The Home Affairs Committee of MPs today published its report on whether or not the Home Office has the capacity to deliver effective immigration services once the UK leaves the European Union next March.
No, is the short answer.
— Edgewater Legal (@EdgewaterLegal) February 14, 2018
In addition, and in probably the least surprising aspect of a highly critical report, Brexit is unlikely to have a positive impact on the rest of the Home Office decision-making apparatus.
The cross-party committee draws on a wealth of written and oral evidence from experts on the immigration system, including several posts on this blog and Colin’s appearance before the committee last October. The resulting report is scathing about the delay in the publication of the long-promised government White Paper on the future of the UK immigration system (there “now appears to be no clear timetable for it to be published at all”).
It calls for urgent clarification of the government’s intentions on the future position of European citizens.
In particular, according to the report, and this is worth setting out in full, the situations for the following European nationals remain unclear:
- The legal status of EU nationals who have not registered by the time the grace period is over (something the Home Secretary told us would be included in the [now delayed] White Paper);
- Whether the registration process and rights for EEA citizens will be identical to those of EU citizens and how their rights will be enforced;
- The legal status of EU nationals arriving after March 2019 who have not registered—including their entitlement to work and their ability to rent;
- Whether employers, landlords and banks will be expected to check registration documents for EU citizens in the way that they are required to check the immigration status of non-EU citizens;
- The status of EU citizens who have lived in the UK for more than five years but are temporarily not living in the UK in March 2019;
- The status of EU citizens who have lived in the UK for more than five years but have had an absence in another EU country for longer than 6 months;
- The rights of posted workers;
- Family reunion rights for future spouses of EU and UK citizens;
- The legal implications of applying for settled status prior to ratification of any Withdrawal Agreement and the UK leaving the EU (or during any transitional period when free movement rights continue to exist), and the consequences of any refusal of such an application; and
- The status of non-EEA nationals with rights derived from EU law including under Zambrano, Metock and Surinder Singh case law.
The committee does not believe that UK Visas and Immigration is capable of delivering significant changes to the system either at the border or in terms of registering European nationals by March 2019.
The committee also investigates how the Home Office is faring in non-European casework areas, as the Brexit Death Star sucks all available resources into its orbit.
Possibly even worse, is the answer. The committee heard evidence that the Home Office is
struggling with a lack of resources, high turnover of staff and unrealistic workloads. A lack of experienced staff and pressure to meet targets has meant that mistakes are being made that have life-changing consequences…
The report did note that the number of cases going to court had fallen, “but this is largely because access to justice has been restricted, not because initial decisions have improved. This is an unacceptable way to run an immigration system”.
It identified weaknesses in the current immigration system as “recruitment, retention, training, decision-making and management” and raised concerns that if these were not addressed then the additional pressure brought by Brexit would lead
current performance [to] deteriorate in the coming years, compounding the significant problems which already exist
As starting points for immediate improvement, the committee sensibly suggested that the Home Office review its policy of rejecting applications for administrative errors, and also the general requirement to make several extensions before settlement, needlessly adding to its own workload.
The Border Force and Immigration Enforcement divisions
With the spectre of customs checks following any decision to leave the European customs union, the committee does not hold back:
We are increasingly alarmed about the impact that inadequate resources are having on the capacity for Border Force to operate effectively.
Indeed, resourcing is a seam which runs throughout this report, where it is said that immigration policy cannot be enforced due to lack of available officers.
The committee criticises the potential roll-out of the hostile environment policy to three million European citizens without any evidence that it is working fairly, and urgently calls on the government to assess the effectiveness of its operation.