June 17, 2024

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Employers expected to act as immigration enforcement after Brexit

Maddie Grounds writes as a political correspondent for the Immigration Advice Service, an organisation of immigration solicitors which provides free legal advice and application support to asylum-seekers.

One year since the Windrush scandal and the remnants of the Home Office’s catastrophic mistakes continue to leave their mark on Britain’s immigration policies. After British citizens were arrested, held in detention centres and even deported, Home Secretary Sajid Javid vowed that scandals like these must never happen again. Yet, actions speak louder than words and Javid’s pledge to disown May’s ‘hostile environment’ fails to tackle current policies that divide, devalue and discriminate against Black Asian Minority Ethnic (BAME) individuals and migrants. The UK’s Right to Rent and Right to Work schemes are among the most unjust as the Government expects employers and landlords to act as supplementary immigration officers.

Introduced in 2016, the Home Office’s Right to Rent scheme dictates landlords to conduct a ‘background check’ on every new tenant. Failure to check could result in a fine or even imprisonment, meaning that many landlords are reluctant to rent to applicants who do not permanently live in the UK. Figures by the Residents Landlords Association (RLA) revealed that 53% of 2500 landlords were hesitant to rent to applicants on a time-sensitive visa whilst 20% of them claimed they would not rent to EEA national at all.

In fear of renting to undocumented migrants, landlords unwillingly discriminate by choosing to rent their properties to those with a valid British passport. However, a high majority of UK-born residents do not own a passport since many cannot afford the high fee it costs to apply for British Citizenship. Besides, many migrants who reside in the UK have the right to live in the UK, including asylum-seekers. Yet despite the High Court recently ruling the scheme to breach human rights laws on the basis of its discriminatory nature, the Home Office expects employers to carry out enhanced Right to Work checks on future EEA employees in post-Brexit Britain.

The Government’s skills-based immigration plan that is scheduled to come into effect by 2021 instructs employers to keep data on all EU, EEA and Swiss staff members – or else face a £20,000 fine or five years in prison.

Aside from inspiring yet another bout of discriminatory methods, such checks on staff could easily become an administrative and costly nightmare when all future EU recruits need to be monitored. The wider impact of this scheme involves employers turning away genuine and highly-skilled migrants which in turn inspires skills gaps and exacerbated vacancies. To add to their concerns, each new recruit will also have to be accounted for in any business’ budget: recruiting EU staff in post-Brexit Britain means firms will need to fill – and pay the hefty fee – for a Sponsor Licence application to legally hire them – or again face inordinate sanctions.

Amid all the Brexit uncertainty, there are plenty of circumstances in which innocent employers could innocently fall foul of the law. Obtaining a visa does not automatically grant an applicant the Right to Work, and future EU rules such as the European Temporary Leave to Remain status – a status that is granted to EU nationals in the event of a no deal Brexit for a period of just 36 months – could result in workers falling through the cracks on the immigration register in which the employer faces the blame.

Neither of the plans have proved to curb immigration anyway, as Judge Martin Spencer remarked on the Right to Rent policy in court. However, this only begs the question, why are such schemes necessary? If an applicant has satisfied immigration control and the Home Office’s high visa criteria, why does their life hang in the balance of untrained border police, landlords and employers?

The Government’s allowance to enforce such discriminatory practices like these have led to intense backlash, with many advocating the immediate scrapping of both and the prohibition of its proposed introduction in Scotland and Wales. For now, however, it is advised at least that businesses and firms familiarise themselves with the proposed immigration system, or risk accidentally breaking the law.