Published on February 3rd, 2014 |
by Tanya Silverman
The Immigration Bill So Far: Car Crash or Clarity?
The final House of Commons discussion stage of the Immigration Bill took place yesterday and here’s a low down of the past and (likely) future of the Bill that 295 -16 MPs voted in favour of approving at its third reading. It is now due to go through the House of Lords and become finalised.
But why is immigration considered such a big issue in the UK? Concerns have risen in recent years over the pressure on UK services such as healthcare and education. Many workers hold claim that their wages are being lowered because of foreign employees and the difficulties surrounding the deportation of foreign criminals have made headlines, exacerbating feelings towards immigrants. In addition the rising popularity and spreading rhetoric of UKIP (also frequenting media with their campaigning for cuts to immigration) have heightened the issue in public sentiments and therefore Westminster. It was inevitable that this bill would come around eventually.
The bill, deemed a ‘car crash’ by Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper, was described on the parliament website as ‘reforming the removals and appeals system, making it easier and quicker to remove those with no right to be here. It will end the abuse of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights – the right to respect for private and family life. It will prevent illegal migrants accessing and abusing public services and the labour market.’
Nick Clegg signed up to a last minute plan proposed by Home Secretary Theresa May prior to yesterday’s reading. May’s plans were in a last-ditch attempt to appease Tory backbenchers and would see terror suspects stripped of their citizenship, even if this leaves them stateless. MPs voted in favour of this 297 to 34.
This was in line with a push by Tory Dominic Raab for a ban on foreign criminals using rights, as outlined by Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which allow them to escape deportation if they have family ties in the UK. This was supported by a further 100 MPs. However, this was rejected in the third discussion and labelled as pre-reading rhetoric.
This amendment was in response to the high-profile case of the refugee Hilal al-Jedda who fled Saddam’s regime in 1992. He was granted British citizenship in 2000 but following a return to Iraq in 2004 became stripped of his British nationality after being suspected in terrorism.
Chakrabarti, director of Liberty (a cross-party human rights and civil liberty organisation), stated that the move was unjust and would allow ‘British governments to dump dangerous people on the international community’ and ‘punish potential innocent political dissenters without charge or trial.’ Cameron was always expected to face rebellion in the Commons as Tory backbenchers pushed for a ban on criminals using these rights and over one hundred Tory MPs wanted to go further and curb judges’ powers to block deportation.
The Immigration Bill, however, is not solely an attempt at curbing rights of terror-suspects but also encompasses issues regarding the wider migrant community and potential migrants. Dianne Abbott questioned the effects the bill could have on British nationals that appear to be immigrants and her concerns were met with an underwhelming promise that this would not be an issue. In addition, May stated that as part of the Bill there would be a reinforcement of countering sham marriages. However, the judgement on whether or not a marriage is a fake is to the discretion of the decision-maker and could mean genuine marriages will not be seen through.
Some backbenchers also sought to back a demand to re-impose working restrictions on Bulgarian and Romanian nationals that were scrapped on the 1stof January. This did not come into discussion and was expected to fail from the onset as Labour MPs outlined that it would be in breach of the UK’s EU obligations. On Monday Cameron stated that the Bill contained measures aimed at lowering annual net migration. Migrants would be denied access to public services and be obliged to pay for the NHS.
This is in line with previous discussions regarding the cost and sanctity of the UK healthcare system that could save the country millions if illegal immigrants were charged for healthcare. Sarah Teather stated that the Doctor’s Organisation of the World are worried that vulnerable people could fall prey to this, further emphasising that some victims of this social services initiative are trafficked and did not choose to come to the UK illegally.
So far the plan for the Bill will see:
- Temporary migrants – such as students – pay a £200-a-year levy towards the cost of NHS services
- A cut to the number of grounds for appeal against deportation from 17 to four;
- Landlords checking whether tenants are in the UK illegally, with those failing to do so facing large fines
- Banks forced to check immigrants’ legal status before offering accounts
- Foreign criminals allowed to be deported before the outcome of their appeal is known, as long as they do not face ‘serious irreversible harm’ in their home countries
So, will the Bill bring ‘clarity, fairness and integrity’ to the immigration system as Theresa May so confidently stated in her opening speech, or will innocent people fall victim to the government’s UKIP-like attitude, as one MP put it?
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