Amnesty for Undocumented Migrants Debate

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Department: Home Office

Amnesty for Undocumented Migrants

Ruth Cadbury Excerpts
Monday 19th July 2021

(3 months ago)

Westminster Hall

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Home Office
Stewart Hosie Portrait Stewart Hosie (in the Chair)
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Order. Again, I am sorry, but the sound is not working. We will have one of the engineers get in touch and we will come back to you. I call Ruth Cadbury.

Ruth Cadbury Portrait Ruth Cadbury (Brentford and Isleworth) (Lab)
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Thank you, Mr Hosie. I think this is the first time I have served with you in the Chair—it is a great pleasure to do so.

The e-petition on undocumented migrants has been signed by over 900 of my constituents. It notes that:

“Undocumented Migrants are suffering in silence, with no access to adequate Financial support, or any help.”

I know from my casework and from listening to hon. Members’ speeches so far that, sadly, that assessment is far too accurate. Not only are they suffering in silence; their suffering is made worse by the careless, heartless and reckless Home Office, which continues to inflict a hostile environment on so many. They face long delays, irrational and inconsistent decisions, and inadequate legal support, especially for those with low or no income. Many of the people affected are victims of modern slavery. They are adults who came over as small children, or children joining the only family members they know are alive in this world.

The petition says that these people want to be able to

“live their lives as normal human beings and pay tax to help the UK economy”,

and we know that migrants who have legal status and are taxpayers are more likely to be net contributors to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs than the average person in our population. I am not saying that I agree with all the wording of the petition, but it is really important that it is debated today.

As the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants makes clear in its recent survey, 82% of people in the UK who are undocumented arrived through a legal route, so I will start by addressing the extortionate and unfair immigration fees that impact not only those who are undocumented, but all those who have to navigate our immigration system here in the UK. People accept the concept of paying a fee to cover the cost of the service, but it is simply unfair for the Home Office to charge excessive fees that go well beyond the cost of providing the service. The fees are disproportionate compared with those of other countries: the average cost of a regularisation application in France, Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands and Germany is less than a tenth of its cost in the UK, and the cost of applying for permanent settlement in the UK is 20 times more than the average cost in those countries.

The Government keep increasing those fees. In 2014, the cost of a limited leave to remain application was £601; it has now risen to over £1,000 per person. For many applicants, that cost is multiplied by the number of people in their family. I know from listening to people locally that the costs are having a huge impact, and the JCWI rightly cites the high cost of fees as a major reason why people remain undocumented. These fees leave families in limbo, with the JCWI noting:

“Families who are unable to raise thousands of pounds every few years are at risk of losing their status and becoming undocumented, or forced to choose which family members maintain their status while others cannot.”

However, this debate is not just about fees, but about a wider system that is set up to create a hostile environment for undocumented migrants. We hear a lot of warm words from the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary and junior Ministers about the Home Office’s change since the appalling Windrush scandal, but the hostile environment that the Windrush generation faced is still impacting so many people here in the UK, and the net number of people it ensnares only seems to be expanding.

Just this morning, we read in The Guardian of a Spanish woman who was less than a year old when she arrived in the UK. She has been sacked from her job in a care home because she is unable to prove she has a right to work in the UK. She applied for settled status before the deadline for EU citizens closed, but she is still waiting, and her employer has said that it was forced into this action because of the fines it faced. Of course, she will not be eligible to claim benefits until this is sorted out. This is yet another example of the awful hostile environment—a hostile environment that I fear is now going to impact on the millions of EU citizens living in the UK, including many in my own constituency.

I will finish by focusing on the real impact that these decisions and actions by the Home Office have. It is easy for us to become focused on numbers, but every number is a story of a family pushed into hardship, unable to pay bills or to cover the cost of food, and left in limbo. Many of these migrants have children who are UK citizens. We know that undocumented migrants experience domestic violence at three times the average national rate, yet the Government recently rejected an amendment to the Domestic Abuse Bill that would have sought to provide support to migrant women suffering from abuse. Once again, the Government’s rhetoric does not match the reality. This Government cannot claim to be compassionate or just until they end the hostile environment faced by my constituents and many others around the country.

Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi Portrait Mr Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi (Slough) (Lab)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie, and I congratulate the well over 100,000 people who signed the petition to secure this important debate. Indeed, many of my constituents have contacted me to raise their concerns, and more than 2,100 of them have signed this official petition.

In essence, those people are saying that they reject the Home Office’s hostile environment, and that what we need is a fair, transparent system that provides a safe harbour for those fleeing war, genocide, domestic abuse, violence and other forms of persecution—a system that has at its heart our true British values of compassion, justice and humanitarianism. They highlight that the UK system of asylum and immigration is mired in crisis. Although I am not advocating a policy of open borders, we do need a fair, rules-based asylum and immigration policy.

A recent report makes for grim reading. The Joint Committee for the Welfare of Immigrants published a report called “We Are Here” just a few weeks ago. I am sure the Minister has read it. The report looks at the routes by which people become undocumented. Often a small error, a period of illness, bad advice or mental problems can lead to someone becoming undocumented and entering a Kafkaesque nightmare of impossible bureaucracy, social exclusion and exposure to the criminal underworld. These are people who are bewildered, disoriented and traumatised and who often suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, and the system makes things worse for them.

We know that people without access to benefits and work are coerced into criminal activity or forced into dangerous work, but the pandemic has highlighted that, shamefully, undocumented migrants are also denied access to basic healthcare. The JCWI reports that they are scarred by the whole experience and are scared of seeing a GP, going to hospital or getting a covid vaccination, for sheer fear of arrest. I do not need to tell the Minister that this creates a danger to public health for everyone. There is obviously a huge unmet need for vaccinations. Is it not clear that the only people who the current system helps are criminals? We are fuelling exploitation and rewarding organised crime groups and people traffickers.

The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants has set out a series of entirely sensible policies: namely, new and simplified routes to status based on five years’ residence; British citizenship for children born in the UK; making visa renewals automatic and affordable; and scrapping the illegal working offence and creating a route to status through work.

What have the Prime Minister and his Conservative Government proposed instead? It is hypocrisy, back-tracking and hostility. The Prime Minister himself advocated the creation of a migrants’ amnesty when he was the London Mayor in 2008. In 2016, as Foreign Secretary, he called measures to give amnesty to undocumented migrants who had lived in the UK for longer than 10 years “economically rational”, but after raising so many people’s hopes, and when he has the opportunity as Prime Minister to make a real difference and ensure that it is easier and simpler for those who are undocumented to become regularised, he has done nothing for the last two years. It is just not fair for those who could make a huge positive contribution through taxes to our Exchequer, and who have to suffer excessive Home Office fees, as hon. Members have already highlighted, to have their hopes falsely raised and then cruelly dashed.

I hope the Minister will have the confidence to deviate from the notes prepared by Home Office officials and to engage with those points with the seriousness that they merit. He can end the uncertainty, which has devastating consequences for the lives it affects. Undocumented migrants who have been here for several years deserve clarity.