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

Is the British Home Office creating two tiers of Irish citizenship?

Of interest, as the UK grapples with the implications of Brexit and Northern Ireland:

The Good Friday Agreement (GFA) explicitly states that people born in Northern Ireland are unique within the UK in having the birthright to identify as Irish or British or both.

However, the British Home Office is now arguing through the courts that the people born in Northern Ireland are “automatically British” as they were “clearly born in the United Kingdom.”

This is not a cosmetic assertion, it’s not merely a quibble over language or intent. Making citizens of Northern Ireland automatically British against their wishes has profound implications for their lives and for the future stability of the peace there.

Critics contend that the Home Office is essentially forcing British citizenship on Irish citizens born in Northern Ireland – citizens who identify as Irish by birth and by choice.

They are also forcibly countering an option that the people of Ireland north and south voted in record numbers for in the Good Friday Agreement referendum in 1998.

Take the example of an Irish national who holds an Irish passport, and who was born in Derry. The position of the Home Office is that they are a dual British/Irish national, but if they would like to fully retain and access their rights as an Irish and E.U. national in the U.K. they would have to “renounce” their British citizenship and rely solely on their Irish citizenship. Even if they have never claimed British citizenship. Even if they do not hold a British passport.

Source: Is the British Home Office creating two tiers of Irish citizenship?

Britons most positive in Europe on benefits of immigration

Seems counter-intuitive given the role that anti-immigration attitudes played in the Brexit referendum but compared to other European countries…. Of course, compared to Canadian numbers, support is low:

British people are more persuaded of the benefits of immigration than any other major European nation, according to a global survey, which has also found that almost half of Britons think immigrants are either positive or neutral for the country.

The YouGov–Cambridge Globalism survey found that 28% of Britons believed the benefits of immigration outweighed the costs, compared with 24% in Germany, 21% in France and 19% in Denmark. A further 20% of British people believed the costs and benefits were about equal, while 16% were not sure.

The findings contradict the assumption that Britain is more hostile to immigration than its European neighbours are. Britain was seen as taking a hardline and less compassionate response to the 2015 European migration crisis, while many argue concerns over immigration were the key driving force behind the Brexit vote.

But experts have detected a softening in attitudes towards immigration since that vote, which could in part be influenced by the prospect of the end of freedom of movement and the dramatic drop in net migration to the UK from EU countries, which in the last figures dropped to its lowest level since 2009.

In all, only 37% of Britons feel the costs of immigration outweigh the benefits – lower than in any other big European country apart from Poland. By comparison, 50% of Italians believe the net impact of immigration is negative, as well as 49% of Swedes and 42% of French and 40% of Germans.

The findings come weeks before the European parliament elections, where populist, anti-immigrant forces are projected to perform well across Europe.

Nigel Farage, whose anti-migrant “breaking point” poster came to symbolise the leave message in the 2016 EU referendum, is returning to politics with his Brexit party, while his former party, Ukip, continues to campaign on immigration issues.

However, the UK portion of the global YouGov survey suggests anti-immigrant messaging is unlikely to work across the party divide. While only 3% of Ukip voters thought benefits outweighed costs, this compared with 15% of Conservative voters and 42% who voted Labour.

The survey also suggested men were most open to the benefits of immigration, with 32% saying the overall the impact was positive, compared with 24% of women.

Sunder Katwala, the director of the identity and integration thinktank British Future, which last year published The National Conversation, a report on immigration in the UK, said studies were showing Britain was on the “glass half full” end of the debate.

“There’s an increasing body of evidence that attitudes, having been very sceptical, are becoming softer,” he said. “The salience of immigration has dropped significantly and there’s also been a warming up of attitudes.”

Katwala said a softening of attitudes had been noticed by politicians and as a result the likes of Farage had changed tone ahead of the European elections.

“There’s a lot of nuance in British attitudes. The nuance was missing in the last 10 years because we were having a debate about ‘are we able to talk about immigration or not?’,” he added.

“It’s now a debate about what we should do now. Some people accept changes are coming. Some people are more empathetic because they see stories like Windrush, they see that the 3 million Europeans in the UK aren’t just a statistic but the people we see on television worried about whether they’re allowed to stay.”

The survey shows Britons are particularly supportive of migrants, either unskilled or qualified professionals, if they have a job offer in advance.

Forty-one per cent of Britons agreed that unskilled labourers arriving in the UK with a job offer were good for the country, a higher proportion than in all other major EU nations apart from Spain.

Similarly, Britons showed the highest level of support than any country surveyed for qualified professionals coming to the UK with a job offer, with 80% agreeing they were good for the country – compared, for example, with just 56% of French respondents.

