Post by Ana Aliverti, Assistant Professor at the School of Law, University of Warwick. Ana's research work looks at the intersections between criminal law and criminal justice, on the one hand, and border regimes, on the other, and explores the impact of such intertwining on the national criminal justice institutions and on those subject to the resulting set of controls.

One year after the Immigration Act 2014 received Royal Assent last May, the newly elected Conservative government announced its plan to put forward a new immigration bill through Parliament. In the new Parliament, the Conservative government enjoys a full majority and thus is less obliged to compromise on this electorally crucial policy area. Along with three other related bills introduced in this Parliament―the Foreign National Offenders (Exclusion from the UK) Bill 2015-16, the Illegal Immigrants (Criminal Sanctions) Bill 2015-16, and the UK Borders Control Bill 2015-16―the Immigration Bill focuses on combating illegal working and blocking access to services for those without regular migration status. In keeping to the government’s pledge to make the UK ‘a hostile environment for illegal immigration,’ the Bill creates a range of new criminal offences and bestows immigration officers with yet new investigation powers. The main changes proposed are outlined below:

  • Illegal working: The Bill proposes the creation of a new offence of illegal working. While the Immigration Act 1971 made it an offence for people with limited leave to engage in employment in breach of the conditions attached to it (s 24, b), the new provision criminalises employment by people without leave or whose leave is invalid, has ceased, or prevents them from doing work of a certain kind. It also modifies the criminal offence of ‘employing an illegal worker,’ in the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2006 Act, which requires the employer to know that the employee is not allowed to work. The proposed change will make it easier to establish employers’ liability by merely requiring proof that she or he has ‘reasonable cause to believe’ that the individual was disqualified from working. Employers may also have their premises temporarily shut down and their licenses revoked if caught in contravention of immigration laws.
     
  • Access to services: The Bill proposes the criminalisation of landlords and agents who house people with irregular migration status. While the controversial civil penalty regime against landlords introduced by the 2014 Act is still being piloted in the West Midlands to test its feasibility, the new Bill hardens this regulatory scheme by subjecting landlords and agents to a maximum of five years imprisonment for any contravention to the scheme, including post-grant contraventions, upon proof that they knew or had reasonable cause to believe that the tenant was an adult disqualified from renting. Landlords are also empowered to evict tenants after being notified that they are disqualified. A harder line is also adopted on other providers of services. Banks and building societies are not only required to deny access to new accounts to illegal migrants, as stated in the 2014 Act, they may also be obliged to report any illegal migrant holding an existing bank account to the Secretary of State. The Bill also introduces a new offence of ‘driving whilst an illegal immigrant.’ Driving enforcement has been strategically used by the police in the US as a tool to detect, arrest, prosecute, and/or remove people without regular status. Immigration and police officers are also empowered to enter premises and to search for driving licenses, in a bid to take driving licenses held by ‘undocumented’ migrants out of circulation and halt their movements. Mirroring developments in the US, the new powers proposed in the Bill will enhance traffic enforcement for the purposes of inland immigration policing.

In addition to criminalising these activities, the Bill proposes changes to the appeal system (extending the ‘deport first, appeal later’ principles introduced in the 2014 Act to all human rights appeals), the asylum support system (people who had their asylum application rejected and are destitute may no longer be eligible for support), and immigration bail (giving the Secretary of State the ability to impose electronic monitoring on foreign national ‘offenders’ who were granted bail by the First-tier Tribunal, the immigration court). The Bill also introduces civil sanctions for carriers who allow passengers to disembark outside immigration control areas, and gives immigration officers extraterritorial maritime enforcement powers to tackle ‘people smuggling’ and prevent facilitators and their ‘clients’ from reaching British soil. If enacted, the Bill will require employers who hire non-EU workers to disburse an extra sum, the ‘immigration skills charge,’ in a bid to discourage businesses from resorting to foreign workers. Lastly, the Bill proposes a compulsory English language requirement for customer-facing employees working in the public sector, including apprentices, contract and agency workers, and members of the armed forces. Ability to speak English fluently is already a de facto condition for getting a job in this country. By adding a formal requirement to communicate in English, the government expects to reduce the pool of non-English speaking migrants eligible for certain public sector jobs while ‘promoting integration and British values in the United Kingdom.’

The Immigration Bill 2015 was given its first reading on 17 September before the House of Commons. The second reading, when substantial scrutiny of the Bill will take place, is scheduled for 13 October. Border Criminologies will follow parliamentary debates in both Houses. The changed political landscape and new balance of power following the last general election and the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader will shape debates over the Bill. Ahead of the EU referendum and against the backdrop of the humanitarian crisis that has shaken up Europe, the proposed new law and the outcomes of parliamentary debates surrounding it will set the tone of the newly elected Tory government in this area. An all too familiar strategy, the Bill promises more and ever tougher enforcement measures and restrictions. In the face of rampant global social inequalities and political turmoil in various regions of the world, mass migration is set to escalate further. For how long and at what human costs the myth of the sovereign state can be sustained remains to be seen. 

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How to cite this blog post (Harvard style)

Aliverti, A. (2015) New Government, New Immigration Bill. Available at: https://www.law.ox.ac.uk/research-subject-groups/centre-criminology/centreborder-criminologies/blog/2015/09/new-government (Accessed [date]).