Our readership is familiar with how to operate in a complex immigration environment; invest in expertise, consider relevant statutory powers and duties to support vulnerable people, seek immigration advice, work with the Home Office to ensure expedient decision-making, and find a sustainable outcome for that person.
However, in its pursuit of deterrence and removal, the Illegal Migration Bill removes protections for vulnerable people and disrupts existing case resolution principles. The Bill paves the way to irresolvable states of limbo when people are present in the UK, cannot be removed and will not have their protection claims considered. Cost-shunts are inevitable given the absence of long-term government plans to manage the fall-out of the bill and the overarching responsibilities of councils to end rough-sleeping and protect the most vulnerable.
The Illegal Migration Bill has passed through parliament despite significant opposition in the House of Lords. The Bill will become an Act of Parliament once Royal Assent is given, after which the government can choose when to bring certain sections of the Act into force by issuing a Commencement Order. Local authorities should understand the main thrust of the legislation, which can be seen in the following measures:
- An overriding duty on the Secretary of State to remove people who enter the UK through “unsafe” or “illegal” means, with all other protections, including those for unaccompanied children and victims of trafficking, secondary to this purpose.
- A duty for the Home Office to take steps to remove people as soon as they arrive in the UK, widening powers of detention to enable this aim to be met, with protections for children or victims of trafficking secondary to this responsibility.
- A duty to render protection (i.e. asylum seeking) and human rights claims inadmissible when people enter “illegally”.
- A bar on granting leave to remain to anyone who has entered the country “illegally” even if people cannot be removed.
- Removing the role of the independent family returns panel when considering return of families and other measures that will reduce scrutiny of government decision-making.
What are the potential consequences for local authorities and their residents?
Harm to individuals – Genuine protection needs not being considered whilst in the UK, indefinite limbo or detention for those who cannot be removed, and bars on support for victims of trafficking and care leavers, are just some of the possible outcomes which could be detrimental to people’s welfare. The reticence to engage with formal services that deterrence measures create could also significantly affect the uptake of vital support for people at risk of exploitation or abuse.
Increased demand for local authority support – If people continue to seek protection from the UK at current rates, many thousands of people could be subject to the exclusions outlined for those that arrive via “unsafe and illegal routes”. There is currently no clarity on how people subject to these exclusions will be housed or supported. Whether you are working with asylum seekers in asylum contingency hotels, unaccompanied children, or families and adults with no recourse to public funds, the scale of people affected is significant and a rise in people requiring specialist interventions likely.
Decision making bottlenecks – Delays in Home Office decision making on immigration related matters lead to long waiting times for the children, families, and adults supported by councils under social services legislation. Protracted litigation on contentious elements of law and other tensions between immigration advisers and the immigration authority will further deplete already limited advice capacity. With no plan published to increase Home Office casework capacity and expansive legal aid restrictions, wait times for decisions across the immigration system could increase further.
Increasing costs – The NRPF Network reported a cost to 72 local authorities of £64 million over 3423 households in 2021/22, there is no capacity for local government to absorb additional costs as a result of immigration legislation, and yet, more categories of exclusions are being created.
Time lost reskilling staff – The constantly changing landscape of government policy is placing considerable pressure on council services across the country as hard-learnt expertise can be quickly nullified by changing rules and regulations. Time previously designated to direct support and service development will be spent upskilling staff on the implications of new exclusions and exceptions whilst there remains no guarantee that the desired aims of the Bill will be workable in practice.
How can local authorities respond?
Evidencing NRPF Support
A collective response will be needed to mitigate the impacts of the Bill and the NRPF sector must be in a position to rapidly evidence increasing financial and humanitarian pressures. Identifying future changes in service provision requires a baseline of cost pressures; a view of service requirement before any significant legislative changes.
We are calling on local authorities to ensure that the support they are providing to people with NRPF is being recorded regularly, in a way that allows for easy extraction of data insights. Many NRPF Network members already use NRPF Connect for this purpose and if you would like to sign up to Connect or get some training on how to better make use of Connect then please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Maximising immigration advice provision
Legal advice and representation are vital elements of an efficient service since grants of leave to remain allowing access to public funds are the most common route off local authority support. New pressures in the immigration system may make it harder to obtain high quality legal support and a good way to reduce ongoing spend is to identify the existing cases that would benefit from progression now.
NRPF teams, adult and children’s social care departments should ensure that they build strong working relationships with immigration advice providers so that referrals or in-house support can be provided quickly once needs are identified. An excellent recent report by Jo Wilding for Justice Together sets out different models of local authority funded immigration advice. You can view the NRPF Network’s website for more information on immigration and asylum advice.
Building sustainable migrant and refugee teams
Local authorities have been called upon to participate in an array of funded resettlement schemes, including for Syria, Afghanistan and Ukraine, whilst also managing pressures in the asylum support system relating to dispersal and asylum contingency accommodation. Councils have risen to these challenges and council officers and partners have learnt new areas of expertise whilst carrying out their duties and making best use of the funding received.
Local authorities must harness the lessons learnt, expertise gained, and partnerships created by these crises to create sustainable migrant and refugee services in their organisations. Building on specialisms and facilitating relationships between social services and migrant and refugee teams will create better council services in the long-term and ensure a positive legacy for all.
Staying aware of national changes
It is the responsibility of each local authority to set a direction of travel and work out how best to meet the needs of the community they serve. To plan local services it is important to stay up-to-date with national changes that may impact residents. The NRPF Network will monitor legislative changes that may affect practice and will keep members informed as more detail about the implementation of the Illegal Migration Act is known.
The Illegal Migration Bill has attracted commentary from across local, national, and international governmental organisations, news outlets, civil society, and charities. Given the significance of the Bill, local government practitioners are likely to be asked to provide briefings and information to their locally elected politicians and in some cases feed into national responses.
Here is a selection of publications from organisations which provide comment and further information about the Bill and the potential consequences when it becomes law:
- Illegal Migration Bill: overarching factsheet – Home Office
- Illegal Migration Bill: children factsheet – Home Office
- UK Illegal Migration Bill: UN Refugee Agency and UN Human Rights Office warn of profound impact on human rights and international refugee protection system – UNHCR
- Illegal Migration Bill emergency summit: recommendations to local and national government – Greater London Assembly
- In-depth legal briefings on the Bill – Immigration Law Practitioners Association
- Initial thoughts from the Refugee Council – Refugee Council
- Illegal Migration Bill 2023 Briefing – The Joint Council for The Welfare of Immigrants
- British Red Cross response to the Illegal Migration Bill, passed by the House of Lords – British Red Cross