesto pledge to reduce net migration to the “tens of thousands”. But an immigration white paper published at the end of last year retraced the same rhetoric — talking about reducing “annual net migration to sustainable levels as set out in the Conservative party manifesto, rather than the hundreds of thousands we have consistently seen over the last two decades”.

It’s clear that controlling immigration remains right at the top of the government’s policy agenda, and is bearing out in how policies are enforced today.

Austerity and the Brexit divide

As UK prime minister, May is also in charge of delivering Brexit. And here she has made ending freedom of movement for European Union citizens another immutable red-line of her approach — repeatedly claiming it’s necessary to ‘take back control’ of the UK’s borders to deliver on the Brexit vote.

Brexit the UK’s 2016 referendum to exit the European Union saw around 52% of those who cast a ballot voting to leave, or around 17.4 million people out of a total population of approximately 65.6M.

May’s interpretation of that result has been to claim citizens voted to end free movement of EU people and workers, despite there being no such specific detail on the ballot paper. (The referendum question simply asked whether the UK should remain a member of the European Union or leave.)

So her vision of a post-Brexit future will require UK businesses which want to recruit EU workers needing a sponsor license and relevant visas for all such hires. This will mean UK businesses hiring from outside the settled worker pool will have to expose more of their inner workings to the rules and regulations of the immigration system — with all the compliance cost and risk that entails.

From the outside looking in it might seem odd that the Conservative Party a formidable political force that likes to claim it can be trusted to manage the economy, and which is traditionally associated with being more closely aligned with the interests of the private sector is presiding over policies that drive up compliance bureaucracy for companies while simultaneously increasing their recruitment costs and squeezing their ability to access a broader talent pool.

But the traditional politics of right and left do seem to be in flux in the UK, as indeed they are elsewhere.

This is perhaps in part linked to the aging demographic of the Conservative Party’s base. (One disputed guesstimate, put out by a right-leaning think tank in 2017, suggested that the average age of a member of the party is 72; whatever the exact figure, no one disputes it skews old.)

The UK’s position in Europe as a major economy, with a low unemployment rate and English as its first language has also historically served to make the country an attractive destination for EU workers to settle. Hundreds of thousands of EU migrants arrived in the UK annually between mid 2014 to mid 2016, prior to the Brexit vote. Post-referendum, EU immigration dropped to 74,000 last year (even as net migration to the UK has not reduced).

That locus has long been a major benefit to UK businesses and startups, and so to the wider economy. But once it got geared into years of austerity politics — also introduced by the Conservative-led government in the wake of the 2008 financial crash — the country’s success as a worker and talent magnet started to butt up against and even drive rising resentment among sections of the population that have not felt any economic benefit from the concentrated wealth of high tech hubs like London.

Against a backdrop of growing inequality in UK society and sparser access to publicly funded resources, it has been all too easy for right-wing populists to re-channel resentment linked to government austerity cuts — framing immigration as a drain on services and pointing the finger of blame at migrants by encouraging the idea that they have a lesser claim than natural UK-born citizens to essential but now inadequately resourced public services.

This cynical scapegoating glosses over the fact that public services have been systematically and deliberately underfunded by austerity politics. But, at the same time, research that suggests EU migrants are in fact a net benefit to the UK economy has little comfort to offer those who feel economically excluded by default.

One interesting component of the UK’s Brexit vote split is that it appears to cut not so much along traditional left/right political lines but across educational divides, with researchsuggesting that pro-Brexit voters were more likely to live in areas with lower overall educational attainment.

High tech hubs and startup businesses are therefore in the awkward position of risking exacerbating the same sort of societal divide. They can be seen as driving the automation of traditional jobs, creating work that’s more specialized which in turn makes employable skills harder to attain from a low skills base, and concentrating opportunity and wealth in the hands of fewer people. Hence the needs of startups are becoming more difficult for politicians to prioritize.

There’s no doubt the politics of austerity has supercharged UK inequality as service cuts have hit hardest at the regional margins where wider economic gains were always the least profound and first to evaporate under pressure. While rising competition for scarcer state-funded resources has created perfect conditions for scapegoating migration.

A report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies think tank earlier this month, at the launch of a five-year review into factors driving UK societal inequality, also warned that widening inequalities in pay, health and opportunities are undermining trust in democracy.

All of which makes responding to Brexit a political minefield for the UK government. The Brexit crisis seems to require a bold, society-wide re-engineering that attacks inequality of opportunity, radically invests in education, reskilling and upskilling to grow participation in the digital economy, and a tax policy that works to dilute concentrated wealth to ensure economic benefits are more fairly redistributed. None of which, it’s fair to say, is terrain traditionally associated with Conservative politics. (Though, in recent years, there have been attempts to claw in more tax from profit-shifting tech giants.)