Conversely, Britons are less supportive than other western nations in the survey of migrants arriving without a job in search for work.

Only 14% of Britons thought unskilled labourers coming to the UK to search for work were good for the country, with only Sweden and Germany showing lower levels of support for this kind of migrant.

Britons also appeared relatively hostile to refugees. Only 29% of Britons thought people fleeing war or persecution were good for the country, less than any other EU or anglophone country in the survey. Almost half of Canadians (45%) and French (44%), in contrast, expressed support for refugees.

UK respondents also showed the lowest level of support of all countries surveyed for migrants coming to join family members who already live here, with just 22% of respondents thinking this was good for the country, compared with 56% of Polish respondents who, among the EU and anglophone countries, showed the highest level of support.

Source: Britons most positive in Europe on benefits of immigration

Sex discrimination in British immigration law is likely to get worse after Brexit – The Conversation

By their very nature, immigration and citizenship regimes are discriminatory in their criteria. Discrimination based upon occupation is not the same as discrimination based upon sex, even if the effect of prioritizing skilled immigration will invariably reflect the overall gender composition of specific occupations and countries of origin:

The British government’s plans for migration control after Brexit may, if implemented, exacerbate existing sex discrimination in immigration law. My own recent research shows that men are significantly more likely than women to benefit from key migration opportunities – including the ability to work in the UK as skilled labour migrants. Not only do the immigration rules that distribute these opportunities disadvantage women, they may also unlawfully discriminate against them. It is these rules that the government plans to extend and build upon after Brexit.

In a white paper on immigration, published in December 2018, the government promised to “reset the conversation on migration” after Brexit. It plans to achieve this by ending freedom of movement for EU citizens and replacing the current labour migration rules which apply to everyone else with a single, skills-based system.

This system would allow skilled and highly skilled migrants from EU and non-EU countries alike to work in the UK. Those considered low-skilled may be able to work in the UK for 12 months in a route for “temporary short-term workers”. Unlike the skilled workers whose migration the government seeks to encourage, the proposals seek to substantially limit the rights of short-term workers. These workers will not be able to extend their stay or remain here on a different basis. Nor will they be able to bring family members with them or make the UK their home.

Much is still unknown about how the system will work. But one question raised by the proposals is just how much of a “reset” of immigration law they represent.

Migration hierarchies

Non-EU migrants currently need permission to live and work in the UK. Yet, someone who seeks such permission does not receive a straightforward “yes” or “no” answer to their application. Instead, if they are successful, the Home Office will grant them one of a range of migration statuses which determines the length of time they may remain in the UK and for what purpose. It also determines what rights they have while in the country to be accompanied by their family, access welfare benefits and even open a bank account.

Different migration statuses bestow different bundles of rights – and obligations. Some are considerably more advantageous than others. Skilled labour migrants, for example, may work in the UK for up to five years, change employers, bring their families with them and potentially settle here. Domestic workers have no such rights. They cannot change their employer – unless they have been trafficked – and they must leave the UK after just six months. So immigration law creates a status-based labour migration hierarchy which differentiates between labour migrants, advantaging some and disadvantaging others.

In my research, I reviewed information on the distribution of different migration statuses taken from over a ten year period to see how these hierarchies affect women. I supplemented public Home Office statisticswith data obtained by freedom of information request.

I found that certain key family and labour migration statuses are distributed differently to women and men – to the disadvantage of women. While three quarters of those granted the advantageous status of “skilled” labour migrant are men, three quarters of those granted the highly disadvantageous status of “domestic worker” are women. Nearly three quarters of those granted the relatively disadvantageous status of “partner” are women.

In contrast to family migration, labour migration is predominantly maleand men are more likely to be at the top of the labour migration hierarchy, as skilled migrants, than women.

Stereotypes about ‘skills’

The rules which distribute these migration statuses indirectly discriminate against women because they are premised on stereotypes.

Labour migration statuses are distributed on the basis of skill. Feminist analyses of the labour market have highlighted the sexed and gendered stereotypes that underlie the categorisations of certain types of work and worker as either low- or high-skilled. Such analyses have also questioned the idea that a person’s “skill” can itself be determined objectively.

Such stereotypes, that women are particularly suited to undertake caring work for example, or that such work is almost by definition, low-skilled, affect almost every aspect of women’s participation in the job market. They are implicated in the gender pay gap, and the devaluation in terms of pay and status of the work that women do, particularly caring work.

As Eleonore Kofman, professor of social policy at Middlesex University, argues the immigration rules that rank “skills” appear to be gender-neutral, but they actually privilege certain types of knowledge, and discount others, in a highly gendered way. I argue that they do so because because the rules that determine who is “skilled”, or not, or who is a “partner” – and what type of relationship this involves – are rooted in stereotypical understandings of women’s and men’s roles and abilities.

