Applications by EU migrants for British citizenship have soared due to the uncertainty caused by the upcoming referendum on the UK’s EU membership, a leading immigration expert told consuls.
Speaking at a Consular Corps meeting Alison Harvey, of the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association, said Home Office officials had noted a surge in applications for British passports. Home Office figures, obtained through a Freedom of Information request, show that the number of EU migrants applying for British citizenship rose 30 per cent in the last quarter of 2015, from 4179 in the third quarter of last year to 5425.
EU Consuls also reported to Embassy anecdotal evidence of British citizens inquiring about the possibility of dual nationality.
“There is huge uncertainty and anxiety surrounding this issue, so those who are entitled to a British passport are getting one,” said Harvey, adding: “Nobody knows what transitional arrangements will be made for EU migrants should the UK vote to leave the EU and whether they will be treated in the same way as other third country nationals.”
The rush for citizenship is not surprising, said Harvey, given the hostile environment migrants face in the UK, which is likely to get tougher once the Immigration Bill becomes law.
The new Bill seeks to criminalise infringements of immigration rules, such as renting a property to an illegal immigrant. Landlord checks came into force in February and Harvey warned that this could potentially lead to discrimination as risk averse landlords would be hesitant to rent their properties, even to legal migrants who may then be at the mercy of unscrupulous landlords.
It will also be a criminal offence for irregular migrants to have a driver’s licence or bank account.
Enhanced search and seizure powers contained in the Bill and the sharing of data between various authorities that accompanies those powers was also something to be monitored carefully, Harvey added.
There is also concern that the extension of the ‘deport first appeal later’ policy for foreign national prisoners to all irregular migrants would tear families apart.
Time limits on detention
However, Harvey said the new Bill was also an opportunity to address some of the more pernicious features of the current system, notably the indefinite detention of deportees in immigration removal centres.
Consuls, whose nationals have been held in IRCs for extended periods, are very critical of this policy and would welcome time limits.
The Government was defeated in a recent Immigration Bill debate in the House of Lords. Peers voted 187-170 that detention must be limited to 28 days, saying indefinite detention had a negative effect on the detainees’ mental health. The UK is the only country in Europe not to put time limits on immigration detention.
“We are addicted to detention in the UK,” said Harvey. “We lock up more immigration detainees than any other country. It has become a habit and we have to kick it.”
The Home Office maintains that detention was necessary to ensure that those with no right to remain in the UK were returned to their home country if they have refused to leave voluntarily.
However, following a critical report into conditions faced by immigration detainees by the former prisons and probation ombudsman, Stephen Shaw, the Home Office will be introducing three key reforms.
These include a new “adult at risk” concept into decision making on immigration detention; publishing a mental health action plan; and implementing a new approach to the case management of all those detained.