Instead, the government’s top-line answer to the Brexit conundrum has, first and foremost, been to attack immigration. Playing to the lie that inequality is a simple numbers game based on population figures.

It’s not a strategy that properly addresses the question of how to manage wealth, resources and opportunity in an increasingly digital (and divided) world — to ensure it’s more equally and fairly distributed so that society as a whole benefits, rather than just a fabulously wealthy techno-elite getting richer.

Yet the government is badging its planned post-Brexit immigration reforms as a ‘Britain first’ overhaul that will create a system that’s “fair to working people here at home”, as the prime minister puts it. “It will mean we can reduce the number of people coming to this country, as we promised, and it will give British business an incentive to train our own young people,” runs her introduction to the immigration white paperpublished at the back end of last year, when Brexit was still marching towards a March 29 deadline.

The government making reducing net migration both flagship policy and political success metric has the knock-on effect of heaping cost, administrative burden and operational risk on UK startups — which rely, like all high tech businesses, on access to skills and talent to develop and scale commercial ideas.

But in the new austerity-fuelled Brexit political reality, the UK government not being overly supportive of the needs of talent-thirsty businesses seems to be the order of the day. Even as, on the other hand, other bits of opportune government rhetoric talk about Britain being “open for business” — or wanting the country to be the best place in the world to build a tech business.

Another government claim — that the planned “skills-based” future approach to immigration will allow businesses to cherry pick the very best talent from all over the globe — does not credibly stack up against the Conservative Party’s overarching push to shrink net migration.

The political reality, certainly for now, is that the ‘compliant’ environment approach to immigration is a euphemist label atop the same openly hostile policy that has slammed doors on people and businesses.

“I want to be able to hire great talented people with drive, enthusiasm and dynamism. I don’t want my choices to be restricted and if they are going to continue to be restricted we’ll have to look at other ways of maintaining the talent pool” says Adeyoola, discussing how he feels after Metail’s brush with the ‘compliant environment’.

“I’d love to just be able to hire the best person for the job… often a lot of that comes from people who want to come and make a life here. They have greater drive. So you get higher quality so you want to be able to hire those people if they come up.

“I think, unfortunately for us, we’re going to see fewer and fewer of them. Because if stuff continues the way it’s continuing, well we’ve already seen net migration from Europe fall dramatically over the last three years. In part that’s Brexit, in part that’s also because eastern European nations are flourishing… so the prospects are the other way. That’s just generally how things work. Great people move to great places.

”Just through going through this process it’s cost me money,” he adds of the audit and everything it triggered. “Real money in legal fees… lost time through weeks of work and effort from people inside the organization… We’re having to restrict the talent pool we can hire from… We’re going to have to spend more money on recruiters to find the right people… It is all just negative… The Brexit argument has always been Brexit will mean fewer EU which means we can have more people from outside… Well, that’s not how the immigration rules work now.

“You’re trying desperately to keep people from outside out. So I can’t believe that, post-Brexit you’re going to loosen the rules… So this whole thing about ‘fewer EU, more commonwealth and more everywhere else’ is not believable.”

Towards politically charged borders

Change is coming for the UK’s immigration system. But if the government executes on May’s version of Brexit — which intends to end freedom of movement for EU citizens — it will require UK businesses to interface with the Home Office if they wish to recruit almost any skilled individual from overseas.

Simply put, the same set of rules will apply to EU and non-EU migrants in the future. With the caveat that it remains possible for any post-Brexit trade deals that the UK might ink to include agreements with certain countries to carve out distinct offers related to work visas.

Per its white paper, the government has said it will simplify immigration requirements, as part of the shift to a single, “skills-based future immigration system” post-Brexit, slated from 2021 onwards.

Planned changes include removing the cap on skilled workers, which has — in years past — put another hard limit on startups hiring skilled migrants as, up until doctors and nurses were excluded from the quota last summer, it kept getting hit each month — limiting how many visas were available to businesses.

The government has also said it will do away with the requirement that employers advertise jobs to settled workers. So no more resident labour market test — aka the process which helped skewer Metail’s sponsor license.

Instead, for skilled workers, the plan is to apply a minimum salary threshold of £30,000 (including those with lower, intermediate level skills than now) — using pay as a lever to discourage migrant workers from being used to undercut wages. So no more forcing businesses to undertake an arduous, lengthy and risky (from a compliance point of view) process of advertising to settled workers in case one can be found for a vacancy.

Although the 2021 timeline for introducing the skills-based system that’s written into the immigration policy paper was contingent on the UK leaving the EU on March 29 this year.  Whereas Brexit still has yet to happen. So the implementation date for any post-Brexit immigration reforms remains as equally uncertain and moveable a ‘feast’ as Brexit itself.

