The UK immigration system needs to stop hurting people

I need you to understand the cruelty of the hostile environment, and then write your MP to put an end to it.

I recently posted a 114-tweet long thread on Twitter on the spectrum of hurt caused by the UK immigration system’s hostile environment. This post is a copy of that thread in blog form.

I’m finally a permanent resident

If your instinct is to congratulate me, don’t. Don’t congratulate me on surviving a cruel immigration system.

Instead, I need you to:

  • read this post
  • share it
  • write to your MP to end the hostile environment

Let’s change the narrative on immigration

But the time for keeping quiet is now over. I won’t shut up until this country stops actively hurting immigrants, and I need your help to stop it.

Moving to a new place is a very normal thing. When people do this within a country, no one says anything. But move across made-up borders and you’re suddenly judged on how valuable you’ll be to your new community.

I’m tired of the rhetoric around and treatment of immigrants. People who hate immigrants are very vocal, and their hatred drives policy in this country.

Let’s change the narrative. If you’re okay with us just living our lives, tell the UK Government that.

A system designed to hurt people

It was designed to hurt people, though. This system isn’t designed around the way people live their lives. We have to build our lives around the constraints of the system. And those constraints create a spectrum of hurt.

This post is about the different types of hurt on that spectrum - a spectrum that ranges from putting you through administrative hell, to people dying because of the system.

I’ll talk about my own experience and others’. Then I’ll tell you what to write your MP.

Note: This post is very long (over 4,000 words). If you don’t have time to read it now, come back to it.

Make the time to stand up for immigrants.

Background

These along with other immigration policies since 2012 make life bad for everybody, including British citizens.

Also, permanent residence is called indefinite leave to remain (ILR) in the UK. So when I say ILR, I’m referring to that.

The spectrum of hurt caused by the hostile environment

Racial discrimination

The British Empire gave many people legal status to move to the UK, but this was taken away when Black and Asian citizens started making use of it.

Instead, schemes were created to make it easier for white Commonwealth citizens to move here.

To put it bluntly:

Migration politics are about controlling the movement of racialised people.”

The racism continues today. Only this summer the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) won a legal battle to get the Home Office to stop using a racist algorithm that accelerated applications from white people.

In the UK’s immigration detention system, “Black people are detained significantly longer than white people”.

In housing, the Right to Rent scheme in England makes landlords check immigration status before letting a property. It was ruled unlawful by the high court last year because it “caused landlords to discriminate against British citizens from minority ethnic backgrounds”.

But the Home Office won an appeal this year, and so Right to Rent (and the discrimination it causes) persists in England.

Long waits without documentation

I made a ‘joke’ to my family at the time that I hoped no one died in those 2 months because I didn’t have a passport I could fly back with.

The ILR application wait time is 6 months. I was willing to pay £800 for a 1-day decision to not live with extreme anxiety for half a year, but that option has been suspended because of the pandemic.

There’s a new process in place that lets you keep your passport, but you can’t leave the UK until you get a decision. (Well you can, but it essentially means you withdraw your application.)

Not that I want to fly during a pandemic, but if something happened to a family member before I was granted residency, flying home wasn’t an option until I got a decision on my application.

Nothing happened to my family, thankfully, but others aren’t so lucky. The Home Office has made some immigrants wait YEARS for a decision, leaving them suicidal when they’re not able to visit sick relatives.

For one family, a 6-month wait meant having to wait to bury a husband/father overseas while paying £8k to secure their status to live in the UK after his death.

Financial hurt

My ILR application fee was £2,389. Yet the actual cost to process an ILR application is £243.

I am profited TEN TIMES over by this government.

Fees have skyrocketed since the hostile environment began. In 2010, an ILR application cost £810.

From 2015 to 2017, the cost of my further leave to remain visa application went from £549 to £993.

While I paid £2,389 for ILR in the UK, for permanent residence in other countries, I would have paid $500 (£294) in Canada, 269€ (£245) in France, and 135€ (£123) in Germany. See the difference?

You might think high fees are inconvenient but not hurtful. I can assure you that when you don’t know the application fee is going to double by the next time you apply, and your only choice is to pay or lose your right to live here, it hurts.

Paying extra for the NHS

I was ‘lucky’ to last apply when this ‘health surcharge’ was £200 per year. From 27 October 2020 it’ll be £624 per year.

You pay this whether or not you use the NHS, and you pay it all up front. Applying for a 2.5 year visa? You will pay 624x2.5 when you make an application from 27 October. That’s £1560 in NHS fees alone.

Under pressure, the Government removed the health surcharge for certain NHS workers this year.

That’s not enough. It needs to be scrapped entirely. We need to stop ranking immigrants in terms of who’s most deserving.

Being extorted for even more money

Now there are centres across the UK where they do this - only 6 of which offer free appointments (and in very limited numbers). During lockdown these centres shut which created a backlog of applications.

When opening back up, Sopra Steria decided to profit off the increased demand by basically removing any free appointments and making those that were available cost £110-£810.

Let me remind you this is IN ADDITION to high application fees and the health surcharge.