Another kind of reset required

Debates about labour migration post-Brexit are beginning to consider the ability of the NHS and others to employ the staff they need if the proposals in the white paper are implemented. My research indicates that the consequences of these proposals could be more significant than is currently appreciated. The establishment of an even more segmented and hierarchical labour migration system which relies on stereotypes to differentiate between workers and which significantly disadvantages those it considers unskilled, is likely to have particularly negative consequences for women.

The ending of free movement will profoundly change the nature of migration to and from the UK. Just one of the potential consequences of this change, the replacement of EU law and the existing rules that enable non-EU labour migrants to work in the UK with a system which may reproduce and amplify those parts of the current system that disadvantage and discriminate against women, has yet to be fully explored. This is concerning not only for those whose right to remain in the UK is currently determined by British immigration law, but all those EU citizens who face being made subject to it following Britian’s departure from the EU.

A reset of British immigration law is required, but it’s not the one that the government is proposing.

Source: Sex discrimination in British immigration law is likely to get worse after Brexit – The Conversation

Sajid Javid urged to act in immigration scandal ‘bigger than Windrush’

Yet another Theresa May as Home Secretary legacy:

The home secretary, Sajid Javid, is under mounting pressure to head off an immigration scandal that MPs have warned could be “bigger than Windrush”.

About 34,000 foreign students have had their visas cancelled or curtailed and more than 1,000 people were forcibly removed from the UK as a result of the English language testing scandal, which involved the government accusing tens of thousands of students who sat a Home Office-approved test of cheating.

The drive to find and deport potential cheats began during Theresa May’s tenure as home secretary, when she promised to create a “hostile environment” for migrants deemed to be in the country illegally.

Thousands of students who have remained in the UK to fight to clear their reputations have spent the past five years attempting to prove that they are not guilty of cheating, but most have struggled because the Home Office has told them they have no right of appeal in the UK and must leave the country.

Amid criticism from MPs, Javid is expected to rule on the fate of thousands of the targeted students this week.

Undercover filming in a Panorama documentary broadcast in 2014 revealed clear evidence of fraud in at least two testing centres, as students took the test, which is required as part of the student visa-renewal process.

In one, the invigilator was seen reading out the answers to a multiple choice test, while in another, fake candidates arrived to take the test on behalf of those who were due to sit the exam, with the invigilators fully aware that the students were being assisted by paid proxies.

There is no doubt that there was a well-organised cheating system operating in those centres when filming took place; what is less clear is how many people were involved in the fraud.

The Panorama reporter showed the footage to May, then the home secretary, who commented: “What Panorama has uncovered is extremely important. It’s very shocking and I want to do something about it.”

The Home Office cancelled the visas of tens of thousands of students who had taken the Toeic test, large numbers of whom protest that they did not cheat. More than 4,000 have left the country without an opportunity to prove their innocence, having been told that they could be arrested if they did not leave. Immigration enforcement officers visited the homes of more than 3,600 students, as the Home Office attempted to round up all those accused of cheating.

Many of those who believe they have been wrongly targeted have asked for an opportunity to sit a new English test, pointing out that they had no need to cheat as they speak fluent English. Some were studying for degrees in English literature, others were PhD students, and some were nearing the end of accountancy and law degrees.

Those who remained in the UK have been prevented from continuing to study and are unable to work while they attempt to prove their innocence. They are also unable to open bank accounts or rent properties. Many have had to rely on their families, who helped pay fees for their unfinished courses in the UK and are now funding their attempts to have their visas reinstated so that they can continue with their studies.

The allegation of cheating in the UK makes applying to study elsewhere extremely difficult. Most chose to study in the UK because of Britain’s international reputation as a country with good universities and a reliable justice system. Because the Toeic issue has never become headline news, many say their families at home have begun to believe they must have cheated, convinced the UK government could not make such an error.

Campaigners representing students contesting the Home Office’s allegation of cheating say most of those affected have been made unwell by the prolonged strain of attempting to prove their innocence. Many have been pushed into destitution. The organisation Migrant Voice, which has worked with dozens of those affected, says many have contemplated or attempted suicide.

Mike Gapes, the MP for Ilford South, who has advised a number of affected people in his constituency, describes this as “a bigger scandal than Windrush in terms of the number of individuals removed from the country and whose livelihoods are being destroyed by anguish and despair”. The issue has its roots in the same period at the Home Office under May, when officials were developing the hostile environment, under pressure to reduce net migration to the tens of thousands and show voters that the government was taking firm steps to control illegal immigration.