“Cost certainly won’t go away,” says Charlie Pring, a senior counsel who specializes in immigration work for law firm Taylor Wessing, of the planned reforms. “The red tape will go away a little bit from 2021 when they rework this new one-size fits all system that will cover Europeans and non-Europeans — because they’re going to scrap the cap and they’re going to scrap advertising. And they’re also going to lower the skill level as well — so almost like A-level qualified jobs rather than graduate one jobs. So it’ll be mid-level jobs as well as graduate ones. But that’s still best part of two years away — so until then employers have got to lump it.”

The immigration system that remains in force has been designed to make the process of sponsoring migrant workers akin to a tax on businesses — with associated cost, complexity and uncertainty designed to discourage recruitment of non-UK workers.

For startups, Pring (who to be clear did not advise Metail) sees costs as the biggest challenge — “because the visa fees are so high”. He also points out the fees scale with the company. Once a startup is “no longer deemed to be a small” by the Home Office there’s “a higher skills tax to the government as well. So that’s a real issue”.

Startups don’t get any kind of compliance break based on the fact they’re trying to be innovative, develop new skills, tap novel technologies and create new business models. The same skeptical compliance can also be seen operating across the board — whether a business entails low tech seasonal fruit picking or is a high growth potential AI startup with a wealth of PhD expertise and patented technologies.

Nor does the Home Office have any remit to actively support sponsors to help them understand how to fulfil all the various knotted requirements of an immigration system that can be charitably described as opaque and confusing.

On the contrary, the government’s goal of shrinking annual migration creates a political counter-incentive for immigration rules to be complex and unclear. Encouraging enforcement to be aggressive and confrontational — and for compliance officers to hunt for reasons to find and penalize failure.

UK startups that sponsor migrants should understand they remain at risk of falling foul of the charged politics swirling around immigration — and having all their sponsored visas liquidated and business penalized by a system that, parts of which the government’s own policy plan concedes are not working as intended.

Even with reform looming, the future for entrepreneurs in the UK looks no less uncertain — if, as the government intends, free access to the EU talent pool goes away after Brexit. That will give the Home Office far greater control over migration, and therefore a much bigger say over who businesses can and cannot hire — putting its hands on cost and skill levers which can be used to control migrant flow.

Here’s Pring again: “The government is deliberately funneling people through into Tier 2 [visas]. If they push everybody through Tier 2, which is what they want, that’s the way they control skill level and salary level because you can only get a Tier 2 visa if the job is skilled enough and you’re paying enough for it. So it enables the government to put an element of control onto the visa numbers. And even though they’re not [generally] capping the numbers… they are through the backdoor deterring people from applying by making it difficult to qualify and ramping up the visa fees.”

The UK’s future immigration system is also being fashioned by a Conservative government that sees itself under siege from populist, anti-immigration forces, and is led — at least for now — by a prime minister famed for her frosty welcome for migrants.

Without a radical change of government and/or political direction it’s hard to imagine those levers being flipped in a more startup-friendly direction.

Entrepreneurs in the UK should therefore be forgiven for feeling they have little reason to smile and plenty to worry about. Rising costs for accessing talent and growing political risk is certainly not the kind of scale they love to dream of.

Source: How an immigration crackdown is hurting UK startups

UK Home Office in ‘continuous state of disaster management’ amid surge in immigration u-turns

Does appear to be the case as the various articles I have shared or seen indicate:

The Home Office has been accused of operating in a “continuous state of disaster management” as an increasing number of erroneous immigration decisions are being overturned only once they are publicly exposed.

A number of recent news stories about individuals being refused entry to the UK or threatened with removal have prompted officials to reverse decisions within hours or even minutes news articles being published online or in print.

In the past two weeks alone, The Independent has reported on two such cases. Both in involved people being barred from entering the UK because officials were “not satisfied” they would return home. Both were reversed within 12 hours of the articles being published.

Experts have warned, however, that the speed at which the decisions are reversed following media coverage raises serious concerns about the accuracy and fairness of the Home Office’s decision-making process.

It amounts to a “popularity contest” in which only those able to access journalists can get their cases resolved, they said.

Among the cases overturned after reporting by The Independent was that of Yvonne Williams, the 59-year-old daughter of a Windrush generation immigrant who was served with a removal order despite her whole family being in Britain.

The decision to prevent six-year-old, UK-born Mohamed Bangoura from returning home to his mother following a holiday was also reversed, as was the case of Hafizzulah Husseinkhel, a 27-year-old Afghan man who was threatened with deportation despite having served in the British army.

Journalists reporting on these cases are usually contacted by either the individual themselves, charities supporting them or, increasingly, solicitors representing them. Immigration lawyers said media coverage was now often the only way to obtain a “fair and timely” resolution from the Home Office.

Chai Patel, legal director at the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), said that while it was good for individual cases to get resolved, the process exposed a “completely dysfunctional” system which is “incredibly unfair” for those unable to get their cases in the media.

