Papers please – the hostile environment and EU citizens

Despite the lessons being learned from the Windrush Scandal, the effects of the hostile environment continue to bite and, with Brexit looming, EU citizens are in the crosshairs.

The hostile environment or, as it has now been rebranded, the “compliant environment” may have been introduced with noble aims: to encourage those who did not have the lawful right to be in the UK to depart by restricting access to key tools required to live in the UK – housing, healthcare, bank accounts and driving licences.

However, as was warned early on by legal advisors and human rights campaigners, the overall effect was, at best, to make life more onerous for everyone – legally present in the UK or not.  At worst, we saw the effects of the Windrush Scandal, which led to the forced removal of long-term lawful residents who struggled to prove their status, mainly due to the sheer length of time they’d been here.

Although enforcement and removal activity has taken a step back since the Windrush Scandal and the government seeks to learn from its mistakes, the restrictions of the hostile environment on access to key services remain in full effect and we continue to see the effect of the Home Office turning employers, landlords and the NHS into unofficial immigration enforcers.

From the beginning it was warned that this would lead to discrimination, as it would be far easier for landlords and employers to choose to deal only with British citizens and disregard anyone who looked or sounded “a bit foreign”, rather than go to the added trouble of trying to verify their status in the UK. 

Now, with Brexit on the horizon, we are seeing this start to impact on EEA and Swiss citizens more and more.  Even though we have not yet left the EU and these individuals continue to have full free movement rights in the UK, some are already being affected.

Reports are emerging that:

  • People are being overlooked for jobs and tenancies if they do not provide evidence from the new “settled status” scheme, even though the scheme is entirely voluntary and the government says their existing rights will be unaffected until at least 31 December 2020.
  • Some schools have written to parents of EU pupils warning them that their children will not be allowed to attend school after 31 October 2019 without settled status, even though the scheme is entirely voluntary and the government says their existing rights will be unaffected until at least 31 December 2020.
  • Three quarters of 100 GP surgeries in London are breaching NHS guidelines by insisting on proof of identity and residence.  This restricts access to healthcare for the most vulnerable parts of our society, including homeless people, refugees and asylum seekers, sex workers and drug users.  It will also affect EU citizens who, without applying under the settlement status, may have no evidence of their residence, even though the scheme is entirely voluntary and the government says their existing rights will be unaffected until at least 31 December 2020.

All of this clearly demonstrates two problems with the hostile environment.  First, it affects everyone, no matter their status, and even those with legal rights are being denied them.  Second, the policy of turning ordinary people like landlords, employers and doctors into immigration enforcers is deeply flawed as they lack the required knowledge and training to do so correctly and equitably – and understandably so.  After all, they are not Immigration Officers.

If you would like to discuss any of the issues raised in this article, please contact Ross Kennedy, a Senior Immigration Advisor in the Immigration Department.


All content on this page is correct as of September 25, 2019.