Lessons must be learned from the Windrush scandal - Marcia Longdon writes for The Law Society Gazette

27 March 2019

Let’s not forget. Windrush was the greatest catastrophe in UK immigration history.

A year on, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) published its report into what went wrong. The report is forthright in its condemnation of the Home Office, which came under fire for failing 'to protect people’s legal rights to live, work and access services and benefits in the UK'. It is vital we learn the lessons from this debacle.

The PAC singles out the Home Office’s zero-tolerance immigration policy as playing a part in the scandal. Without doubt, the Immigration Acts of 2014 and 2016 created an environment deliberately intended to be hostile to immigrants. Under the Immigration Act 2014 landlords and employers were effectively turned into local immigration enforcement officers. The results have been calamitous - the High Court recently found that the 'right to rent' scheme has led to landlords discriminating against tenants on the basis of their race, with research from the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) finding that 51% of landlords were less likely to rent to non-EU nationals.

The report also identifies the Home Office’s systemic failure to issue any documentation for immigrants arriving in Britain before 1973, meaning the 'hostile environment' caught many of the Windrush generation living here lawfully but without the necessary paperwork to prove it. As a result, many individuals of the Windrush generation lost their homes and their jobs, leaving them destitute and heavily in debt.

It’s disappointing that the promised compensation scheme for victims still isn’t operational. One of my clients said that she feels the government is simply waiting for the Windrush generation to die so that they won’t have to pay out compensation.

The recommendations of the PAC report are far-reaching and I hope they are embraced. With Brexit looming, the government now needs to improve its record of trust on immigration. The transitional arrangements for EU nationals come to an end in December 2020. If the government wants to encourage inward investment into the UK, it should implement a more transparent immigration system, taking advice from stakeholders, such as employers and practitioners.

Unless a new immigration system is created when free movement ends, the government runs the risk of having a two-tier immigration system, with the new system inherently favouring skilled workers – doctors, engineers and researchers. Low-skilled workers, on the other hand, will only be able to enter the UK for a maximum of 12 months followed by a 12-month cooling off period, where they will have to go back to their home country, in order to prevent them from permanently settling in the UK.

Perhaps even more alarming, on 11 March 2019, a new provision under immigration legislation will take effect whereby passport holders from certain countries - Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea and the US - will be allowed to pass through automated gates on entry to the UK. These individuals will be given six months entry, and although they won’t be allowed to work or access public funds, they will not be checked by an immigration officer. Conversely, an algorithm used by the Home Office to detect who is likely to have their visas refused typically found it was from countries that have people of colour.

It’s clear the Home Office has always had tools in place to create a disadvantage to certain groups. However, the recommendations of the PAC report go some way to rectifying these wrongs and must be implemented if we are to create an immigration system that is not only fit for purpose for the future, but works for all.

This article first appeared in The Law Society Gazette on 27 March 2019. To view the article on The Law Society Gazette's website, please click here.

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