He added: “It shows how little faith or consideration immigration officials have in their own decision-making that they’re willing to reverse them in a matter of hours, minutes sometimes, of them getting a bit of bad publicity. And it’s seriously concerning that instead of having proper processes, we now have a popularity contest where, if you can get enough people to shout about your case, the Home Office will just change its mind.

“Many will never get their case in the press because it’s too sensitive, or they don’t have the contacts or the lawyers to get in touch with journalists and they don’t have communities building campaign groups around them.”

Mr Patel said each Home Office U-turn was an admission that there is no solution to the underlying problem whereby people are ”consistently – almost as a matter of course – given entirely unfair decisions that will destroy their lives until they’re lucky enough to get them turned around”.

Danielle Blake, a legal expert from the Immigration Advice Service (IAS), said it was a “big ask” for clients to willingly expose their personal circumstances to the world, but conceded that media exposure was often required to obtain a fair and timely resolution from the Home Office.

She added: “As advisers we come across many clients who are in the most desperate of situations. A lot of them are separated from their loved ones and have been for a very long time. All of this adds several months onto an already long and emotionally draining process. It’s very upsetting to think that for those who wish to keep their story private, they face being stuck on a never-ending merry-go-round of paying exorbitant Home Office fees, only to come up against a brick wall of non-communication.”

With Brexit on the horizon, campaigners raised concerns that an already “broken” system is going to be placed under even more pressure, with potentially disastrous implications.

Mr Patel said: “The Home Office can’t function with the number of applications made currently. It’s going to get a lot worse when the government has to develop an immigration system that includes EU nationals as well. Whatever happens, the pressure on the Home Office both in terms of future migration and dealing with the people here already is going to be huge. To prevent disaster they need to completely reform every part of the immigration system, because currently it is completely broken.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “The home secretary has been clear since his first day in office that he wants a different approach to the immigration system which provides control, but is fair and humane. If evidence about a case comes to light then it will be considered by caseworkers, but solely because a case is covered in the media does not mean it will receive a favourable decision.”

Source: Home Office in ‘continuous state of disaster management’ amid surge in immigration u-turns

Home Office ‘breaking law’ to expel highly skilled migrants

One story after another about policy and operational failures:

A judge has accused the Home Office of breaking the law and acting in a “nonsensical” way in trying to force two highly skilled migrants out of the UK by triggering a terrorism-related part of immigration law.

The two substantial judgments will boost those campaigning to halt the use of paragraph 322(5) of the immigration rules against people who have made legal amendments to their tax returns.

The judge quashed the Home Office’s decisions to trigger the power, saying the department had made errors in public law.

At least 1,000 highly skilled migrants seeking indefinite leave to remain (ILR) in the UK are wrongly facing expulsion from the UK under paragraph 322(5) for making legal amendments to their tax records, according to the support group Highly Skilled Migrants.

The judgments of the upper tribunal judge, Melissa Canavan, in the cases of Oluwatosin Bankole Williams and Farooq Shaik will strengthen the hand of the 20 MPs and a member of the House of Lords who are to establish separate pressure groups to persuade the Home Office to stop misusing the power.

In the Commons on Thursday, one of those MPs, Alison Thewliss, demanded a debate on what she said was “the incompetence of the Home Office” concerning 322(5).

“We were promised on 21 June that there would be a review in the next few weeks. This has not emerged,” she said. “Too many highly skilled migrants are waiting for this government to make a decision, living in poverty and racking up huge debts.”

The leader of the house, Andrea Leadsom, agreed to take up the issue directly with Home Office ministers on Thewliss’s behalf.

While at least 50% of immigration appeals against Home Office decisions succeed in the courts – a rate the Law Society said suggested the system was “seriously flawed” – the support group for those fighting paragraph 322(5) say their success rate is far higher, at 75.3%.

The figure is so high that it has caused legal experts to question whether the Home Office is cynically pursuing cases without merit.

In one of the recent rulings, Canavan cited a third upper tribunal judgment in which the Home Office was criticised for maintaining that migrants were responsible for the mistakes of their accountants, even when accountants later wrote to the government to admit culpability.

Canavan agreed that “the mere fact that an applicant is responsible for his own tax affairs does not lead to the inexorable conclusion that an applicant has been dishonest”.

Her judgment is at odds with a letter sent to the Lib Dem peer Dick Taverne last week by Susan Williams, a Home Office minister, defending the government’s use of the 322(5) power. “The courts have agreed that our conclusions were reasonable in such cases,” Lady Williams wrote.

Canavan said: “Where an applicant has presented evidence to show that he was not dishonest but only careless, the secretary of state is presented with a fact-finding task … The evidence must be cogent and strong.”

Source: Home Office ‘breaking law’ to expel highly skilled migrants