Not to mention the Home Office makes you pay £19.20 for biometrics when you submit your application. So what do you pay Sopra Steria for then? Entering a building?

No safety net

The PM said he would look into this. He did nothing. He said immigrants MAY be eligible for some funds.

Sure, you can access funds — if you can prove you are DESTITUTE. If successful, you wait longer to get ILR.

4 years into a 5-year settlement route? You’re placed on a 10-year route or have to start the 5-year route all over again when you become eligible.

Why must you literally have NOTHING before you can get help? And if you get help, why do you have to wait longer, keep paying more insane application fees before you are then somehow more worthy of the social safety net?

We’re in an economic recession. Are we really going to leave a million people at risk of no funds?

Bad stuff happens in life all the time. It shouldn’t have to be at a global scale for us to realise when people need help, we must help them. No arbitrary amount of time you live somewhere should somehow make you less deserving.

NRPF has extreme consequences, including:

  • Killing people’s mental health. How can you live here 11 years and be undeserving of help?

It’ll only kill more people during Covid-19 because many immigrants face the choice of working in unsafe conditions or going hungry.

Separating families

This thread explains MIR:

Working full-time on minimum wage earns you less than that. Maybe you only work part-time because of childcare. Maybe you just lost your job because we’re in an economic recession.

Don’t have an income? You can also meet MIR with savings - £62,500 minimum and you need to have that for at least SIX MONTHS before you apply.

I spent the start of the pandemic worried about job loss because it could’ve meant I was refused ILR. To think I could lose my right to live here after 9 years because a global crisis meant I no longer had the right financial evidence.

The Home Office literally refuses applications not meeting MIR on the grounds you can continue your relationship “through modern means of communication”. They think you can raise a family over a video call.

MIR separates families again…

I lost my job and can’t get another one at the moment, and I don’t have any childcare provision…Just because I married a Sri Lankan, I’m treated with disdain by my government. All we want is to be together.

…and again…

I had to come back alone [to the UK]…That was 2 years ago. I haven’t seen my husband in all that time, and our son hasn’t been able to hug his dad, because meeting that income requirement has proved impossible.”

…and again…

Before coronavirus hit I’d been working 60-hour weeks, trying to make sure I’d reach the salary threshold. But now, because of the pandemic, lots of my clients are having to shield themselves, and my hours have been slashed to 27 per week….I now have no idea when I’ll be able to have my family together.”

…and again.

My husband’s spouse visa extension is due in September, but now he has lost his job. As such, I’ve had no choice but to work full-time on nights on an NHS complex mental health ward with Covid-19 patients to try to meet the MIR myself.”

Surely the Home Office would remove MIR in an economic crisis? Nope. In June, they said you still have to meet MIR for 6 months. Their only ‘concession’ was if you lost your job between March and 31 July 2020, you could prove you met MIR for the 6 months prior to being let go.

In mid August, they changed that end date to 31 August 2020. ONLY LAST WEEK they updated it to January 2021. They keep delaying guidance until the last possible second, keeping families stressed, anxious, and demoralised.

Take the case of published author Gulwali Passarlay whose wife’s visa was initially rejected. After posting this thread, the decision was overturned.

The statement from the Home Office regarding the decision makes my blood boil. The Home Office spokesperson said: “It is right that there are minimum income requirements for family migration to prevent burdens being placed on the taxpayer.”

THIS IS A LIE. It’s hard to be a burden when we can’t get public funds, get taxed twice for the NHS, and pay taxes.

Demonising asylum seekers

Yet the Government keeps perpetuating these lies: “Over and over again, civil society organisations have to tell ministers how the law works and explain their own system back to them.”

Even Ben & Jerry’s is trying to explain how asylum works to the Home Secretary - and that maybe we should show some compassion to people fleeing terrible situations.

While there is a refugee resettlement scheme, this was paused in March due to Covid-19 and has not reopened, despite other countries doing so.

Asylum seekers are put through a gruelling process to gain refugee status. This thread talks about how LGBT applicants are often re-traumatised through having to share explicit details of sexual violence they incurred.

It often takes over 6 months to decide on a claim. A time during which they can’t work and are given less than £40 a week to live on.

All that waiting time for nearly 75% to be granted refugee status by the Home Office in the end.

Detaining people for no purpose

You can be detained indefinitely in the UK system - only country in Europe to do so.

Yet “when someone is detained for over 28 days their chances of being removed actually decrease”.

On Monday Tory MPs voted against plans to limit detention to 28 days.

Detention literally kills people. From 1989-2017 there were 34 deaths in immigration removal centres. I share a heartbreaking example in the following quote. Note: trigger warning for content on suicide.

“A 27-year-old Polish man found hanged…on the day his son was born…He had been refused bail before Christmas as there was no surety available and his heavily pregnant girlfriend had been unable to attend the hearing.”

Maybe if detention didn’t exist anymore, the Home Office wouldn’t have to worry about producing a 21-page PDF guide on how to deal with deaths in detention.

