Go home or face arrest: what is happening in the UK immigration policy

“Go home or face arrest”. This is what people can read on various billboards located on London neighbourhoods. But what does this mean? Who is this announcement addressed to?

The UK is facing hard times with illegal immigrants, so this month the Government has published a new law on immigration, called Immigration Bill, which will change the rules on access to the NHS (National Health Service) and impose tougher penalties for illegal working. This should make living in the UK harder for those who are staying there without any permit to work or stay. 

Most of the UK’s illegal immigrants are people who came there for a short period of time, usually to meet relatives who are already living there for many years, and then stay over the expire date of their visa or work permit, without having it renovated. Most of these people come from the UK’s ex-colonies, such as India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nigeria and Ghana. These countries, according to the government, represent a high risk of abuse of the immigration rules.
To prevent this, the Immigration Bill also proposes to set a deposit of £ 3,000 for people coming from those countries to make them leave the UK when their visa expires in order to get their money back. This pilot program will be lauched in november and will make immigration to the UK more “selective”.

According to the Cameron’s government, this law would “reform the system of expulsions and appeals, making it easier and faster to get rid of those people who do not have the right to be here”. The government expects the final approval of this measure within the next six months.

The Immigration bill would primarily introduce a new series of inspections, such as:

  • requiring private landlords to check the immigration status of their tenants, refusing to offer accommodation to foreign citizens who can’t prove their legal stay in the UK;
  • requiring temporary migrants, such as international students who have only a temporary immigrant status, to make a contribute to the NHS of £ 200;
  • requiring banks to check against a database of known immigrant offenders before opening bank accounts;
  • creating new powers to check the immigration status of driving license applicants and to revoke the licenses of overstayers;
  • introducing “deport first, appeal later” policy for thousands facing removal who face no “risk of serious irreversible harm” from being sent back (no asylum seekers), and reduce the number of deportation decisions that can be appealed from seventeen to four;
  • restricting the ability of immigration detainees to apply repeatedly for bail if they have already been refused it and creating stronger guidance for the courts on the use of human rights laws to prevent deportation, particularly the right of family life;
  • clamp down on people who try to gain an immigration advantage by entering into a sham marriage or civil partnership;
  • restricting free treatment for people from outside the EEA (European Economic Area) citizens to those with an indefinite leave to remain in the UK;
  • improving how non-EEA short-term visitors are indentified and charged for hospital treatment (this to prevent the so-called health tourism, becoming very popular in the UK).

The Immigration Bill has already received criticism: on BBC website, the journalist Dominic Casciani wrote “When you average them out, there’s been one immigration bill roughly every two years since 1997 and the system apparently still needs fixing.
Each bill has seen a minister take legislation to Parliament and tell MPs that this is the one that will make the system firmer, faster and fairer – or words to that effect.
So what makes this latest attempt any different?
This bill is almost entirely about enforcement: it focuses on people the government wants to control or keep out.
Critics say much of it may prove challenging to implement: landlords will need to become experts in forged passports, there will be new court battles over the appeals process and, undoubtedly, complaints of poor and unfair decisions will remain.
The ultimate goal is increased public confidence in the system. Whatever measures are in this bill, that remains the most challenging aim of them all.”
The Guardian has collected the dissenting opinions of a group of lawyers specialized in immigrants’ rights, according to which the law is “intrusive, oppressive, ineffective and costly”; and the association of property owners who say that there are about 400 valid identity documents in the EU and many owners will eventually not give their houses for rent to immigrants to avoid the risk of not complying with the new rules.

In the UK there is an ongoing debate on measures to be taken to adjust the phenomenon of immigration, while the positions of the Conservative government are gradually moving towards a tougher approach to the subject.
In the past months, the Cameron government has announced that the aim is to reduce to less than 100 thousand units tha annual longterm net immigration (ie. the difference between those who moved to the UK and those who leaves, which actually amounts to more than 175 thousand units, despite the various efforts of the government).

Today some temporary restrictions towards migrant workers coming from Bulgaria and Romania are in force in the country. These restrictions were decided at the time of admission of those two countries in the EU in 2007 and will expire at the end of this year (2013).
This subject was once absent from public debates in the UK, but became more relevant with the economic crisis and the reduction of available jobs in the country.
At the end of July 2013, a Home Office campaign (the British Ministry of the Interior) has caused great controversy: the slogan, repeated on posters and on two trucks roaming in London said: “In the UK illegally? Go home or face arrest.”
The immigrants who wish to be repatriated only need to send a text message with the word “home” to a phone number listed in the ad. The billboards also provide information of illegal immigrants made in a given area.

Despite the criticism, the government ensures that this project, with a budget of 12 thousand euros, is recording excellent results and therefore we cannot exclude its implementation at the national level.
The government did not provide data on immigrants that have left the country thanks to this campaign so far, but the Interior Minister May reminds that 28 thousand illegal immigrants have voluntarily left the UK last year and that this plan, in the experimental stage, integrates a policy that aims to avoid “undesired” arrests.

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