The American company that administered the test, Educational Testing Service (ETS), told the Home Office that it had conducted a voice analysis of recordings of all 58,458 tests taken in 96 test centres in the UK between 2011 and 2014 and concluded that 33,725 people cheated, and a further 22,694 people had “questionable results”. Only about 2,000 were found not to have cheated.

Stephen Timms, the Labour MP for East Ham, is sceptical about these findings. “It think it’s nonsense. There is no way that 90% of those who sat the test were cheating. Do they really believe they were presiding over a system in which over 90% were cheating? It doesn’t make sense. It’s completely implausible.

“Panorama established that a few dozen people cheated, but the way the government has responded has blighted the lives of thousands and thousands who did not cheat. All the people I’ve met feel mortified that anyone would think they would cheat.

“A number of them haven’t dared to tell their family at home they have been accused of cheating because the shame is so great. They are all in the most terrible situation. A lot of the victims are living in the shadows and are ashamed to talk about it. It is surprising there hasn’t been more uproar.”

Hundreds of court hearings have subsequently questioned the reliability of the evidence provided by ETS and the Home Office. Some students have been accused of sitting a test in one centre but have clear proof that they sat it in another. At least one of those accused never sat the Toeic test but has nevertheless had his visa cancelled with no opportunity to appeal.

Timms has been told by Javid’s office that the home secretary is still waiting for some answers before deciding how to proceed. During a meeting at the end of last year, Javid told Timms and two other MPs: “I am sympathetic.”

An all-party parliamentary group has been set up to campaign on the issue and will have its first meeting in May; MPs will talk to students, lawyers and immigration judges, researching a new investigation.

Javid told Timms in the Commons on 1 April that he was taking “this issue very seriously. I have asked my officials to review it.” Campaigners are hopeful that the home secretary may finally be on the brink of taking steps to rectify the matter.

Nazek Ramadan, the director of Migrant Voice, said: “It’s an outrage that thousands of students are still suffering, five years after the first wrongful allegations. In this country, you’re supposed to be innocent until proven guilty – but for these students, that principle was thrown out of the window.

“We’ve heard from students, lawyers and judges that the Home Office has failed to present any evidence at all in most cases. In other cases, the evidence they’ve presented has been totally flawed. The only solution now is a political one. This was a Windrush-style textbook example of bad decision-making, but the home secretary has the power to put some of it right and give these students their futures back.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “The 2014 investigation into the abuse of English language testing revealed systemic cheating which was indicative of significant organised fraud … The home secretary has listened to the points raised by MPs and other groups and has asked for further advice from the department.”

ETS was contacted for comment.

Source: Sajid Javid urged to act in immigration scandal ‘bigger than Windrush’

UK urged to end unfair fees for child citizenship applicants

High fees are bad enough but good to see the Home Office called out over profiteering. At least in Canada, the fees were only increased for adults (quintupled), not for children:

The Home Office should consider scrapping controversial immigration fees charged to children from families who can’t afford it and refund profits made from failed citizenship applications, according to an official watchdog.

The call came as it emerged on Thursday that the Home Office is making a profit of £2m a month from charging children for citizenship, with about 40,000 estimated to be affected in the past year.

A report by the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration said the government should publish information on the negative social and equality impact of the Home Office’s fees policy, which is blamed for driving thousands of parents into overwork, debt and even skipping meals to save for the costs.

While welcoming David Bolt’s call for a full review of the process governing the waivers applied to some applications and for greater transparency around the decision-making process, charities pressed for an end to Home Office profiteering off immigration and citizenship applications.

The child citizenship charges were described as the Home Office’s new Windrush scandal in a letter to the Guardian signed by a range of charities including Coram, the Runnymede Trust, a number of headteachers and the community organising group Citizens UK.

The Home Office made £22m in 10 months by charging children who meet the strict eligibility citizenship criteria for processing documents, it was revealed by freedom of information requests from Citizens UK.

The cost of a citizenship application for a child is £1,012, while the cost of processing is just £372, meaning the Home Office makes an estimated £640 profit from each child application it receives.

Most of Bolt’s recommendations concerned the need to explain the calculations behind dramatic increases in Home Office fees, while other proposals focused on the effects on vulnerable individuals, including children.

The Home Office rejected two of Bolt’s recommendations. In response Bolt said he couldn’t understand why it was unable to launch a public consultation on charging for borders, immigration and citizenship system services in time to inform this year’s government spending review.

But Bolt said he was more concerned about the Home Office’s rejection of his call for a breakdown of how it calculated the part of the fee relating to how a successful applicant would benefit economically from British citizenship.

