Amber Rudd has resigned as Home Secretary following the growing scandal over the Home Office’s treatment of members of the Windrush generation and other Commonwealth citizens and their children. While Rudd’s resignation is being hailed as a victory by many, it is not yet clear what, if any, impact the scandal will have on broader UK immigration policy.
In particular, questions remain over how the Home Office’s ‘hostile environment’ policy contributed to the situation and whether any changes will be made to prevent similar problems in future. These questions are, of course, particularly significant for citizens from other EU countries worried about how their own legal status may be challenged when the UK leaves the European Union.
Why did Amber Rudd resign as Home Secretary?
Starting in April 2018, there were a growing number of stories of the Home Office threating to deport people who came to the UK from Caribbean countries as children before 1973. Commonly referred to as the Windrush generation (after the ship HMT Empire Windrush that brought some of the first of these migrants to the UK) these people were British citizens at the point where the came to the UK and were granted indefinite leave to remain when their countries of origin became independent from Britain.
The reason many of the Windrush generation began to run into difficulties was that the ‘hostile environment’ policy, first introduced in 2010, meant a much higher standard of evidence was needed by people not born in the UK to prove their right to live and work here.
As the scandal developed, it was revealed that documents held by the Home Office that would have been key to establishing the immigration status of many of those affected were deliberately destroyed around the time the hostile environment policy was rolled out. It was also shown that the Home Office set targets for enforced removals – something the former Home Secretary initially denied.
In her resignation letter, Rudd claimed her decision was due to having “inadvertently misled the Home Affairs Select Committee over targets for removal of illegal immigrants”. She also said the scandal had “rightly shone a light on an important issue for our country”.
What is the ‘hostile environment’ policy for UK immigration?
In 2012, Theresa May, then Home Secretary, said: “The aim is to create, here in Britain, a really hostile environment for illegal immigrants”. So what does this mean in practical terms?
Effectively, people are required to prove their right to live and work in the UK repeatedly, including when starting a new job, renting a home, applying for a driving licence or opening a bank account. For British citizens or permanent residents with a British passport or other clear proof of status, this may be relatively easy, but for others it can be more problematic.
The reason the Windrush generation experienced such difficulties is that, while they were British citizens when they came here, many of them had no documentation to prove this – especially after their landing cards from when they first entered the UK were destroyed by the Home Office.
As a result, many lost their jobs and were unable to secure new work as they could not prove their right to be in the UK. They also faced the prospect of losing their homes, being unable to claim state benefits and, ultimately, removal.
A particular issue was that they were asked to prove they had lived in Britain permanently since 1973, including a requirement to provide evidence of UK residence for every year between then and now – something many were unable to do.
Will the Windrush generation scandal affect UK immigration policy?
While new Home Secretary Sajid Javid has pledged urgent action to help the Windrush Generation, there has been no suggestion yet of a broader change in UK immigration rules. This means the hostile environment policy is likely to remain in place for the foreseeable future, leaving immigrants, as well as businesses, landlords and various organisations with the responsibility to constantly establish people’s right to live and work in the UK at every turn.
This is likely to be of particular concern to citizens of other EU countries living and working in the UK, who may worry that their own legal status will be questioned after the UK leaves the EU in March 2019, as well as to the businesses that employ them. While the UK government has agreed that EU citizens and their families currently living in the UK, or who arrive here before the end of 2020, will be able to stay on the same terms currently on offer, the Windrush scandal certainly raises the question of how EU migrants will be treated after Brexit takes effect.
For help with any business immigration issues, including those related to the UK’s hostile environment policy, please get in touch with Vanessa Ganguin.