Why is this important?
There have been seven immigration bills in the last eight years. Theresa May has made 45,000 changes to the Immigration Rules since she came into office. Appeal rights have been removed, legal aid denied, asylum support slashed and families torn apart.
The Immigration Act 2016 received Royal Assent on 12 May 2016.
Liberty campaigned against many of the Act’s most offensive provisions and also pushed for the legislation to be used as a vehicle for positive change.
Below is a summary of the outcomes in four of the hardest fought battles.
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Unaccompanied refugee children in Europe
An amendment to provide sanctuary to 3,000 unaccompanied children in European countries, as introduced by Labour Peer Lord Dubs, was rejected by a small margin in the House of Commons.
This caused national uproar and new amendment was taken up. It urged the Government to implement a scheme, following consultation with local authorities, to provide sanctuary to child refugees on this country’s doorstep. The amendment received overwhelming support in both Houses.
The Government is now consulting with local authorities and more details of the scheme are expected later in the year.
Pregnant women in immigration detention
Prior to this Bill, there was no time limit on detaining pregnant women. A limit of 72 hours (and up to a week in ‘exceptional circumstances’) has now been introduced.
This is a step in the right direction, but Liberty remains resolute in calling for an absolute ban on the incarceration of pregnant women, and a 28 day limit on all immigration detention.
Overseas Domestic Workers
Overseas Domestic Workers (ODWs) have, since 2012, been denied a universal right to change employer– leaving them vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.
Whilst the Government has introduced limited and conditional routes to change employer, it refuses to introduce a meaningful and universal model, ignoring the advice of expert reviewer, James Ewins QC.
During the passage of the Bill, the Immigration Minister announced that individuals who enter the National Referral Mechanism for victims of trafficking can continue to work whilst their referral is considered. This does not address long-standing concerns with the fairness and reliability of the NRM system nor does it provide a practical route into alternative employment.
A worker who cannot tell an employer how long they will be available for work is highly unlikely, in practice, to be able to access safe, alternative employment.
ODWs are still lacking the protection which would be brought by a universal and easily accessible right to change employer.
Asylum seekers waiting for their claim to be processed
Currently, only those waiting 12 months for their claim to be determined can access employment and even then, they are limited to work on the restrictive Shortage Occupation List. This leaves many asylum seekers waiting and forced to rely on paltry and diminishing Government handouts amounting to roughly £5 a day.
An amendment to reduce the waiting time to six months passed with a large majority in the House of Lords, but was defeated in the Commons. A later version proposing a 9 month threshold was defeated in a second vote after withdrawal of support by the Labour frontbench.
It was extremely disappointing to see both the Government and the main Opposition party fail to pursue a simple and practical measure which would bring dignity for asylum seekers and economic benefits for the UK.