Immigration Bill

Written evidence from Migration Watch UK (IB 01)

1. Migration Watch is an independent think tank, founded in 2001, which specialises in UK migration policy. In 2010 we estimated the number of illegal immigrants at 1.1 million. Some will since have been granted leave to remain while others will have arrived and overstayed. Accordingly, we believe that one million remains a reasonable estimate.


2. This Bill marks the start of an entirely new phase of government policy. The changes to the immigration rules that apply to the three main legal routes into the country - students, economic migrants and family - are now largely complete. Their impact on net migration will steadily become apparent.

3. This second phase is essentially addressed to those illegally in the UK either because they arrived clandestinely or, more often, because they have overstayed their visa.

4. It is important to be clear that illegal immigration is damaging to society. Not only are they themselves often mistreated but they frequently undercut the wages of British workers. They also enable unscrupulous employers to compete unfairly with honest employers who offer decent pay and conditions. And, of course, they add to the pressures on public services. Beyond that, an effective system of detection and removal is fundamental to the credibility of the entire immigration system.

5. The number of people forcibly removed from the UK over the last nine years has averaged just over 9,000 per year (excluding the removal of failed asylum seekers). The Opposition make much of a decline of a couple of thousand in removals in recent years but that is a relatively minor point. There is no question that the rate of removal has long been extremely low - especially compared to the scale of visitors to the UK: 1.5 million visitor visas and 1.63 million business visitor visas were issued in 2012. It only takes one percent of visitors to stay on illegally for our capacity to remove illegal migrants to be overwhelmed. This is to say nothing of the tens of thousands of those entering as students who we believe are overstaying.

6. It follows that the best way forward is to deter migrants from overstaying in the first place: that is the broad purpose of this Bill.

7. Much has been made of the e-borders system which remains some years from completion. However, even when e-borders is implemented there are bound to be some gaps in coverage, such as minor ports. Furthermore, e-borders will not help greatly with removal since the system will only indicate those who have overstayed; it will not help in locating them. The main impact will be to dramatically underline the scale of overstaying and add to already high levels of public concern.

8. That makes it still more important to put measures in place, and soon, to deter and thus reduce the numbers who overstay their visas.

Proposals in the Bill

Section 1

9. Since removal is currently covered by 8 different Acts of Parliament we agree that it should be simplified. It should not be possible to frustrate the removals process at the 11th hour once the appeals process has been exhausted.

Section 2

10. We welcome the reduction in the number of grounds for appeal for the reasons described by the government. We also agree that most appeals in respect of criminals should be held after removal unless there is a protection issue. The appeals process can currently be used simply to frustrate the removal process in cases that have no prospect of success.

11. Clarification of ‘public interest’ in cases of Article 8 is also welcome since the right to a family life has not always been sufficiently weighed against the public interest. The introduction of ‘the maintenance of effective immigration controls’ as part of the public interest consideration is particularly welcome.

Section 3

12. The present ease with which illegal immigrants can find accommodation is a clear incentive to overstay. Action should first be focussed on "beds in sheds" which are a blight on some communities. The requirement that Landlords check the status of potential occupants is similar to the current requirement placed on employers to check the status of those that they employ and should, therefore, be feasible but clear Home Office guidance to landlords will be essential.

13. The proposal for a migrant health levy is a first step but it falls far short of what is required. It will not affect the present position whereby anyone who sets foot in Britain is immediately eligible for free primary care. Worse, the "gate keeping" at hospitals is extremely weak; few questions are asked if a patient is referred by a GP and GPs are, understandably, unwilling to adjudicate on eligibility; indeed a GP now has no right to refuse a request for registration unless his list is already full. Accordingly, we have long suggested that joint HO-DH offices be set up to check the eligibility of new patients before they can register with a GP. This would not affect the commitment of the NHS to treat all those in need of emergency care nor need it restrict access to STD clinics since they reduce the risk of transmission.

14. We support the proposals on bank accounts. An individual’s ability to live in the UK despite being illegal is no doubt greatly helped by the availability of a bank account and thus such services should be withdrawn. Banks are already required to check applicants for current accounts against fraud lists so these proposals place little extra burden on them.

15. On driving licences, this is an entirely reasonable proposal which we fully support.

Section 4

16. On Marriages/Civil Partnerships it is essential that the government make changes to allow registrars to voice any suspicion over the legitimacy of marriages and civil partnerships allowing time for investigation. It should not be forgotten that those who succeed gain automatic access to a wide range of benefits.

October 2013

Prepared 30th October 2013