Anne McLaughlin (Glasgow North East) (SNP)
It is an absolute joy to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie, even though we are not speaking about anything particularly joyous today.
I have just come from the House of Commons Chamber where right this minute, as we debate the suffering of undocumented migrants on these islands, the Nationality and Borders Bill is getting its Second Reading. It is a horrible piece of legislation that will discriminate against those who, according to the refugee convention, to which we are signatories, enter the UK legally but by boat. It will give preferential treatment to those who have been fortunate enough to be able to use the very few safe and legal routes.
The debate today is about undocumented migrants, stuck in legal limbo and trying to find a route to resettlement. What we are hearing is that even when migrants use those safe and legal routes, the state often continues to neglect, to discriminate and to punish, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation. A number of Scottish National party colleagues and I supported an early-day motion tabled by the hon. Member for Streatham (Bell Ribeiro-Addy) on the regularisation of undocumented migrants in May this year and many of my colleagues have spoken regularly about this issues.
As others and I have said, there can be numerous reasons why someone is undocumented. They might not be able to get legal advice or life might have got in the way, for example through a bereavement or an illness, theirs or that of someone close to them. They might make minor mistakes on their application. A friend of mine sent a copy of her wedding certificate instead of the original. Yes, it was her mistake but, instead of allowing her to rectify it, she had to go through the entire palaver again, including paying the fee again.
As several hon. Members have said, another big reason is that many are simply unable to pay the extortionate application fees, as mentioned by the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Ruth Cadbury). It is also worth noting that some hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Rushanara Ali), spoke about people being trafficked to these islands.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald) has spoken repeatedly about the costs for children registering their right to British citizenship. Most people would be surprised to hear that children born here are not automatically citizens. Indeed, they used to be, but that was repealed by the British Nationality Act 1981, which came into force in 1983. At least in 1983, a fee of just £30—that is equivalent to £100 today—was charged to register a child as a British citizen. That really raises the question about why the Home Office currently charges more than £1,000 for a migrant child, or even a child born here of migrants, to register. I appreciate that that is under review at the moment, but only because the courts are forcing the Government to look again.
I want to share the story of Paul—that is not his real name, of course—who is a constituent of mine from Nigeria. He was on minimum wage, so he was just getting by and no more, but he was doing a really good job of keeping a roof over his son’s head, and making sure that he was healthy and educated—all the things a good dad would do. He realised that his leave to remain was due to be renewed or considered, so he went to apply, only to discover that the cost was more than £2,000, which would have required him to save up £1,000 for every year of his leave to remain. That is just not possible on the minimum wage.
Paul’s leave to remain then expired, so he became an undocumented migrant, but he was doing nothing wrong. His employer had to let him go because he did not have the right to work. He had no recourse to public funds—I completely agree with what the right hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) said about that—leaving him with no food, no electricity and rising rent arrears. He did not know what to do. He had no choice but to send his son to live with his mum.
By the time I met Paul, he was in a terrible state. He had been unable to face responding to the letters from his housing association, which was ready to evict him. When I contacted those at Spire View Housing Association, they could not have been more helpful. Reassured by the fact that I had had a meeting with the Minister to plead Paul’s case, they agreed to pause proceedings, and they then gave him money to get food and electricity. I really thank them for that, but it was all so unnecessary, as we have heard many times in the debate.
Here is the other problem: Paul got two and a half years’ leave to remain after the fee was waived. The first year of that was spent in lockdown, so understandably, he is still unemployed. In around a year’s time, he will again have to apply for an extension, and he will have to find another £2,500 or hope that the fees will be waived, but there is certainly no guarantee that they will be. If they are not, he will yet again be an undocumented migrant. With the best will in the world, if he gets another minimum wage job, it will not be possible for him to pay back his rent arrears, which have been clocked up through no fault of his own, and save that amount of money.
Paul’s was the first case that I took to the Minister, who sorted it out, to his credit. I thank him for that, but we cannot keep going to the Minister with every single case. That said, I will take this opportunity to highlight the case of another constituent, who contacted me at the weekend to say that because of an error, the fee for his wife’s spousal visa had been taken twice. He was told by the Home Office in November that it would be refunded within six weeks. He is still waiting. Last week, he was told for the umpteenth time that it would be with him in six weeks. To add insult to injury, each phone call he makes costs him £5 because of the 65p a minute charge. He really needs that £2,000. The Home Office agrees that it owes it to him, and I hope that when the Minister responds, he will offer to look into this urgently, as he did with Paul.
I can see you looking at me, Mr Hosie, so I will sum up. I urge the hon. Member for Ipswich (Tom Hunt)—I went on holiday to Ipswich last year—to read what the Prime Minister actually said about the notion of an amnesty for undocumented migrants. As welcome as some form of amnesty would be for those who are currently battling for the right to remain, the system as a whole needs reform. The hostile environment is alive and kicking. After an amnesty, we would bear witness to a whole new generation of migrants being subjected to this endless cycle.
Let us reform the whole system root and branch, and save ourselves and them all this unnecessary grief. Otherwise, as the hon. Member for Luton North (Sarah Owen) asked, what have we become?