The government needs to end its reliance on its error-hit “hostile environment” policy towards illegal migrants because it is not only deeply distressing to those involved but also undermines the credibility of immigration enforcement, MPs have said.
The Commons home affairs select committee says the longstanding lack of any official analysis of the scale and nature of illegal immigration has allowed anxiety over the issue to grow unchecked, and it calls for the publication of an annual estimate based on exit check data.
The cross-party committee’s report is the strongest parliamentary criticism of the Home Office’s “hostile environment” measures, which include denying access to rented accommodation, revoking driving licences and closing the bank accounts of those listed as illegal immigrants.
It cites a 10% error rate in a Home Office list of “disqualified people”. Some people have been refused a new bank account because they were wrongly included on the list of those at risk of being told to leave the country.
The MPs say recent high-profile reports of the Home Office threatening to deport individuals based on inaccurate and untested information and before an independent appeal process risk undermining the credibility of the whole immigration system.
One such case was that of Paulette Wilson, 61, who was detained for a week at Yarl’s Wood immigration detention centre in December and threatened with deportation to Jamaica, a country she left 50 years ago when she was 10.
Coverage of her situation in the Guardian prompted anger among politicians and readers. Last week she received a biometric residency permit, confirming her settled status in the UK. Her family have asked the Home Office for an apology over the way she has been treated.
The 12-month inquiry, informed by the views of citizens’ panels held in towns and cities across Britain, calls for the government to build greater consensus and trust on immigration as part of framing a post-Brexit immigration policy.
The committee, chaired by the former Labour cabinet minister Yvette Cooper, recommends that an annual migration “budget” or report should be presented detailing migration flows, controls and targets, setting out the economic contribution from migration and what action is being taken to improve skills, training and integration.
The MPs’ report says the government’s target of reducing annual net immigration to below 100,000 should be replaced with different targets for different types of migration based on Britain’s needs. Students should immediately be removed from the target.
Cooper said: “The committee has a responsibility to build consensus and confidence on immigration rather than allowing this to be a divisive debate. But that requires a transformation in the way that immigration policy is made as too often the current approach has undermined trust in the system.”
She said the citizens’ panels and community meetings across the country, organised with British Future and Hope Not Hate, had shown there was considerable common ground on immigration among members of the public, in contrast to the polarisation so often heard in national debates.
“Most people think immigration is important for Britain, but they want to know that the system is under control, that people are contributing to this country and that communities and public services are benefiting rather than facing pressures. And crucially they have different attitudes to different kinds of migration. We believe people should be working together to build consensus on the benefits and address concerns about problems on immigration.”
Cooper said the net immigration target should be dropped because it was not working to build confidence and treated all migration as the same, and as long as there were so many errors and problems with enforcement people would not have confidence that the system was either fair or robust.
The MPs say concerns about accuracy and errors in the use of “hostile environment” measures mean the government should not rely on the policy as a panacea for enforcement and to build confidence in the immigration system.
“We are concerned that the policy is unclear and, in some instances, too open to interpretation and inadvertent error. Not only can these be deeply damaging and distressing to those involved – as with letters being sent to EU nationals about their right to live in the UK – they also undermine the credibility of the system,” the report concludes.
“This is particularly worrying in advance of the need to register EU nationals in preparation for Brexit,” it adds. Registration of 3 million EU nationals in Britain will start later this year.
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