Consular Special Report Embassy 53
Home Office reaches out to consuls
The Home Office has assigned leaders to liaise with specific countries in a new approach to improve international cooperation in the priority areas of counter-terrorism, immigration and crime, the Director General of Immigration Policy Mike Anderson told a recent gathering of consuls.
Anderson said it made sense for the Home Office “to reach out” to foreign partners, and was in the process of “mapping” priority countries where better cooperation was needed to combat threats.
“The Home Office is appointing leaders for each of the key countries to try for a more coherent approach to common problems,” said Anderson.
The announcement was greeted as a breakthrough by London’s consuls who have long campaigned for a ‘desk officer’ system similar to the Foreign Office where consuls have a point of contact at the Home Office with whom they can share information.
Anderson outlined the main areas where the Home Office was seeking more cooperation. On counter-terrorism, he said radicalised foreign fighters, numbering more than 500 in Syria and Iraq, were the main threat to the UK and the Home Office was keen to work more closely with EU countries and the US who face similar problems, as well as neighbours in the region, including Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.
In the area of organised crime, getting the Modern Slavery Bill through parliament would be a focus, he said: “The Home Secretary is keen to push a massive international effort against the trafficking of people and that will form a major part of the new National Crime Agency.”
In his own policy area of immigration, Anderson said measures in the new Immigration Act were designed to create a “hostile environment” for immigrants who abuse the system.
Immigration controls for non-EEA students, families and workers would become stricter. Universities and colleges could expect snap inspections and those that failed to do proper checks on students would have their licences suspended. Businesses employing illegals faced bigger fines and landlords and banks would be required to check the immigration status of their foreign customers. An NHS health levy would be charged to those visiting the UK for more than six months.
Life would get tougher for EU migrants in the area of benefits, he added: migrants will have to wait longer to claim benefits (three months) and they will lose their entitlement to claim benefits after three months (down from six months).
The Government also planned to crack down on what is estimated to be 50,000 sham marriages annually. “Some of these could translate into consular cases,” Anderson warned.
With 10,600 foreign national prisoners in the UK, their efficient removal was another priority area for Government, said Mr Anderson. The Home Office would be seeking the assistance of consuls to provide travel documents and was keen to enter into more voluntary or compulsory prisoner transfer agreements so that FNOs could serve their sentences in their home countries.
The introduction of exit checks would also help immigration enforcement officers track down overstayers and give the Home Office a better idea of the number of illegal immigrants in the country.
With immigration eclipsing the economy as a concern for voters in the forthcoming 2015 elections, Anderson warned consuls to expect tough rhetoric from all parties: “It’s going to get tougher and the noise is going to get louder,” he said.