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Consular Special Report – Embassy 50

Home Office gets tough on migrants

The Home Office is set to introduce tough new measures to create a “hostile environment” for illegal immigrants in Britain, a senior Home Office official told consuls at a recent Consular Corps meeting.

David Wood, who heads up Immigration Enforcement at the Home Office, said a new Interventions and Sanctions Directorate had been established “to make conditions difficult” for the estimated 600,000 irregular migrants in the UK.

Every year around 4,500 foreign national prisoners and non-compliant illegal immigrants are deported, while a further 45,000 are removed, mostly voluntarily. But with net migration at 182,000, the Home Office will be under increasing political pressure in the run-up to the General Election to bring the numbers down to the Government’s target of “tens of thousands” he added.

Under the new system landlords and banks will be required to confirm the immigration status of foreign nationals before renting a property or opening a bank account. Employers already have to check whether their employees have the right to work in the UK and fines for businesses employing illegal migrants will double to £20,000 per illegal migrant.

Illegals will no longer be able to obtain a driver’s licence, there will be a health service surcharge for short-term migrants and exit checks will be re-introduced to help keep track of overstayers.

To clamp down on sham marriages, the Home Office will be informed automatically if non-EEA citizens intend to marry an EU national so that Immigration Enforcement Teams can check whether the partnership is genuine.

Consuls fear for safety of citizens
But consuls raised fears that these tough measures could create an anti-immigrant sentiment that may put their citizens at risk. Pointing to recent revelations that an 84-year-old Canadian citizen with Alzheimer’s had died in handcuffs while in detention at a removal centre, consuls sought assurances from Mr Wood that their foreign nationals would be “treated properly”.

Mr Wood said he had been “shocked to the core” by the incident which had involved staff from an outsourced security company. “We are taking action. Our service providers are expected to treat people with dignity and respect and this fell well below our high standards.”

There are at present around 4,000 foreign nationals housed in 11 immigration removal centres around the UK. But with around 80-90,000 arrests in London alone involving foreign nationals (around 30 per cent of the total), keeping track of foreign national offenders is a challenge both for the Home Office and consuls.

Under an initiative called Operation Nexus immigration enforcement officers are now based at police stations in London to check on the immigration status of foreign nationals that are arrested so that the prison system is aware of their foreign nationality and they can be deported once they have served their sentence.

Appeal for intelligence
To speed up removals, new reforms will make it harder to delay deportation, added Mr Wood. The number of grounds on which migrants can lodge an appeal has been reduced from 17 to four. Bail rights have been restricted to one application every 28 days and the use of Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights – commonly known as the right to a family life – will only apply in very exceptional circumstances.

Mr Wood appealed to consuls to assist the Home Office in expediting removals of foreign nationals by providing travel documents for returning citizens.

He also urged consuls to come forward with information that may assist his Immigration Crime Teams in clamping down on organised immigration crime, such as people trafficking operations, exploitation and sham marriages.

He assured consuls that their citizens who had been exploited by traffickers would be treated as victims not criminals.

If consuls believe their citizens are involved in or are victims of organised immigration crime or would like to report a suspected sham marriage, contact IGIntelligence@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk

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