Yesterday’s Queen’s Speech set out the government’s proposed legislative programme for the new parliamentary session.
Although the speech was delivered by the Queen, the content of the speech was entirely drawn up by the government and approved by the Cabinet.
The Queen made the following reference to immigration in her speech:
‘My government will bring forward a Bill that further reforms Britain’s immigration system. The Bill will ensure that this country attracts people who will contribute and deters those who will not.’
Briefing notes were published alongside the Queen’s Speech and they state clearly that the purpose of the Immigration Bill is to reform immigration law, including provisions to strengthen enforcement powers and protect public services.
New Immigration Reforms
Benefits of the changes, as seen by the government, are listed as follows:
- Greater regulation of immigrants and their use of public services;
- Provisions to make it easier to remove people from the UK and harder for people to prolong their stay through the appeals system;
- Specifications that foreign nationals who commit serious crimes shall, except in extraordinary circumstances, be deported.
There are three subheadings covering the main elements of the Bill namely, ‘Access to Services’, ‘Enforcement and Appeals’ and ‘Article 8’. We note below what the Bill is intended to do in each of these three areas and provide our comments on each in turn:
Access to Services
The Bill promises to enable tough action against businesses that use illegal labour, including more substantial fines. This will affect the civil penalty system that has been in place since February 2008 derived from the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2006 which can currently punish employers by up to £10,000 for each illegal worker.
The Bill will also affect access to the NHS by migrants with strengthened regulation in the form of requiring temporary migrants to contribute towards the costs of services received.
It is also planned that Private landlords will be required to check the immigration status of their tenants, although no further information has been provided yet as to how this measure will be implemented.
The Bill will also prevent illegal immigrants from obtaining UK driving licences.
Enforcement and Appeals
The Bill will include provisions to ensure that only cases that raise the most important immigration issues will have a right of appeal. It will be interesting to see how the UK government attempt to do this without creating an increased workload for the Administrative Court in Judicial Review matters.
The Bill will also close a number of gaps in the Home Office enforcement officers powers. This follows on from the oral statement made by the Home Secretary, The Rt Hon Theresa May MP, on 26 March 2013 who announced that the Government will be splitting up the UK Border Agency. In its place there will be a visa and immigration service alongside an immigration law enforcement organisation.
The Bill will contain provisions to enforce the full weight and implementation of all immigration legislation in relation to government policy already adopted in relation to the Immigration Rules. The government aims to use the Bill to create a higher threshold which the Courts must use when balancing the public interest against Article 8 in immigration cases.
This may prove difficult given that the Upper Tribunal have already ruled in two recent decisions (MF (Article 8 – new rules) Nigeria  UKUT 60 (IAC) (08 February 2013) SSHD and Izuazu (Article 8 – new rules) Nigeria  UKUT 45 (IAC) (30 January 2013)) that the incorporation of Article 8 into the Immigration Rules cannot limit the weight to be given to the considerations of the interests of the person whose Article 8 rights are affected.
The Queen’s Speech and the government’s briefing notes clearly point towards further strengthening of UK immigration laws. It is in line with the Prime Minister’s Immigration speech made on 25 March 2013 in which he stated that net annual immigration needed to be reduced from hundreds of thousands a year, to just tens of thousands.
The government furthermore seems to be preparing the country for an increase in migration from Bulgaria and Romania next year following the end of the current transitional controls.
The proposals in the Bill are wide-ranging and will no doubt create a new chapter in UK immigration history.
The Prime Minister’s Immigration speech of 25 March 2013
The Rt Hon Theresa May MP’s oral statement of 26 March 2013
The background briefing notes for the Queen’s Speech of 8 May 2013