He added: “I am disappointed that the Home Office does not recognise this is a question of basic fairness, which should not have to wait on discussions with the Treasury about the department’s future funding.”

Fees for immigration and nationality applications have steadily risen since 2010 under the “hostile environment” policy, including in a round of changes last April. Cases have included a family who had to choose between paying for accommodation or saving money for Home Office fees. Another family, who have a disabled daughter, were last year still paying back the £7,000 they borrowed to pay the charges and said they feared losing their home.

Bolt’s call for a full review of how the process applies fee waivers for some poorer children, was “partially accepted” by the Home Office, which said it was in discussions about the issue.

A spokesperson said: “To reduce the burden on UK taxpayers, fee levels take into account the wider costs involved in running our border, immigration and citizenship system, so that those who directly benefit from it contribute to its funding. The home secretary has committed to keeping fees under review.

“However, we recognise that we have a duty to support the vulnerable. That is why we have fee waivers in place for those who need it most, including children and young people who have spent a significant amount of their life in the UK.”

The Home Office said it expected the 2019 spending review to influence its approach on fees, but added that it would “prioritise a system which is fair and reduces the burden on UK taxpayers”.

Minnie Rahman, public affairs and campaigns manager at the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, said urgent action was needed to ensure people were not denied basic rights just because they can’t afford exorbitant fees.

“We see clients every day who are pushed into destitution while the Home Office makes up to 2000% profits on some applications,” she added.

“The impact on children who are unable to apply for citizenship because of the fees is particularly disturbing. The Home Office should not be profiteering off immigration and citizenship applications.”

Source: UK urged to end unfair fees for child citizenship applicants

Why the ‘Life in the UK’ test alienates new citizens

The perils of citizenship tests based on “values” with some counterintuitive results.

I think overall the Canadian questions are reasonable with fewer marginal questions (and telling that the Liberal government, despite having worked on a revision to Discover Canada, and presumably associated questions, has yet to release it and, IMO, is unlikely to do so 6 months before the election):

The UK’s citizenship process subjects immigrants to requirements intended to enhance their identification with ‘British values’. Does the current process do that, or does it exacerbate immigrants’ marginalisation? David Bartram finds evidence in support of the latter: citizenship policy does more to alienate new citizens than it does to facilitate their political integration.

Have you taken the ‘Life in the UK’ test? If you’re already a UK citizen, then of course you don’t need to – but if you did it out of curiosity you’d likely find it very difficult to pass. Some of the questions involve obscure historical dates (in what year did Richard III die?). Even for more meaningful events it is not clear why one should know the year (e.g. re when women gained the vote – an important issue, but why is knowing the date a basis for citizenship?).

Immigrants wishing to gain citizenship (or even permanent residence) have to pass it. The only way to succeed is to study. Now, some of the questions pertain to more useful matters, so perhaps there’s some benefit from the learning one does. And, once you’ve passed, perhaps you’ll feel (on the basis of the knowledge gained) that you’ve earned an entitlement to participate more fully in British public life and core institutions. Academics tend to be critical of the test requirement, but the idea that some good could come of it – possibly even a set of outcomes that looks something like enhanced integration – is not completely implausible.

Propositions of this sort can be tested, with the right data. With colleagues at the University of Leicester(and funding from the ESRC), I have investigated whether becoming a UK citizen (thus, passing the test and participating in a citizenship ceremony) helps foster integration specifically in terms of political engagement. My answer: the core citizenship requirements do more to impair integration in the political sphere than to enhance it. Immigrants who become UK citizens end up less interested in politics, relative to those immigrants who remain non-citizens. That’s a very counterintuitive result; only slightly less shocking is that new citizens do not participate more in civic/public organizations than those who remain non-citizens.

That finding comes from analysis of data from ‘Understanding Society’ (the UK household panel survey). The longitudinal nature of the data helps minimize the prospect of reverse causation (the possibility that it’s a matter of naturalization by already less-engaged people). The analytical sample comprised almost 1000 people who in Wave 1 (2009/10) were not UK citizens. By the time of Wave 6 (2014/15), roughly half of these respondents had gained citizenship – and the core of the analysis involved comparing them to those who remained non-citizens while taking into account their initial conditions including their extent of political engagement.

Now, perhaps it’s somehow misguided to connect the empirical pattern to the specific requirements for UK naturalization. Maybe naturalization led to decreased political engagement even before the introduction of the test and ceremonies. Not a terribly plausible idea, surely. We can’t test it directly: the ‘Understanding Society’ project began several years after the policy was implemented in 2005 (and the predecessor dataset, the British Household Panel Survey, doesn’t enable tracking changes in citizenship status). We do however have earlier research on the question more generally in Europe including the UK – and in analysis of data from 2002-2003 they find that naturalization is generally associated with increased political engagement (in other words, the outcome one would expect). So, perhaps something did in fact change in the UK after the requirements were put in place.

