Be our guest? The rise of the hostile environment

19 April, 2018

The case of Albert Thompson, a Jamaican national present in the UK since he was a child, attracted an outpouring of condemnation when it was revealed his cancer treatment had cost him £54,000 as he could not demonstrate sufficiently that he was British. He was left in the position of being unable to fund further treatment. Numerous others have since come forward setting out that, although they believed themselves to be settled here lawfully, they are struggling to access basic state services.

Thousands of Commonwealth nationals coming to the UK in the 1970s would have automatically become British, however many did not apply for documents and never left the UK. More and more individuals in these circumstances have learned what the immigration sector has known since 2012, that the Government are determined to make the lives of anyone who cannot adequately demonstrate their lawful status so utterly miserable that they will simply choose to leave, regardless of whether they have a case to put or not. This is what is known as the hostile environment.

Since 2012, the Home Office have created powers to remove access to the NHS (for all bar emergency treatment), prevent private renting, freezing bank accounts, and to revoke driving licences. There was also serious consideration of applying this policy to education at one stage. Whilst these policies were aimed at those without lawful status, it has created increasing difficulty for Windrush migrants who, whilst here lawfully, often lack the evidence to demonstrate it.

The Home Office response has been surprising and is evolving due to increasing scrutiny. They initially wished to force paid applications on form NTL (No Time Limit) – a process for confirming someone has Indefinite Leave in the UK and arguing those affected should seek legal advice. Fees are now being waived, evidential flexibility being introduced and a dedicated team set up to resolve these cases. Those already removed from the UK as suspected illegals are having their cases reviewed.

The Home Office have again shown that they are immensely susceptible to public pressure on immigration. The British public have been polled as overwhelmingly in favour of supporting Windrush migrants so they can resolve their status and carry on as normal members of society. It has also hopefully opened their eyes to the bullying and unpleasant policies those without status in the UK face and the impact this has on them, their children and their family members who are often British or settled in the UK.