The Home Office
In the last month we have witnessed the sacking of Charles Clarke following the “prisoners for deportation” scandal, a new “sex for visas” investigation and illegal immigrants working in the Home Office. As the Home Office lurches from one crisis to another, Immigration Matters asks “is the Home Office in disarray?”
No sooner had Charles Clarke, former Home Secretary, announced his new flagship points-based system and Immigration Nationality and Asylum Act the government were ordered to suspend its controversial marriage law by the high court. Then came the revelation that 1000 prisoners due for deportation had been released into the community, which lead to Charles Clarke being released from his job and John Reid taking the helm at the Home Office.
If the government thought that things would settle down they were disappointed as further bad news hit the headlines last week. Newly appointed Home Secretary John Reid was already on the back foot defending a senior immigration official who publicly stated that he didn’t have “the faintest idea” how many illegal immigrants there were in Britain. Dave Roberts, director of enforcement and removals at the IND, was being quizzed by the Commons’ home affairs committee.
Then another possible new “sex for visas” story broke in the Observer. It is alleged that James Dawute, a senior immigration official at Lunar House in Croydon, had approached a Zimbabwean teenage asylum seeker and offered to help her in exchange for sex. Mr Dawute has been suspended following a Home Office investigation. In March, a report into allegations that immigration officials were demanding ‘sex for visas’ concluded that no such racket existed.
Perhaps the biggest story of the week was the revelation that illegal immigrants have been working inside the Home Office. This seems to have been the final nail in the coffin for Immigration Minister, Tony McNulty, who has “switched” jobs with Police Minister, Liam Byrne. Perhaps he can now direct the Police to find the 1000 missing “prisoners for deportation” he let loose when he was in charge of the Immigration department?
If, as the old saying goes, “a week is a long time in politics”, then the past week must have seemed like a year for the incoming Home Secretary, John Reid.
In a recent article for Healthcare Bi-Weekly, I asked employers, “Are you Employing People Illegally?”. This was aimed at employers who unwittingly employ overseas workers without checking they have the correct documentation. I did not imagine that it would also apply to the Home Office. As immigration advisers, we help many nursing homes check their files and sort out work permit and visa problems. I also speak at various industry events on this very subject, and was speaking at the CSCI Managers Meeting in Hertfordshire on Tuesday 16th May 2006 (see below), almost at the same time the “illegal workers in the Home Office” story was unfolding.
Are agencies the weak link in the chain?
As any care home manager will tell you, when an agency nurse or carer walks on to a shift, they have no sure way of knowing that the person is legally allowed to work. They are relying on the agency that employs them to carry out the necessary checks and they assume the person is entitled to work in the UK. Are government departments making the same assumptions?
With the government contracting out services such as administration, catering and cleaning, the doors have been opened to lower standards with civil service vetting procedures ignored.
I am sure this is just the tip of the iceberg and that there are thousands of illegal workers in banks, Post Offices, Social Security Offices, Tax Offices, Airports and various government offices. Who knows, there could be illegal workers in The Houses of Parliament!
The Home Office admits that there could be up to half a million people in the UK illegally, so a large proportion of those people must be working somewhere.
Why are so many people working here illegally?
Frankly, they have little choice, other than turning to crime or returning home to poverty. The reason they accept what are often “exploitation jobs”, where pay is below the minimum wage, is that they cannot get their papers legalized or obtain a work permit. They have become what is known as “overstayers” because their visas have expired. The dilemma for someone who finds themselves in this position is that they are fully aware that, if they “did the right thing” and returned home, they would have no chance of being allowed back. Immigration Officers at UK airports will mark the passport of anyone who has stayed in the UK beyond the term of their visa. Once the Entry Clearance Officer (ECO) at the British Embassy sees the passport of someone who has outstayed their welcome, they will automatically reject any new application for a visa, even where there are mitigating circumstances.
In a recent interview, Tony McNulty admitted that there could be as many 500,000 people working illegally in Britain and it could take 10 years to remove them. How much will this all cost? The cost of finding, arresting, detaining and deporting someone must run into thousands of pounds. The total bill could run into billions of pounds.
The new tougher points based system, with its emphasis on “highly skilled migrants” could further alienate lower skilled workers and leave them with no place to go but underground. Ironically, the new system designed to “strengthen UK borders” could end up having the opposite effect.
No doubt John Reid will see his new department through this crisis and the media will move on to other stories, but serious questions remain unanswered as the whether or not the government is in control of the situation.
Interesting questions come out of CSCI meeting
As mentioned in my last article, I was speaking at a CSCI (Commission for Social Care Inspection) meeting for registered managers last week. The theme of my talk was how the new Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act will affect care homes and how to ensure that you are not employing overseas staff illegally. Some interesting questions came up both during and after the meeting. The main concerns centered around employing students, agency staff, dependants of work permit holders and workers with work permits for other establishments or homes within a group. Managers and inspectors also mentioned examples of cases where an overseas worker’s passport was unavailable because it was tied up at the Home Office. In all of the above cases the onus is on the manager to ensure that the person is legally entitled to work. This may mean, for instance, asking the worker to show them their dependant’s passport as well as their own or for a letter from the Home Office to prove they are allowed to work in the UK.