UK visa staff hired out by Home Office to hunt migrants

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Sanwar Ali comment:

We have seen many examples where the Home Office working with other organisations causes serious problems.  For example, people have unjustly had to leave the UK. if you go to Court to challenge a Home Office decision, you cannot always expect to be treated fairly. Untrue statements are made in Court to try and win cases.  At times there is bias in the system with certain public sector employees showing bias towards other public sector employees. There are numerous serious problems that are not being dealt with.  Will Brexit improve things?  Somehow we doubt it.

The Home Office has been slammed for hiring out the services of UK Visa and Immigration personnel to hunt migrants and escalating the government’s ‘hostile environment’ policy. According to leaked documents, UK Visa and Immigration staff are being offered to public services at a rate of £60 per hour.

The documents outline Home Office plans to embed UK immigration officers across UK public services, including the NHS and local councils, as part of an ‘enhanced checking service’, which targets suspected illegal immigrants and foreign nationals involved in serious crime.

Earlier this year, reported that the UK visa status of immigrant NHS patients was still being checked using NHS patient data. A similar scheme involving the Home Office and the police was also exposed.

Real-time UK visa status information

The Home Office is offering public services and private firms ‘real-time’ access to information relating to the immigration status of foreign nationals via an on-site UK immigration official.

Immigration officials can be asked to attend interviews and encourage undocumented immigrants to leave the UK voluntarily. Embedded immigration officials can also submit details of undocumented immigrants to UK immigration enforcement officers.

The Home Office has been urged to reveal exactly how many UK Visa and Immigration officers have so far been deployed and to provide a list of the organisations that have or are still using the service.

Campaign groups for migrant rights have warned that the Home Office service is the latest tactic the government is using to enforce immigration checks across every aspect of life in the UK.

A number of migrant rights experts argue that this latest scheme betrays the public’s trust and puts migrants at risk as they will be discouraged from seeking services they desperately need, such as healthcare.

Home Office presentation about selling UK Visa staff services

According to a presentation marked ‘official-sensitive’, the Home Office has been testing the benefits of embedding UK Visa and Immigration staff within organisations, for at least 18 months.

Officers deployed within organisations are told to target migrants by ensuring that they are charged for services they have to pay for or denied access to them if they’re unable to prove that they are in the UK legally.

Organisations are charged at a rate of £58.20 per hour by the Home Office for one UK Visa and Immigration officer. The Home Office says that organisations can recover the cost by charging for or denying services to foreign nationals, where appropriate.

An excerpt from the Home Office presentation, reads:  “Ensuring that immigration status checks are conducted prior to an individual obtaining benefits or services is an essential part of ensuring illegal migrants cannot access public services to which they are not entitled, encounter a compliant environment which encourages [voluntary] departure and limit the harm they cause to the taxpayer.”

“We already have a core offer of free (mainly online) guidance and checking services for private and public sector organisations. The majority of these extensive free services aim to provide a response within two to five working days. However, they do not always meet the needs of our customers,” the presentation states.

“Over the last 18 months we have tested the benefits of placing immigration officials in a number of organisations … This service can be tailored as required, but it centres on an immigration official being located within an organisation,” the presentation added.

UK visa Scheme in place since 2016

The Home Office claims that the scheme has been in place since 2016, in which time it has been offered to a number of partner organisations, including private sector firms and local authorities. The NHS and several UK police forces have also used the service.

The Home Office has revealed that 13 UK Visa and Immigration officials are currently active under the scheme.

Under UK immigration rules, most public bodies are required to check the immigration status of service users. The checks form part of Theresa May’s hostile environment policy for undocumented migrants, which she spearheaded in 2012 while serving as UK Home Secretary.

Current UK Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, has since described the hostile environment concept as ‘unhelpful.’

Tottenham Labour MP, David Lammy, who led the criticism of the Windrush scandal said: “Sajid Javid announced he had paused the hostile environment in July, but it seems it is being ramped up again on the evidence of this scheme.”

“The Home Office should come clean about the details of this secretive scheme, and explain how it justifies spending £58.20 an hour to fill our hospitals and councils with border guards,” Lammy added.

Beleaguered Shadow Home Secretary, Diane Abbott, accused the Tory government of trying to ‘rebrand’ its hostile immigration policy.

She said: “This Tory government isn’t fooling anyone by rebranding their hostile environment policies as a ‘compliant environment’. By gathering information in this way, the Home Office is creating distrust in our public services, and risks deterring vulnerable families from accessing vital support.”

Chief executive of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, Satbir Singh, said: “Spreading toxic hostility ever deeper into our hospitals and public services is a chilling new development. It will push people away from engaging with public services, create fear in our workplaces and heighten vulnerability to exploitation.”

“Sajid Javid should concentrate on building a Home Office that people can trust instead of just rebranding the same unfounded hostility,” Singh added.

The advocacy director for human rights group Liberty, Corey Stoughton, urged the Home Office to separate immigration enforcement from key public services. Stoughton attacked the Home Office for trying to ‘make a side business by deploying immigration officers in local councils and social services.’

Meanwhile, the director of programmes at Doctors of the World, Lucy Jones, blasted the Home Office for escalating fear among migrant communities. Jones stated healthcare services should be neutral and provide a safe space for people in need of treatment.

She said “migrants should not have to suffer medically because of fears over getting arrested if they use healthcare services.”

A spokesperson for the Home Office said: “We are committed to a fair and humane immigration policy which welcomes ... people here legally, but which tackles illegal immigration and prevents abuse of benefits and services.”

“On-site immigration officials provide support to partners to assist their understanding of the immigration system and can conduct status checks at the request of a local authority to ensure those that are eligible for support are receiving it,” the spokesperson added.

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