We can then ask: why would the UK citizenship process lead to lower political engagement? The process involves jumping through some meaningless hoops, so it might be a simple matter of annoyance, possibly to the point of fostering alienation. We can however go a bit further, via further consideration of the types of questions the test poses about political matters.

Many of these questions strike me as having something significant in common. There is a clear tendency to ask about the ‘rules of the game’. For example: what is the role of the Whips in Parliament? Or, what is the current minimum voting age? Or, what time of year are local government elections held? Questions like this imply acquiescence to ‘the way things are’: we tell you what the rules are, and you can then play by those rules. There’s nothing about fundamental rights of citizenship – say, the right to demonstrate and to participate in other forms of collective action. The subtext here is a politics of obedience, perhaps even docility. If this is what we tell immigrants about the nature of our politics, who can blame them if they then say: who needs it?  Why bother? Democratic politics is supposed to engage big questions, about justice, fairness, freedom, equality – but through the ‘Life in the UK’ test Britain teaches new immigrants that it’s all just a matter of fitting in and doing what is expected of you.

There is another significant angle to consider. Anne-Marie Fortier argues (very persuasively) that the real motivation behind the requirements of the UK citizenship policy is not to achieve integration for immigrants but rather to alleviate the anxieties of ‘natives’. The policy sends a signal to people worried about immigration: we hear you, and we’re doing something about it. Whether it has any impact on the immigrants themselves is decidedly secondary. One might be sanguine about that idea as long as the impact is merely nil (rather than positive). But if instead the tests and ceremonies have a genuinely negative impact on immigrants in the UK it becomes less feasible to justify an attempt to mollify voters this way.

The original goal of the requirements (as articulated by the then-Home Secretary, David Blunkett) was to foster participation, in hopes of reinforcing ‘social cohesion’. The requirements are plainly not helping to achieve that goal and might be actively undermining it – even for those who succeed in demonstrating knowledge about ‘Life in the UK’ that most ‘natives’ don’t have.

Source: Why the ‘Life in the UK’ test alienates new citizens

Far right ‘infiltrating children’s charities with anti-Islam agenda’

As we have seen with the gilets jaunes, rightwing groups take advantage of opportunities to advance their messages and undermine some of the original motives of protesters or those concerned:

Rightwing groups including Ukip are attempting to “infiltrate” child protection charities to further an anti-Islam agenda, officials from the government’s counter-extremism programme believe.

Officers from Prevent said far-right figures were using voluntary groups to stir up tension in towns with historical problems of child sexual exploitation.

In Rochdale, a community group for child sexual abuse survivors, Shatter Boys, said it had been approached repeatedly by senior Ukip figures including Lord Pearson, who offered to introduce them to millionaire donors and fund an open-top bus to raise the alarm about grooming gangs.

Daniel Wolstencroft, the founder of Shatter Boys, said: “What they’re doing basically is grooming survivor groups and survivors of abuse. I think their fight is about Islam.”

Wolstencroft, who is an adviser to the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse, said Ukip in particular had attempted to “jump on the child abuse bandwagon” to further its own anti-Islam agenda.

Pearson’s offer of funding, made during a private lunch at the House of Lords, followed months of courting by the Ukip families spokesman, Alan Craig, who last year said Muslim grooming gangs had committed a “Holocaust of our children”.

Craig, who said paedophilia could be traced back “to Muhammad himself”, approached the Rochdale-based group on social media before attending one of its street patrols with a leading member of the Democratic Football Lads Alliance (DFLA).

The Ukip leader, Gerard Batten, spoke at a rally in Rochdale organised by the DFLA last April. The DFLA has described the Greater Manchester town as being on its “hit list” for anti-grooming demonstrations.

The issue of child sexual exploitation by men of Pakistani heritage has become a key focus of Ukip under the leadership of Batten, who triggered a wave of senior resignations when he appointed the anti-Islam activist Tommy Robinson as an adviser on grooming gangs.

How Ukip normalised far-right politics – video explainer

Nazir Afzal, the Crown Prosecution Service’s former lead on child sexual abuse, said established charities were being “infiltrated by the far right who wish them to pursue a different agenda”.

Figures linked to the far right have also launched or promoted their own anti-grooming campaign groups in the past year, the Guardian has learned.

