What is the Government’s “hostile environment” and how might it affect you?
Over the last 5 years the Government has been explicit about creating a “hostile environment” for people who are in the UK unlawfully.
Who does it affect?
The wording used in the relevant legislation is usually “a person who requires permission to be in the UK and does not have it”. This sounds fairly bland and unexceptional.
However, because of the complexity of the UK’s immigration laws, a person may switch from “legal” to “illegal” quite easily, and possibly without even knowing.
You could be a person who “requires permission to be in the UK but does not have it” if:
- You made a mistake about the end date of your visa or residence permit, and applied late for a new one
- Your visa is curtailed with immediate effect
- You are a non-EEA national and your EEA-national partner walks out on you
- You applied in time for leave to remain but your application was invalid (for example, if your photographs didn’t comply with the Home Office’s guidelines)
What is the Government doing?
The Government has made laws that make life more difficult by:
- Using heavier penalties for illegal working
- Making banks check the immigration status of their customers and close people’s accounts if it looks like they don’t have permission to be in the UK
- Making landlords responsible for checking the immigration status of people living at their properties
- Taking away people’s UK driving licences
- Making hospitals responsible for checking patients’ immigration status, and charging people for treatment if they can’t provide immigration or nationality documents
- Stopping people in the street to question them about their immigration status
Employers, landlords, hospitals and banks are being used by the Government to check people’s immigration status. They usually do this by asking to see a passport and some form of residence documentation (such as a residence permit, or residence card).
What might happen?
In some cases, employers, landlords, hospitals and banks have to make checks with the Home Office or another agency. For example, banks have to check with CIFAS whether their customers are considered to be “disqualified” or not.
By threatening them with fines and criminal charges, the Home Office’s policies encourage employers, landlords, hospitals and banks to err on the side of caution. Sometimes the guidance is more explicit: the guidance for banks is that even if you can produce a valid residence permit, they should still usually close your account if a CIFAS check tells them you are “disqualified”.
Apart from the general unfairness of leaving people without shelter, medical care, work or money, in some cases the checks throw up a false result. For example, a landlord might be told by the Home Office that you have “no right to rent”, and either you do in fact have that right (because you have a valid residence permit), or there is a particular policy that allows you to rent anyway (for example if you have a British child).
European nationals are increasingly concerned that the Government’s failure to guarantee their rights after Brexit means that zealous employers and service-providers are already erring on the side of caution by demanding residence documents.
If you have been affected by the hostile environment policy, you can contact me for further advice.