Schedule 7 of the Immigration Act 2016

Britain is a nation with a dubious imperial past and a rather selective memory; one that has forced open the doors of countries the world over while continuing to close its own, bringing us to the latest measure to be implemented with a view to creating the ‘hostile environment,’ that Mrs May envisages will ‘incentivise voluntary departure,’ of ‘disqualified persons,’ Schedule 7 of the 2016 Immigration Act seeks to supplement section 40 of its 2014 predecessor in precluding banks and building societies from opening current accounts for ‘disqualified persons.’

What’s new about the latest Act, however, is its retrospective effect; in going further in applying not only to prospective bank accounts but existing ones, it allows for an estimated 70 million current accounts to be checked by anti-fraud organisation Cifas as of January 2018, once regulations have been put in place. While it’s uncertain that examination of such a number will play out in practice, there are more than a few reasons to be concerned.

For one, doubts have been cast as to whether the Home Office could seamlessly execute such a large scale change, with former TSB Board Member Phillip Augur telling BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme that both banks and the Home Office are ‘not exactly known for flawless execution.’ The Home Office’s reputation for inaccuracy is nothing new, having been similarly flagged by the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association which highlighted that the Home Office ‘frequently provides incorrect or out-of-date information about a person’s immigration status,’ noting the ‘extremely disruptive impact,’ that a bank account closure in error is likely to have, ‘given the need for an account to receive a salary or meet ongoing rent or mortgage payments.’

Such financial exclusion is a barrier to formal employment which forces vulnerable people not out of the country but out of the visible economy; at best, into illegal employment and the hands of employers who will prey on their disadvantage and at worst to the human traffickers and modern day slave owners that Mrs May’s 2015 Modern Slavery Act aims to tackle.

Moreover, setting aside the matter of whether a person’s status as an illegal migrant or a failed asylum seeker as opposed to a refugee is a morally relevant distinction (although one could argue that a person who has failed to navigate Britain’s mystified asylum system doesn’t deserve to be homeless and/or destitute by virtue of that fact), there are no guarantees that the 2016 legislation will not affect those legally in the U.K.

As noted by the Home Office itself, the similarly designed ‘right to rent scheme,’ which penalised landlords who let properties to illegal migrants did exactly that. Research by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants has revealed that since its inception, ‘foreigners and British citizens without passports, particularly those from ethnic minorities, are being discriminated against in the private rental housing market,’ as landlords who are understandably deterred by the hefty sanctions imposed for renting to illegal migrants resorted to racial profiling.

Mrs May’s disdain for asylum seekers, refugees and migrants is clear. We all have a part to play in building a more inclusive country; one founded on Liberal values where diversity is recognised as the asset that it is, part of what makes Britain Britain; not a disadvantage.

* Helen Byrne is a graduate of University College Dublin where she studied Law with Social Justice. She works as a parliamentary researcher for Lord Roger Roberts and in the Joint Public Issues Team, an ecumenical thinktank, campaigning on refugee/asylum issues.

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  • Steve Trevethan 26th Oct '17 - 10:42am

    Thank you for a most interesting piece and an outstandingly concise and accurate first sentence!

    Perhaps we could work to persuade HMG and other members of the U.S. Empire not to follow economic and conflict policies which appear to have contributed to there being some 863 million people living in slums and some 65 million living in refugee camps.

    When people get a reasonable deal in their own countries they won’t go through great difficulties to go elsewhere.

    Our connivance at the Iraq War and the subsequent “War on Terror” and “humanitarian” attacks on sovereign nations, not least Libya, has contributed to avoidable weaponised migrations of Biblical proportions.

  • The reality of imperial past is that it was for the benefit rich people. Most Brits didn’t get a choice in it and were often forced into various services to sustain it. Thus like the people colonized the average Brit was also mostly being exploited in similar ways . Hence for great chunks of our imperial past the powers that be were constantly cracking down on organised labour and so on. The Empire in short was not a mutual equal exercise in power and thus the idea that Imperial history means ordinary Brits should simply accept the later consequences is (A) based on the an untrue historical model of shared blame and (B) is all a bit “sins of the father”. The bottom line is that most voters, over 70%, don’t want mass immigration to continue and so arguably it shouldn’t.

  • paul barker 26th Oct '17 - 1:09pm

    A great article except for the the beginning of the 1st sentence. The stuff about Imperialism is irrelevant & opens a target for the sort of “Whataboutery” we can see in Glenns comment. No-one can be held responsible for things their Ancestors did. Lets focus on fightin Racism now.

  • Phil Beesley 26th Oct '17 - 2:52pm

    @paul barker: “A great article except for the the beginning of the 1st sentence. The stuff about Imperialism is irrelevant…”

    Except when it is relevant. Before Britain abolished slavery in the colonies, colonial slaves became free persons when they set foot in Britain. The difference now is that people freed from slavery are judged as illegal immigrants. They are deported before the crimes committed against them are reported in court.

    Not a recent event, but I know of a USA woman citizen who was the victim of an appalling assault in the UK. She had over-stayed her visa and she was deported before the nasty man was prosecuted. So he got away with it.

    We have to think about how rules go wrong as much as how much they work.

  • David Evans 26th Oct '17 - 3:01pm

    Paul, true. It is always a poor idea to get people’s backs up by badmouthing where they come from. It shows a total failure to understand the basics of “how to win votes by influencing people”. No wonder we are in a mess.

  • Paul.
    I don’t think I was indulging in “whataboutery”. I certainly do not approve of these measures. But the reality is we live in a country where the majority wants lower immigration and policies like this nonsense come from Governments trying to look tuff rather than spending the money, time and effort on applying the existing rules properly. It’s why you end with farcical hysteria mingling with callous posturing. My view is we live in the country we live in, people are what they are and that’s what you have to work with, which means there are boring old balances and limits to what you can and arguably should be able to get past the electorate.

  • Banks are the new stasi it seems.

  • It’s the obvious way to go as at least the people in banks are used to checking though usually money rather than people. What we need is some order so there are far fewer illegal immigrants. Then we can start increasing legal migration. I would treat leniently those who have been here for say 5 years; perhaps an amnesty if come forward and cooperate.

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