Examination of Witnesses

Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:30 am on 14th February 2019.

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Hilary Brown and Martin Hoare gave evidence.

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West 12:31 pm, 14th February 2019

Welcome to our next set of witnesses. I think you have got a feel for the way in which we proceed. Your session is just half an hour, but, because there are two of you, it might not be so pressurised. Will you introduce yourselves?

Hilary Brown:

My name is Hilary Brown. I am the CEO of Virgo Consultancy Services, a law firm with offices in south Wales and south London.

Martin Hoare:

I am Martin Hoare, a solicitor advocate in private practice representing immigrants.

Photo of Afzal Khan Afzal Khan Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Immigration)

Q My first question is to both of you. Clause 4 gives the Secretary of State powers to introduce new immigration rules with little scrutiny in Parliament. What are your concerns about how Ministers might use such powers?

Martin Hoare:

The difficulty of making rules that have such a massive impact on the lives of the people they affect without any scrutiny has meant that people’s rights have not been respected. Furthermore, those making the rules have not had the benefit of input from concerned parties and from Parliament itself.

Hilary Brown:

The complexity of individuals’ lives has not been taken into consideration, especially around issues such as vulnerability where people have been trafficked into the United Kingdom, where they are in circumstances and a situation that is out of the norm. Rules need to be made with all of those situations taken into consideration.

Photo of Afzal Khan Afzal Khan Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Immigration)

Q We now know that a 12-month visa was previously trialled and abandoned as unworkable. What evidence and information do you have regarding the operation of a 12-month visa?

Martin Hoare:

The 12-month visa was in place in the form of the so-called sectors-based scheme. That was introduced in May 2003 by a House of Commons paper with no parliamentary discussion. It allowed people in less skilled fields to live in the United Kingdom for 12 months. It was abandoned following an investigation by Parliament. According to the Hansard report in 2008, quite significant malfunction and abuse was detected.

The tribunal responsible for immigration also found that there was a considerable amount of hostility towards the rule itself, manifested by those implementing the rule at the visa point. That rule was scrapped altogether by 2008. Tony McNulty, the then Minister of State, observed when scrapping it that the slack, as it were, could be taken up by immigration from what were then the EU accession states. The rule then was not effective. The significant difference between now and then is that there will be no pool of EU workers to take up the slack. What I have just referred to is in parliamentary documentation. It is not my opinion.

Hilary Brown:

I have nothing to add to that—we have exactly the same frustrations.

Photo of Afzal Khan Afzal Khan Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Immigration)

Q Your question is slightly different. You have dealt with a number of Windrush victims; do you think Ministers have addressed the problems in the Home Office that led to the Windrush crisis, and that they will be able to avoid a repeat of that with EU citizens?

Hilary Brown:

I do not think the difficulties faced by the people caught up in the Windrush scandal have been fully addressed. Many people still have not come forward, who have not been identified and who are living under the radar. I do not think it will be a situation where we can avoid a repeat of such a scandal if we are not in a position to fully map out where the deficiencies in the immigration rules lie.

Martin Hoare:

The significant enduring problem is that people are required to establish a right that they say they have. They are required to establish that at short notice, perhaps when they are simply accessing a health service to which they are entitled. The Government have not shifted the onus of proof on those people, so the problem continues.

Furthermore, because of the expanding of immigration control to those who are not qualified to exercise it, such as healthcare professionals and the police, people are not able to determine whether the documents that people present are adequate. There are many examples of that: people holding indefinite leave to remain stamps in an expired passport encounter the difficulty that the passport has expired, therefore the perception is that the Home Office stamp in it has expired, notwithstanding that it explicitly states that it is settled.

People who came into the United Kingdom on other schemes, such as so-called east African Asians who came without passports because they had no citizenship, find it very difficult to establish an entitlement in the UK. They particularly encounter that difficulty when they access something else; they are on the receiving end of Government action when they are not expecting it, and they do not have legal aid. Those are continuing problems that permeate many cities in the United Kingdom and have not been addressed.

Photo of Afzal Khan Afzal Khan Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Immigration)

Q Could Government use powers in this Bill to amend immigration legislation affecting non-EU citizens?

Martin Hoare:

Yes, they could if they chose to do so. There are so many examples of problems that arise from their not having done so.

Photo of Jack Brereton Jack Brereton Conservative, Stoke-on-Trent South

Q Obviously, quite a substantial number of British citizens are living in EU countries. Do you feel those EU countries have taken adequate steps to address the rights of those citizens?