One of Robinson’s allies, Shazia Hobbs, launched an anti-grooming helpline at an event hosted by Pearson in parliament in December, which was attended by the For Britain leader, Anne Marie Waters.

Pearson was quoted after the event as saying: “If you touch this case, you immediately become an Islamophobe. Islam lies at the heart of this problem and most of this is a problem within Islam. We need to start talking about this openly.” Pearson and Ukip have not responded to requests for comment.

Another group, the National Anti Grooming Alliance & Helpline (NAGAH), was jointly set up by a member of the DFLA, John Clynch, last year after reports of a mass grooming gang in Telford, Shropshire.

Afzal, who prosecuted grooming gangs in Rochdale in 2012, described the NAGAH as “an alleged far-right front” that had been “created by the extreme right to further their own agenda”.

The NAGAH has attracted moral and financial support from Daniel Thomas, a close ally of Robinson, who is trying to raise £150,000 for the group with a charity boxing event.

The NAGAH’s co-founder Anthony Wood has described “Pakistani rape gangs” as “probably the biggest crime in this country’s history”.

Contacted by the Guardian, Wood said Clynch no longer worked for the NAGAH and that he had left the DFLA. Clynch has not returned a request for comment.

Wood said: “We are not far right at all, we are a community group … We have helped historic survivors, online cases, male survivors. It does not just focus on one area and we have stated this since day one.”

Thomas, who organises Robinson’s rallies, said there was “not a racist bone in the bodies” of those involved in the NAGAH and accused the media of “attempting to destroy a working class charity”.

Frontline Prevent workers said the issue of far-right groups infiltrating charities was “increasingly a concern” that had been raised with intervention providers across England.

Abdul Ahad, a Prevent officer in north-east England, said rightwing groups were using the grooming gangs issue to “appeal to people’s emotions”.

“It is a tactic they are trying to pursue. They can build up the relationship and trust and slowly but surely sink their claws in and then they’ve got them hook, line and sinker,” he said. “They then start spewing their [far-right] narrative before you know it. I know some charities have refused to have anything to do with the far right but it will be done very covertly and subtly.”

The number of people referred to Prevent over concerns about far-right activity rose by more than a third in the year to March 2018, accounting for nearly one in five of all cases.

Source: Far right ‘infiltrating children’s charities with anti-Islam agenda’

Crossing Divides: Has the UK changed its mind on immigration?

Interesting survey results and analysis of the change:

Just over a quarter of nearly 1,500 people who took the Ipsos-Mori online survey felt it had a negative impact.

The findings are in line with other surveys suggesting Britain has changed from being generally negative about immigration before the Brexit vote.

In 2011, 64% of Britons told Ipsos-Mori immigration had been bad for the UK.

The results emerged as part of an international poll of nearly 20,000 people across 27 countries, between 26 November and 7 December last year.

It was undertaken as part of the BBC’s Crossing Divides season, which is bringing people together across lines of ethnicity, class, faith, politics and generation.

Ipsos-Mori graph showing the change in respondents' perceptions of immigration

Prof Rob Ford, who researches immigration trends at the University of Manchester, said such positivity surrounding migration into the UK would have been unimaginable just a few years ago.

He said the reasons behind the trend remained unclear but that it mirrored what he had seen in other data.

“It’s at odds with what we’ve seen about [sentiment towards] migration in the past because immigration levels are still very high, so it’s not that the public is seeing more control over numbers,” he said.


A remarkable turnaround?

Analysis box by Mark Easton, home editor

It appears Britain has changed its mind about immigration and there are three important reasons why that might have happened:

  1. The Brexit vote itself may have led some to assume that the immigration issue has been dealt with and therefore it is not seen as such a risk.
  2. The national debate on immigration during elections and the Brexit referendum may have focused people’s minds on the social, practical and economic trade-offs involved in cutting migrant numbers, resulting in a more nuanced response to the issue.
  3. The millions of European migrant workers who came to the UK after 2004 initially caused something of a culture shock in neighbourhoods unaccustomed to immigration. Now many of those arrivals have integrated into society, put down roots, formed relationships and become a familiar part of the local scene. Any culture shock has probably dissipated as migrants have made friends and started families.

The polling suggests Britain is now among the most positive countries internationally when considering immigration, alongside Australia, the US and Sweden, where the numbers responding positively had also increased.

Prof Ford suggested the political environment could be a contributory factor, with opponents of Brexit and US President Donald Trump championing the benefits of inward migration.

UK statistics showed more low-skilled migrants from central and eastern Europe leaving than arriving, he said, while settled migrants such as white collar professionals, NHS staff and highly skilled workers had become more prominent in the media.

Polling results in other countries suggested attitudes to immigration were hardening.

