Taxi drivers and the Immigration Act 2016: earning a living in the hostile environment

A new feature of the “hostile environment” was brought to my attention today, by a taxi driver trying to renew his licence.

Having held indefinite leave to remain since the 1990s, he has a sticker to confirm the fact in the passport he held at the time. In order to travel, he carries his current passport and a fat stack of all his previous passports, to prove his permission to re-enter the UK. My Australian father-in-law used to do the same, and it was often a point of (friendly) interest at the immigration desk.

I wrote last year about changes to the “right to work” regime applied to employers, which meant that ILR stickers are now only an acceptable defence to a civil penalty if they appear in a “current valid” passport. The effect of the change is to force people to apply for a biometric residence permit, which is acceptable to employers. The fee for such an application is currently £308. When I wrote my last article the focus of my concern was people changing jobs, and young people entering the workforce for the first time.

From 1 December 2016 Schedule 5 of the Immigration Act 2016 has made changes to the various laws that govern the issue of licences to taxi drivers. These now require the bodies that issue licences (usually local councils) to be “satisfied” that a person is not disqualified from work by reason of their immigration status. In satisfying themselves in this way, a council must “have regard to” guidance published by the Home Office on 1 December 2016. The guidance refers to the same lists of documents provided to employers as acceptable proofs of a person’s right to work.

The effect of the change in the law hits anyone applying to renew their hackney carriage or private hire vehicle licence after 1 December, regardless of how long they have previously held such a licence, or what proof they have previously provided of their right to work. They now have a short period of time to apply for a biometric residence permit. The most recent evidence I can find suggests that it takes 3 months for a postal application to be concluded. This leaves most self-employed drivers with a serious gap in their earnings. The alternative is to pay an extra £500 for a “premium” application, made in person and usually leading to a BRP being delivered within 2 weeks.

A high price to pay after spending most of your life living, working, and paying taxes in the UK.

The rules do differ from the law in relation to employment in that the documentary requirements are set out only in terms of a council’s duty to “satisfy” themselves. “Having regard” to Home Office guidance is not the same as being required to follow it slavishly. I would be interested in what others think about possible grounds for judicial review in cases where a person’s livelihood is damaged by the over-enthusiastic implementation of the policy. However, I suspect that most people affected by this move will be more concerned with getting their BRP quickly and going back to normal, than in paying more money to take legal action against their local council.

That is the “hostile environment” in action.

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