In what was dubbed the “biggest upheaval for 45 years”, 2008 proved to be another hard year for migrants both within the UK and for those who wanted to come here to work.
As the Home Office and newly formed UK Border Agency (UKBA), which replaced the Border and Immigration Agency in March, tightened the screws on immigration, the introduction of the Points Based System, described as the biggest shake up for 45 years, relentlessly rolled on.
The UKBA, which has targets for removals and deportations, will say that 2008 was a good year. In the first six months of 2008 32,230 people were removed from the UK, up 6% from the first half of 2007. Within this figure the number of non-asylum removals increased – going from 23,195 to 26,275, a rise of 13%.
Removals and deportations will almost certainly reach record levels, as compliance and enforcement teams scour the country raiding takeaway Chinese and Indian restaurants and dishing up newly introduced fines of up to £10000 per illegal worker.
The year started with what was to become the general theme for 2008: more announcements on “crackdowns on illegal workers and those who employ them.
The UK Borders ACT, which received the Royal Assent (becomes law) in November 2007, took effect this year.
The UK Border Agency was described by Home Secretary Jacqui Smith as “a single border force bringing together the Border and Immigration Agency, Customs and UK Visas providing a tougher, highly visible policing presence at Britain’s ports and airports”.
The agency, or business as it is now called, will have 25,000 staff including 9,000 warranted officers operating both locally and at border controls in 135 countries. Staff will have wide ranging search, seizure and detention powers and will link with the 3,000 police stationed at ports and airports.
Home Secretary Jacqui Smith brought in tough new measures to “stamp out illegal working” with new civil penalties aimed at employers of up to £10000 for each illegal worker.
The Home Office itself was found wanting when it was revealed 5000 security guards had been working illegally in Government buildings, including one allegedly guarding the Prime Minister’s car.
Former Immigration Ministers Liam Byrne (since replaced by Phil Woolas following a Cabinet reshuffle) said at the end of 2007:
“In 12 months time our immigration system will have changed out of all recognition. From next year, a points-based system, modelled on the success of Australia, will ensure that only people Britain needs can come here to work and study.
“Three quarters of the World’s population will need fingerprint visas: a system which gives us tougher checks abroad. A single border force with new powers will deliver tougher policing at our ports and airports and we’ll start to count people in and out of the country. ID cards for foreign nationals will start to make sure that migrants can prove who they are, and help us safeguard access to work and benefits.”
The UKBA has largely followed through with these plans together with the roll out of PBS.
Tier 1, replacing the Highly Skilled Migrant Scheme (HSMP) was introduced in the Spring, initially for Indian applicants and subsequently rolled out to all applicants.
Tier’s 2 and 5 started slightly later than planned on 27 November 2008 bidding a sad farewell to the Work Permits and Working Holidaymaker Schemes among others.
Transitional arrangements for Senior Carers and Chefs have been extended following campaigning and sector consultations.
Immigration Advisers Bison UK were swamped by Senior Carers looking for new employers and five year Work Permits fearing that they could be left high and dry under the points system.
Hundreds of Senior Carers switched jobs in order to extend the Work Permits and Visas for five years in the hope of qualifying for Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) and Bison UK’s Work Permit specialists were submitting applications until the very last minute in order to beat the deadline.
The draft Immigration and Citizenship Bill, introduced this year, with proposals abolish Indefinite Leave and replace this with a new ‘earned citizenship’ did little to dispel their fears.
The Home Office said that 164,635 people became UK Citizens in 2007 (including for the first time over 10000 Filipinos), up 7% in a year, the highest number ever recorded. These figures are dwarfed by the million or so Eastern Europeans who have flooded into the UK since 2004, when eight new former eastern bloc countries joined the EU.
Bulgarians and Romanians are still subject to restrictions on working in the UK despite being members of the European Union.
With so much availability of Eastern European low skilled labour waiting in the wings, it is highly unlikely that Tier 3 (for low skilled workers) will be activated in the foreseeable future. There are, however, opportunities in Canada and Australia for some workers.
Sponsors register for employers and educational establishments opened for business, but employers were slow to register and many will not be able to extend permissions for their Work Permit holding employees when they expire.
HC321 rules, imposing bans of up to 10 years on rule breaking migrants were implemented last Autumn. Entry Clearance Officers were already backdating the rule by applying bans on Visa applicant’s who had been found to have previously lied on an application, even if this took place many years ago.
New National Minimum Wage limits came into force on 1 October 2008 rising to £5.73 per hour for workers aged 22 and over. Migrant workers are entitled to the same protection as resident employees.
The first UK Identity Cards were introduced for students in November. The National Identity Scheme will saw the first applicants having to apply for cards from 25 November, starting with students applying for Further Leave to Remain (FLR) or varying their leave and those seeking leave to remain on the basis of marriage.
The card replaces the passport visa stamp (vignette) and students will need to carry the card, along with their passport (the card is not a travel document) with them when travelling abroad to avoid being refused re-entry to the UK.
Home Office announced their delivery plan for the student Tier 4 of the points-based points system.
Under Tier 4, which the Government expects to be implemented by March 2009, colleges and universities recruiting non European Economic Area (EEA) nationals must obtain a licence issued by the UK Border Agency. Licensed institutions will then be able to sponsor non EEA students to come to study in the UK.
The new sponsors register for educational providers teaching international students was opened bringing tighter controls and tough new rules aimed at clamping down on bogus colleges.
The collapse of NVQ colleges, such as Affinity Training in June, left hundreds of Filipino students reeling and stranded having paid thousands of pounds in up front fees. Fortunately many were able to transfer to other providers, something which will be far more difficult under the forthcoming points based regime.
We also reported on plans to abolish the domestic worker concession, first introduced in 1998 by the Blair Government, and the newly formed the Migration Impact Forum set up to investigate the wider social impact of immigration in the UK. The Government has sensibly extended the concession for a further year.
Domestic workers are advised to extend their visas in time and apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) as soon as possible.
Home Secretary Jacqui Smith announced plans to force migrants to learn English and Professor David Metcalf was named Chair of the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), which will provide evidence to ministers on where the economy needs migration.
The rising numbers of students had lead to more and more entry clearance refusals. Immigration Matters were pleased to report an Appeal Success Story for an NVQ student refused a visa in Manila. The right of appeal will be abolished for students applying under Tier 4 after March 2009.
In this month Tier’s 2 and 5 went live, signalling the end of Work Permits and the Working Holiday Maker Scheme.
Businesses were once again reminded by the Home Office that they could face £10000 fines and even prison sentences for employing illegal workers.
A strict new points based system (PBS), now in place for highly skilled and skilled workers, Tier 4 for students looming and a global recession all point to another bad year for UK migrants.
All that remains is for me, on behalf of all the Immigration Matters team, to wish you all a very happy and prosperous New Year.