We’ve had 10 years of the Hostile Environment – now what?


“These policies are inhumane and are affecting all migrants, including EU nationals, refugees, asylum seekers and children. Not just “undocumented” children as it says, but indeed even British children too.”

By Maria Kouyate, Shakirat, and Pascale Robinson, No Recourse to Public Funds Action Group

The No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) Action Group is a group of migrants fighting for equality, justice and fairness for all. But above all, we are human beings. We come together to tackle inequality created by the NRPF rule. We have lived experience of this policy, this is why we campaign against it. It opposes human dignity.

Praxis has facilitated the group for over 2 years, which campaigns for a fairer, more humane immigration system. As we mark 10 grim years of the Hostile Environment, a term used to describe all policies which make life difficult for migrants living in the UK, it’s vital for us to think about how we strategise to end all of these policies, and to go beyond that, to a system that supports dignity and upholds everyone’s human rights.

We all first heard about the hostile environment for immigrants in 2012 from Home Secretary Theresa May. In her interview she said:  “We’re going to give illegal migrants a really hostile reception”

She added “We want to ensure that only legal migrants have access to the labour market, health services, housing, bank accounts and driving licences. This is not just about making the UK a more hostile place for illegal migrants – it is also about fairness.”

When Theresa May said she wanted to create a hostile environment for illegal immigrants she was in fact referring to “ undocumented migrants”, or “people with irregular status”, general terms used to describe people who may not have permission to stay or to enter in the UK.

However, we all know that there are many reason why an individual person might become “undocumented” for a while, including:

–          Your nationality being revoked

–          Lacks of sufficient documents

–          Changes in a person’s circumstances

–          A lack of legal representation

–          Being a survivor of torture

–          Seeking asylum for life survival

–          Human trafficking

–          Having been born and grown up here but lacks the right documentation to demonstrate their right to reside here.

The objective of the government is to prevent “undocumented people” from accessing basic things they need to live a decent life in the UK, such as health care.

These policies are inhumane and are affecting all migrants, including EU nationals, refugees, asylum seekers and children. Not just “undocumented” children as it says, but indeed even British children too.

We demand a system that treats everyone with dignity, and we’ll keep fighting for it. We recently had a victory: free school meals for all children affected by “No Recourse to Public Funds” (NRPF), including those with irregular status, though it’s vital that we make sure that everyone who needs them can actually access these meals.

But we have so much more to do. In addition to this, we need to campaign for shorter, more affordable routes to settlement. Here’s why:

The Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS) on immigration applications is £470 per year for each individual under the age of 18 year old. £624 per year for all other applications, making £3,120 for a 5 year visa. All those amounts are increasing each year.  Therefore we ask the Home Office to abolish, scrap the IHS that is forcing thousands of people into debt, and depression.

Not only that, we call on the government to cap visa fees for adults to the administrative costs- migration shouldn’t be a money making machine. We all know that each year the visa fees for one adult increases. It can cost a family up to £30,000 over ten years to get the same rights and stability that other families take for granted, all for wanting what everyone wants: for your family to have a good and safe life. Note that the Home Office does not refund a fee if an applicant is refused, even if the applicant gets refused on a tiny formality.

We call for the government to scrap the children’s fee too  – why should a child pay a fee if they are under the age of 18 and live with their parents?

The impact of these hostile environments is that families are made destitute.  Local authorities must protect the welfare of children in need, and a child in need must get support on housing and financial support.  Families who are on NRPF need assistance too.

Families pay huge amounts of money to be legal, but in many circumstances they have NRPF, meaning they can work, have to pay tax, however in tough times, they cannot claim housing benefit, child benefit, or universal credit. They are not allowed to get or claim any of this. Even applying for schools favours children that have access to benefits over kids who cannot access any public funds or benefits. Think about the child with NRPF that gets top marks – daily things like this happen to make a child feel they don’t have a chance. 

NRPF is definitely another form of discrimination, separating families and restricting them from accessing social benefits while they make a life in the UK.  

We believe that NRPF should be abolished. It causes so much harm. Everyone deserves the right to a decent life and a safety net. 

We demand the Home Office reduce the 10 year route to 5 years.  Getting a 10 year route affects many people’s daily life. It affects your ability to hold a permanent job, as every 2 and half years you will have to stop working when you visa is about to expire and your boss worries. Every two and half years you will have to save double the money that you saved the last two years.

That means that you will have to sacrifice your family time to work day and night to be able to afford the money for each person, every two and half years.

That means debt will never end, until after ten (often more) years of finishing all the years you need for the ten year route to settlement.

In the end you would have spent more than £11,000 for a single person and £30,000 or more for a family of 4 people.

The government gives the right for a human to work and pay tax, which means the person is contributing to the country, a fully fledged taxpayer. But at the same time you are not giving the right to get help in case of emergency for them and their children.

A welcoming environment is the best response.

We hope you will join our campaigning for a kind, fair immigration system that truly responds to what people need.

Featured Image: “We will resist – #endthehostileenvironment. Photo credit: Praxis

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