Martin Hoare:

I do not profess any expertise on European law, but no doubt European Governments will look at how we treat citizens of European countries and will wonder whether they should treat our own citizens in the same way. I think there will be many vulnerable British people living in European countries who do not quite understand that yet.

Photo of Kate Green Kate Green Chair, Committee on Standards, Chair, Committee on Privileges

Q How confident are you that the Home Office will be able to scale up the existing immigration scheme that applies to non-EEA nationals to meet the needs of individuals and employers after Brexit? What challenges do you think it will have to address?

Martin Hoare:

I think the Home Office will find it very difficult. It finds it very difficult to make quick and consistent decisions at the moment. Unless the Government propose a significant increase in resources to the Home Office, I think it will find it very difficult to cope with additional case work and a whole set of new rules.

Photo of Kate Green Kate Green Chair, Committee on Standards, Chair, Committee on Privileges

What impact do you think that will have on labour mobility?

Martin Hoare:

It will severely restrict labour mobility. It will make it very difficult for employers to know whom they can employ. That will not get easier.

Hilary Brown:

Already, it is a very difficult situation. We see that employers are very confused and frightened about whom they should and should not employ. When people who have current leave to remain are about to make an application to extend it, we often see employers bringing their employment to an end, until such time as they have received confirmation that they are able to continue for those individuals.

Photo of Kate Green Kate Green Chair, Committee on Standards, Chair, Committee on Privileges

Q What guidance or advice has been issued to your employer clients so far about the checks they should be making on the ability of EEA nationals to work in the UK after exit?

Hilary Brown:

It is very difficult for employers, because regardless of the guidance they are given, they do not have the skills, knowledge or experience of anxiously scrutinising that guidance. A document may be acceptable, but because they do not have an understanding of the fact that it is an acceptable document, employers often revert back to, “Unless you have a passport with a visa, with a stamp in it that says you are able to work, I am not prepared to run the risk of having a fine, and so I will bring your employment to an end.”

Photo of Kate Green Kate Green Chair, Committee on Standards, Chair, Committee on Privileges

Q Are your clients expecting that they are going to have to start asking questions about people’s status on 30 March?

Hilary Brown:

Absolutely.

Photo of David Duguid David Duguid Conservative, Banff and Buchan

Q I have asked this question to different panels—forgive me for that—but you will be answering for the first time. Do you believe there is any justification for having a two-tier system in the future, where EU citizens and their families may get preferential treatment to those from the rest of the world?

Martin Hoare:

I personally think that all people should receive overall fair treatment. I think that currently the family members of EU citizens have an easier set of requirements to satisfy objectively; outside that the Home Office enforce in the most severe and restrictive way possible. I can see no grounds of fairness to suggest that everybody should go down to the lower level of protection that applies under the purely English rules.

Photo of David Duguid David Duguid Conservative, Banff and Buchan

Q Would you advocate for immigrants from outside the EU to have the same level of access to their families, for example?

Martin Hoare:

Yes, I would. From time to time, those advocating support for the English rules and litigating on behalf of the British Government suggest that the English rules are somehow compatible with European principles.

Photo of David Duguid David Duguid Conservative, Banff and Buchan

Q Sorry, when you say English rules, do you mean UK? I just wanted to be clear, before my SNP colleagues—

Martin Hoare:

Yes, the UK rules—sorry. I just did not want to include your nation with such rules, that is all. It was out of courtesy to your nation that I was making that distinction. Presently, people who are advocating for the British Government contend that the rules are compatible with the European provisions. They are clearly not, and the proposal is to reduce the rights of everybody.

Hilary Brown:

It would be difficult for the UK to justify why they felt it was appropriate to run a two-tier system. It needs to be simplified, to be one system and to be equally applicable to everybody.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control)

Q Presumably, the White Paper does not propose applying the same rules to everybody, does it?

Hilary Brown:

No, it does not, but that does not mean to say that we should not make some progress towards attempting to simplify it, so it does apply equally to all.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control)

Q Our trade relationships would be one reason why you might not apply the same rules to everybody, and that is pretty much why we have free movement now.

Hilary Brown:

Yes, trade relationships may be a reason to justify some kind of other consideration, but they should not be a back-door route into the United Kingdom, for people who can hide behind trade,

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control)

Q When you said we should be pushing for fairness for everybody, is that not closer to the mark? It does not mean that everybody comes under the same rules.

