The Immigration Act 2014 represents the most aggressive attempt by the coalition government to meet its stated aim of cutting net immigration to tens rather than hundreds of thousands.
Particularly when taken in conjunction with other recent measures (such as the tightening of access to civil legal aid and changes to the immigration rules) these measures are likely to have a devastating impact on those wishing to enter or stay in the UK.
In summary, the Act introduces a number of significant changes to UK immigration law including:
- removal of appeal rights;
- civil penalties for private landlords housing illegal immigrants or overstayors;
- safeguards against child trafficking; and
- the power to deprive a person of British citizenship, even if they subsequently become stateless.
In this article I want to deal with the issue of the withdrawal of rights of appeal.
When introducing the Bill to parliament, Theresa May claimed:
“The appeals system is like a never-ending game of snakes and ladders, with almost 70,000 appeals heard every year. The winners are foreign criminals and immigration lawyers – while the losers are the victims of these crimes and the public.”
This was a shameful and mostly unchallenged attempt to grab a headline and show that the government is “taking the lead” on the subject of immigration.
It is implied by Ms May that 77,000 appeals are brought each year by foreign criminals. This is simply wrong. The figure of 77,000 includes, amongst others, spouses and partners, tier 1 investors and entrepreneurs, tier 2 skilled workers and students who have been refused visas. Ms May failed to comment on the fact that a staggering 48% of these appeals are allowed by the courts meaning that, in over 36,000 cases, the initial decision by the Home Office was flawed and not in accordance with the law. An inconvenient truth for the Home Secretary perhaps?
In relying on a false premise about the integrity of the appeals system, the Government has reduced the total rights of appeal from 17 to 4. If the Home Office makes an error in law when considering your application, you will no longer have the right of an appeal before an independent tribunal. Instead, applicants will only be able to request an administrative review by the Home Office, i.e. the same body that made the initial flawed decision. One of our clients commented this week that “the Home Office is hardly likely to overturn many of its own decisions.” With my eighteen years experience of dealing with the Home Office, I am inclined to agree.
The Home Office has trialled initiatives in the past aimed at improving the quality of first-tier decision making, in other words, trying to make sure they get the decision right first time, every time. Whether through pressure of resources or workloads, the number of unlawful decisions remains atrociously high as mentioned above.
Applicants whose administrative reviews are rejected will either have to reapply or seek a judicial review of their case in the High Court, a lengthy and expensive process. This is likely to clog up the High Court with endless judicial reviews and delay justice for those wishing to join family, study, work or invest in the UK.
Perhaps what is most disappointing is that there was no real opposition to the withdrawal of appeal rights by Parliament. The Immigration Act 2014 has established the principle that appeal rights against a decision of the executive can be withdrawn without a whimper. Where next for the Government? In which other area of law and public life will we see the withdrawal of fundamental rights in pursuit of an ill conceived headline and populist vote grabbing?
If you require assistance with your UK immigration matters, please contact David Robinson or Evan Remedios, specialist UK immigration solicitors, on +44(0)20 7038 3980, via firstname.lastname@example.org or through the contact form on our web site.