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IMMIGRATION REVIEW 2017
Brexit has of course been a major topic this year. Despite various legal manoeuvres by opponents of Brexit, and despite Prime Minister Theresa May barely managing to cling on to power after the General Election in June, Brexit is still on track and the Government intends it to happen on 29 March 2019.
BREXIT & EUROPEAN UNION
The Prime Minister and Government have consistently indicated that they will be reasonable with EEA nationals and their family members and that there will not be any mass deportation when Brexit happens. As far as we can understand the state of play at the moment, there will be a “cut-off date” (but we do not know when yet) and those who have arrived before that date will still have a route to obtaining permanent residence.
After the cut-off date but before the Brexit date Europeans and family members will still be able to come to the UK under free movement principles, but on more restricted terms. So it is not going to be a case of “goodbye Europeans”, but it seems that those who already have permanent residence under European law will have to apply for some new kind permanent residence status which has a British flavour, not a European one.
HOME OFFICE & MIGRANTS
Non-EEA migrants (or some of them at any rate) have found that the Home Office’s “hostile environment” is operating ever more intrusively. Not only have employers, colleges/universities, landlords and the DVLA been recruited into tackling illegal migrants but now banks are being required to close the accounts of such people as the Home Office deems to be here illegally. (And, as some readers may know, the Home Office is not always very accurate about this kind of thing.)
The Government is still apparently determined to meet its target of reducing net annual migration to the tens of thousands (ie less than 100,000). The hostile environment is designed to facilitate this but it has not worked yet. Official statistics have recently indicated that annual net migration is falling, but there is not yet enough data to establish a long-term trend and not enough information to ascertain whether this might be due to the hostile environment or to a “Brexodus” effect.
TRIBUNAL & JUDGES
Another aspect of the hostile environment has been to limit rights of appeal for those whose visa applications have been refused. This has been happening progressively over the last few years, and particularly as a result of the Immigration Act 2014, and we are now witnessing a huge reduction (60%) in the number of immigration appeals heard by the First-Tier Tribunal since that legislation came into force. Those whose applications are refused now have far less effective legal remedies than a proper appeal.
But – and in light of the above, remarkably – the Tribunal has slowed down to the point where the average waiting time for an appeal to be heard is now around 10 or 11 months. We heard that this is to do with a “shortage of judges”.
The Home Office has also tightened up the immigration rules about overstaying, which have now become very strict. Now, if a migrant submits their visa extension application just one day late it might not – unless there is very good reason – be accepted by the Home Office and they might therefore become an overstayer and have to return home. This is a very significant tightening up of the rules which is no doubt catching out a lot of people.
EUROPEAN FAMILY MEMBERS
And there have been some interesting decisions in the courts, some of which – as always – were favourable to migrants and some not. Europeans on the whole did well. The rights of dual national Europeans/British citizens have been confirmed, as have the rights of European extended family members, and the courts showed some sympathy towards those Europeans and partners who are struggling to prove that their marriage is genuine. But family life human rights took some more judicial batterings, although there has been as a result of judicial decision a very slight relaxation in the spouse/partner immigration rules.
And, finally, an interesting item from far afield. We get the general impression that around the world British citizenship is highly valued and respected. But not necessarily in Australia, where members of Parliament are not allowed to have dual citizenship. Some Australian MPs, it has been suddenly revealed, hold dual Australian/British citizenship (not necessarily with their knowledge,) and it has got them into difficulties.
It has thus been a mixed immigration year, but it seems right to say that the anti-migrant trend in Government policy-making continues.