Hilary Brown:

Whatever rules are implemented, they should be fair. As I say, there could be other trade agreements, but they should be open to anxious scrutiny and I do not think they should be seen and used as a back-door route into the United Kingdom for people who can afford that.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control)

Q I absolutely agree with you on that point. It should not just be about suddenly allowing the wealthy from country A, B or C to come in. Can you tell me about the tier 2 system? What are your thoughts on how simple that is?

Hilary Brown:

At this time none of the immigration rules is simple. The tier 2 system can be a route into the United Kingdom, again, for people who are able to afford it and those with large reserves of money. I think the system itself needs to be completely overhauled. There needs to be a situation where the UK can look at innovation and other trades and routes. For instance, on the shortage occupation list, there are multi-million pound industries in the United Kingdom that would not be identified unless there was some innovation around whether they should be included in various tier 2 legislation.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control)

Q Mr Hoare, will you comment on how simple or otherwise the tier 2 system is now and? Secondly, do you have any thoughts on how we can make the settled status scheme better for EU nationals who are currently here, whether that is making it a declaratory system, or appeal rights, or whatever else?

Martin Hoare:

First, with the tier 2 system, the process for employers of obtaining a sponsor licence is difficult. It does not receive intense scrutiny by the Home Office. There is no right of challenge to the Home Office decision, and therefore many employers who wish to run a tier 2 scheme to sponsor migrants, although they are bona fide employers, get cases refused and are not able to challenge. The starting point of the scheme is unworkable. The insistence on pedantic documentary requirements, which many employers cannot understand, leads to a lot of cases being refused, so the system is not workable at present.

With regard to your second point, yes, I think there should be simply a declaratory system for EU settled status. If the British Government wish to require EU citizens to justify and document every day of their existence in the United Kingdom when at the time they did not know they would have to do it, it will lead to a load of perverse and unfair outcomes.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control)

Q Ms Brown, any thoughts on improvements to the settled status scheme? We have heard people suggest making it declaratory, or appeal rights.

Hilary Brown:

I would certainly suggest not making it so onerous as to documents.

Photo of Afzal Khan Afzal Khan Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Immigration)

Q Will you tell us the cost to applicants of applications and the fees for appeals, and the effect of removing legal aid?

Hilary Brown:

Aside from the cost of the appeal to the tribunal, which is over £100, the cost of appealing is not a cost that can just be measured in the cost of the application to the tribunal. There is often the cost of getting representation and having to obtain evidence to go before the various tribunals. There is the cost of certifying and obtaining documents. The withdrawal of legal aid often means that for people to be able to get before a tribunal with a robust bundle of evidence giving some sort of chance of demonstrating that the appeal should be granted, they must be able to find something in the region of £1,000 or £2,000—maybe £3,000. That is just to get together a bundle of evidence to go before a tribunal with a remote chance of succeeding. All too often people just cannot afford that. The fact that we have to put bundles together in a way that proves the documents and evidence they rely on will stand up to independent and anxious scrutiny, and the denial of legal aid, prevent people from getting access to justice.

Photo of Afzal Khan Afzal Khan Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Immigration)

Q Will you also shed some light on the number. of people who have been detained and later given some sort of leave to remain?

Hilary Brown:

There are high numbers of people who are quickly detained when they are initially detected by various means—people who have trafficking offences and who have been randomly stopped by police and immigration authorities. In the first instance, they are taken to police stations and not given access to appropriately qualified immigration advisers. They are denied access to any type of legal advice in a police station. Often, and unnecessarily, that sees individuals referred on to immigration removal centres, which clogs up immigration removal centres unnecessarily. They then have to make bail applications to the various immigration tribunals. Often people are then released on bail, only having identified for the first time that they have some kind of irregular immigration status.

Detention is used far too often—and for over extended periods of time— unnecessarily. If a similar type of system was offered to immigration detainees as to people who face criminal offences in police stations, such as a duty solicitor scheme or a duty representative scheme for immigration issues, I certainly think there would be far fewer immigration detentions.

Martin Hoare:

On fees, to make an application to stay in the United Kingdom for 30 months, one has to pay £1,033 at the moment. That may apply to people who have been working in the United Kingdom. If somebody had their leave to remain cancelled with no right of appeal, their option would be to make a new application. To do that, they would have to pay £1,033. If they did not have £1,033, they would face removal from the United Kingdom.

