A new Immigration Bill, which scraps free NHS services and blocks bank accounts for illegal immigrants, is in progress. The Bill was introduced to the House of Commons on the 10th of October 2013. It was passed by 303 votes to 18 and will move on to further scrutiny by MPs. Among the opponents were six Labour MPs and three Liberal Democrats [1]. Subject to its Parliamentary progress, the bill is expected to receive royal assent in spring 2014 [2].

So, why are these changes happening? Theresa May said the changes would simplify a “labyrinthine” system, adding: “The bill will clamp down on those who live in the UK illegally and take advantage of our services” [3]. So what does this mean? Well, it would make landlords question tenants about their migration status and allow cutting bank account access for those in the UK illegally [3]. Shami Chakrabarti, director of human rights group Liberty, responded: “After the racist van stunt, the Home Office again scrapes the barrel by turning landlords into immigration officers and scrapping appeal rights for the vulnerable. She continues, statistics reveal that Home Office decision-making in immigration cases is notoriously poor [4]. Coincidently, recent findings show that arrivals from EEA countries since 2000 have worked more and received less in benefits than average Briton, academics argue [3].

And what else is May proposing? According to the press release, the Bill will [5]:

–          Cut the number of decisions that can be appealed from 17 to four – preserving appeals for those asserting fundamental rights;

–          Extend the number of non-suspensive appeals. Where there is no risk of serious irreversible harm, we should deport foreign criminals first and hear their appeal later;

–          Ensure the courts have regard to Parliament’s view of what the public interest requires when considering Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights in immigration cases;

–          Restrict the ability of immigration detainees to apply repeatedly for bail if they have previously been refused it.

–          Require private landlords to check the immigration status of their tenants, to prevent those with no right to live in the UK from accessing private rented housing;

–          Make it easier for the Home Office to recover unpaid civil penalties; introduce a new requirement for temporary migrants for example overseas students, who have only a time-limited immigration status to make a contribution to the National Health Service;

–          Require banks to check against a database of known immigration offenders before opening bank accounts;

–          Introduce new powers to check driving licence applicants’ immigration status before issuing a licence and revoking licences where immigrants are found to have overstayed in the UK;

–          Clamp down on people who try to gain an immigration advantage by entering into a sham marriage or civil partnership

Controversial, I hear you say? That’s not the end of it; a system of identity checks for all, including British citizens, would have to be introduced to enforce the government’s moves to curb access for illegal migrants to privately rented housing and to tackle alleged health tourists, leading immigration lawyers have told the home secretary [6]. Passing of this Bill would also mean illegal immigrants in the UK not receiving treatment for any illnesses and ultimately compromising society’s health at large.

Furthermore, Immigration Minister Mark Harper concluded that: “The Immigration Bill will stop migrants using public services to which they are not entitled, reduce the pull factors which encourage people to come to the UK and make it easier to remove people who should not be here. Though the Shadow immigration minister David Hanson argues that the legislation would actually do nothing to tackle “increasingly shambolic” border controls [8].

Despite May creating a more ‘hostile environment’ [9] for illegal immigrants, she states: “We will continue to welcome the brightest and best migrants who want to contribute to our economy and society and play by the rules. But the law must be on the side of people who respect it, not those who break it.” However, campaign group the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants said the new proposals would deter students from wanting to study in the UK and would have “no impact whatsoever on ‘illegal’ immigration – the declared intention of this bill” [10].

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