In South Korea, the number of people telling Ipsos-Mori they felt it was beneficial had dropped to 11%, from 27% in 2011. In Japan – the least positive nation – just 3% of respondents said it had a beneficial impact, down from 17%.

Fewer than one-in-10 people told the survey immigration was beneficial in Colombia, Turkey, Russia and Hungary, although online polls are not representative in nations where significant numbers of people do not have internet access.

Source: Crossing Divides: Has the UK changed its mind on immigration?

The complete survey, including data on Canada, can be found here: Download the slides

Key immigration-related numbers for Canada:

  • Positive impact 42 %, Negative impact 27 % – slight increase from previous years
  • Percent friends same ethnic group, almost all/over half: 27/25
  • Percent friends same religious faith or beliefs, almost all/over half: 13/15
  • Percent friends have same views on immigration, almost all/over half: 15/19

Germany, New Zealand approaches to citizenship revocation for strip IS fighters – Statelessness

Both countries provide an exception for those who would be left stateless and appear to be applying that consistently unlike recent cases in the UK (Begum) and Australia (Prakash).

Starting with Germany:

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives and their Social Democrat (SPD) coalition partners have agreed a plan to strip some Germans who fight for the Islamic State militant group of their citizenship, a German newspaper reported on Sunday.

More than 1,000 Germans have left their country for war zones in the Middle East since 2013 and the government has been debating how to deal with them as U.S.-backed forces are poised to take the last patch of territory from Islamic State in Syria.

About a third have returned to Germany, another third are believed to have died, and the rest are believed to be still in Iraq and Syria, including some detained by Iraqi forces and U.S.-backed fighters in Syria. The Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper, citing unnamed government sources, said three criteria must be met to allow the government to denaturalise Germans who take up arms for the Islamist group.

Such individuals must have a second citizenship, be adults and they would be stripped of their citizenship should they fight for Islamic State after the new rules go into effect.

The compromise ends a dispute over the issue between conservative Interior Minister Horst Seehofer and SPD Justice Minister Katarina Barley.

Spokesmen for both ministers were not available to comment on the report.

U.S. President Donald Trump last month urged Britain, France and Germany to take back more than 800 captured Islamic State fighters and put them on trial.

Germany said it would take back fighters only if the suspects have consular access.

Last month Britain revoked the citizenship of a teenager who had left London when she was aged 15 to join Islamic State in Syria.

The case of Shamima Begum highlighted the security, legal and ethical dilemmas facing European governments dealing with citizens who had sworn allegiance to a group determined to destroy the West.

Source: Germany to strip IS fighters of citizenship under certain criteria – report

New Zealand:

A New Zealand man detained in Syria after joining the Islamic State militant group will not be stripped of citizenship but could face criminal charges if he returns, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Monday.

New Zealand is the latest of a number of countries, from Australia and Britain to the United States, forced to grapple with legal and security challenges in dealing with former members of a hardline group that had sworn to destroy the West.

Mark Taylor, who traveled to Syria in 2014, told Australian broadcaster ABC from a prison in the Kurdish-run north that he expected to face time in prison if he returned to New Zealand.

Taylor’s joining the group was illegal and could have legal ramifications, Ardern said, but added that her government would provide him with a travel document to return, if possible.

“We have long had plans in place in the event that a New Zealand citizen supporting ISIS in Syria were to return,” Ardern told reporters, using an alternative name for the group.

“Mr Taylor only holds New Zealand citizenship and the government has an obligation not to make people stateless.”

Ardern said officials had identified that a small number of New Zealanders had joined IS, but declined to give an exact number.

New Zealand law allows revocation of citizenship only in limited situations, Ardern said, adding that the government could not render stateless anyone who did not have dual citizenship.Officials had told Taylor he would need to travel to a country where New Zealand has a diplomatic presence, such as Turkey, to receive an emergency travel document to return, said Ardern, adding that would be difficult as he is in detention.

In an interview aired on Monday, Taylor told the ABC that he had worked as a guard for the group for five years and had been detained in its prisons a number of times, such as after he accidentally leaked location details in a tweet in 2015.

He also appeared in an IS promotional video that year, calling for attacks on ANZAC Day celebrations in Australia and New Zealand.

Taylor told ABC he had witnessed executions while with the group and was sorry.

“I don’t know if I can go back to New Zealand, but at the end of the day it’s really something I have to live with for the rest of my life,” he said.

In February, Britain said it was revoking the citizenship of 19-year-old Shamima Begum, who had left London with two school friends to join up when she was 15, but now sought to return with her newborn son.

Source: New Zealand Islamic State recruit will not be stripped of citizenship