Another aspect of the fee system is that an applicant has to find, for a period of two and a half years, £1,000 to pay towards the NHS. When that was introduced, the rationale was that people who are living here illegally should not use the NHS. The scheme would apply to someone who had been here lawfully for seven and a half years paying tax and national insurance. If they want their last two and a half years in the United Kingdom, they have to pay another £1,000 for it. Over a period of 10 years, someone living in the United Kingdom perfectly lawfully and paying tax and national insurance has to find another £10,000 to fund the NHS.

Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes The Minister for Immigration

Q You both mentioned the anxiety that employers might have regarding somebody’s right to work. Do you regard the digital right-to-work checks as a step forward?

Martin Hoare:

If employers understand that there is a digital check system, it would be a step forward. The people answering the checks are not infallible. The system is very complicated. If the wrong advice is given, there is no way for an employer to check that.

Another aspect I have come across in advising employers is that they cannot determine whether documents are genuine. A digitalised check does not address that properly. Employers find that, notwithstanding having conducted checks, they have unwittingly employed somebody with a document that looks fine when it is checked digitally but that is not fine. The employer then faces criminal sanctions as a result. That is happening to people.

Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes The Minister for Immigration

Q Do you not see the digital right-to-work check as a useful safety net to verify whether documents are genuine?

Martin Hoare:

I think it is an improvement on nothing, but it is not perfect.

Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes The Minister for Immigration

Q You said that the EU settled status scheme required people to document every day of their existence in the UK.

Martin Hoare:

No, I said “if” it did.

Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes The Minister for Immigration

Q Which, of course, it doesn’t. It requires people to evidence their identity and residence. We have seen from the testing phases that more than 80% of people have been able to do that with no additional documents, just by using their HMRC or DWP records. Of course, it asks them to declare any criminal convictions. Do you think it is scaremongering a little to say “if” the EU settled status system required people to evidence every day of their existence, when it simply does not.

Martin Hoare:

The results you refer to indicate that people who have applied have been granted either settled status or less than settled status.

Martin Hoare:

Pre, which is less than. It is the same thing. That may be because people cannot document the earliest time in the United Kingdom, because notwithstanding their subjective compliance with employment rules, there are cases where tax and national insurance have not been credited by employers. It is not scaremongering—that is the factual reality for many people.

Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes The Minister for Immigration

You do know that in the first two testing phases, those employers were NHS trusts and universities, don’t you? We like to think that they would have credited the right amount of tax.Q

Martin Hoare:

I accept that entirely, but that is not the point. The point is that it will extend to all employment in the United Kingdom.

Martin Hoare:

And in the scheme that has existed so far, there have been cases where people have paid tax and national insurance to their employer but it has not been credited. That has been a problem. Secondly, the results that have come back to the Home Office on tax and national insurance records are different from the results that people have obtained by their own freedom of information inquiries with the Revenue.

Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes The Minister for Immigration

You are conscious of the very high levels of people in the testing phases of the system who have reached either pre-settled or settled status—are you happy with that?Q

Martin Hoare:

I am aware of it, but pre-settled status indicates that there is likely to be a component of those people who would be entitled to settled status, but because of deficiencies not of their own making with regard to the recording of their presence and economic activity, are given pre-settled status, which is lower.

Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes The Minister for Immigration

Which they can upgrade once they have got to five years, and at no extra cost even when there was a charge, but now there is no charge anyway.Q

Martin Hoare:

The form says that there is a charge. At the end of the form, one is told that the charge that one has just paid will not be levied, but that still means that some people get less than they are entitled to. They have been here for more than five years, but the record-keeping system is not adequate so they are not given that to which they are entitled.

Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes The Minister for Immigration

Q How would you make it simpler?

Martin Hoare:

The Home Office should have a degree of flexibility with regard to the assessment of evidence and should exercise more discretion where cases clearly are substantially satisfied.

Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes The Minister for Immigration

Q You are conscious that it is still in a testing mode?

Martin Hoare:

Yes, of course I am conscious of that, but unless the existing parameters of decision making in the Home Office change, one will see further evidence of injustice arising from that process.

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West

I thank our two witnesses for the time you have spent with us. We are grateful.

The Chair adjourned the Committee without Question put (Standing Order No. 88).

Adjourned till this day at Two o’clock.