The Immigration White Paper – what it says, what it doesn’t say, and what happens next

The Immigration White Paper was released on 19th December 2018, setting out the Government’s plans for implementing the UK’s immigration system in light of the planned exit from the European Union.

Most of its emphasis is on creating a skills based system of entry for those not claiming asylum, yet some space is given to the needs and rights of people seeking asylum as well. It is to these considerations that we turn for analysis.

There are some positive commitments in the Paper, both around reviewing the right to work for people seeking asylum (Chapter 10, Section 14) and reforming immigration detention (Chapter 11, Sections 4 and 5). These are areas of great concern and change would be welcomed.

However, when it comes to issues around destitution, it is hard to see the government’s stated commitment in the Paper to provide protection for the ‘most vulnerable’ as anything more than lip service. This is because it is – and has for a long time been – dehumanising government policies that leave people without shelter and support in the first place.

Indeed, it is a sad fact that many members of our network only exist because of such policies, that have now been a toxic component of immigration legislation for the last two decades.

In Chapter 12 of the White Paper, the authors note; ‘a more migrant-oriented system will be particularly relevant for the future system in terms of reducing the exploitation of vulnerable groups and individuals, and to helping those legally in the UK to obtain the necessary documentation to evidence lawful status’. In Chapter 11 they write; ‘Learning the lessons from Windrush, we will ensure that people who are here lawfully are not inadvertently disadvantaged by policies put in place to tackle illegal migration.’

Yet at the same time, the White Paper upholds the view that people who have sought asylum and been refused are ‘illegal’. It is deeply disappointing to see the same government department that mistreated so many people from the Windrush generation continue to use this kind of damaging terminology.

For example, in Section 16 of Chapter 10, the authors write about plans to ‘Negotiate a new legal framework to return illegal migrants, including asylum seekers, to the EU countries they have travelled through, or have a connection with’, whilst in Section 24 of the same chapter it is written ‘we are clear that public money should not be used to support illegal migrants, including failed asylum-seekers, who should be preparing to leave the UK’.

Particularly striking is the fact that, elsewhere in Chapter 10, there is an acknowledgement that the government’s own quality and accuracy of decision making needs to be improved (Section 12). That despite this admission, officials feel able to describe many of the same people denied justice by their own flawed asylum system as ‘illegal’, is truly outrageous and must be challenged.

Meanwhile, whilst there is recognition that newly recognised refugees need more support ‘with integrating into British society and fulfilling their potential’ (Section 23 of Chapter 10), there is nothing to indicate what the government will do to help make this a reality.

Alongside others in the sector, we are calling for an extension to the move on period, as well as clarity about the impact of the ‘Post Grant Appointment Service’ and other procedural adjustments. Such actions could reduce homelessness amongst refugees and improve long term integration.

So what next? Following the publication of the White Paper, the ‘Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill 2017-19’ was presented to Parliament on 20th December. The stated scope of the Bill is ‘to end rights to free movement of persons under retained EU law and to repeal other retained EU law relating to immigration; to confer power to modify retained direct EU legislation relating to social security co-ordination; and for connected purposes.’

In other words, it has a relatively narrow focus, with more emphasis on procedures for those currently under EU law than other aspects of immigration. The Bill will receive further readings in the coming weeks and will progress through several parliamentary stages before being passed.

Meanwhile, at NACCOM we’re continuing to support the ‘Lift the Ban’ campaign (calling for the right to work for people seeking asylum). We’d encourage others to do the same by joining the coalition here and signing the Refugee Action petition here.

At the same time, there is work to be done to assess the possibility of an amendment in the Bill- or lobbying work in other ways- to call for the extension of the move on period for newly recognised refugees. To this end, we’ll be working with members, partner agencies and Members of Parliament, so watch this space and get in touch with any questions or comments.

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