Pushing people out of legal status

For example, a person’s visa renewal was rejected because they went to Malaysia to bury their dad, breaching their residency requirements. He couldn’t afford to reapply, had a baby on the way in the UK, so became an overstayer.

Once you lose status you “wait 20 years before you’re eligible to start regularising your status, a process that will take you at least another decade”.

Are we really okay with a system that punishes people for 30-plus years because life is “messy and doesn’t fit neatly into boxes”?

Setting up people to be criminalised

Dehumanisation

If yes, provide their name, location, and what contact you have with them. If no, “explain why you do not have friends”.

This sent me into tears and made me feel like utter crap.

Screencap of indefinite leave to remain application form asking you to name your friends in your birth country.
Screencap of indefinite leave to remain application form asking you to name your friends in your birth country.
If you select that you do have friends in your birth country, you are asked to provide their personal details and how you keep in contact with them.
Screencap of indefinite leave to remain application form question asking why you have no friends in your birth country.
Screencap of indefinite leave to remain application form question asking why you have no friends in your birth country.
If you select that you do not have friends in your birth country, you are asked why you do not have friends.

I was prepared for the questions that essentially ask, ‘do you really have to live HERE’. I was not prepared for, ‘give us personal data about 3rd parties we have no right to know, or explain what a lonely loser you are’.

The ILR app should just be a formality. If it’s okay to have lived here long enough to reach the settlement stage, you should just be granted settlement. We shouldn’t have to keep proving whether we deserve to live here.

Wrongfully deporting people

So when the hostile environment started coming into play, they were denied legal rights and in some cases wrongly deported because they didn’t have the ‘right papers’ to prove their legal status.

This led the Home Office to shift tone from saying ‘hostile’ to ‘compliant’ environment, but a review from IPPR (the Institute for Public Policy Research) found “that most policies that caused the Windrush scandal were still in place”.

The goal of this shifted tone “is to continue to make anti-immigration policies a lucrative vote-winner but retreat from the explicit cruelty, lest it dawn on voters that they are complicit in it”.

Putting EU citizens at risk

If they don’t, they lose their legal status.

If you’re thinking it’s your own fault if you don’t apply, please check your privilege. A report from the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford shows how vulnerable groups might not know they need to apply or might not have the paper trail evidence to prove their residency in the UK.

This includes:

  • parents who mistakenly think their UK-born kids are citizens
  • digitally illiterate residents
  • young people in care
  • victims of modern slavery
  • people paid in cash

Even if only 1% don’t apply, overnight more than 30,000 lose their legal status on 1 July 2021.

For those who apply to the settlement scheme, they will be negatively affected by the Government’s decision to give digital-only proof of status. Not a physical residency card like I have.

There are consequences to having digital-only proof of status. For instance, not all people who need to check residency status might have the required digital skills to do so.

If a landlord isn’t digitally savvy, who do you think they will prioritise renting to? The Brit with a passport or the EU citizen whose status is hidden behind a technical barrier they don’t have the required skills to access?

Not to mention landlords and employers aren’t aware of this. The transition period isn’t even over yet, and EU citizens are already facing problems.

TL;DR

What you need to do

(And I know this has been a long post, but let me tell you I’ve had to carefully edit down what I wanted to say. This is only a fraction of the hurt this system causes.)

Find your MP

Learn how to write to your MP

What to tell your MP

But make sure you make it known you do not support an immigration system that actively hurts people.

1. Scrap the Minimum Income Requirement

2. Scrap the Immigration Health Surcharge for all immigrants

3. Eliminate appointment fees charged by UKVCAS (the service run by Sopra Steria)

4. Reduce application fees

5. Pay immigrants back

6. Scrap No Recourse to Public Funds

7. Faster application decision times

8. Safe and legal routes for asylum seekers

9. Regularise the legal status for immigrants without it

10. Ensure no EU citizen loses their legal status

11. Provide physical proof of right to live in the UK

12. Reinstate 2-year settlement route for families

13. End the Right to Rent scheme

14. End immigration detention

15. Create an immigration system co-designed with immigrants

If you have a voice, use it

Tell me you’ll take action and write to your MP.

If you think nothing is going to come of you writing to your MP, let me tell you this: Nothing will happen if you do nothing. But something might happen if you do something.

If you’ve never lived with the feeling that it’s not safe for you to say something, don’t squander that privilege. Use it to create a better society for those who can’t speak out.

If the idea of writing to an MP about a topic you just learned about seems daunting, let me help you. I’m happy to read over what you write or even help you write it.

Stay educated on the topic

If you want to read a book on the subject, I recommend ‘Welcome to Britain: Fixing Our Broken Immigration System’ by Colin Yeo.

If you prefer listening, check out Colin talking about the system on an episode of the Borderline podcast.

A pedantic ending

They’re so concerned about immigrants’ English language abilities after all.

Screencap of question in SET(M) form missing an apostrophe.
Screencap of question in SET(M) form missing an apostrophe.
Missing apostrophe in the phrase ‘you and your partner’s’ on the SET(M) form.

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