Over the past 25 years since I first started practising UK Immigration law, I have seen the changes in Government, the changes in policies, the changes in politics, and the comings and goings of various visa categories almost too numerous to count.
Historically we have had innovators, students, post-study visas and more… All now relics of the past.
However, never before have we seen such severe changes to the immigration rules and a Government so intent on legislative change to restrict access to this great country shores.
Over the past 18 months, we have seen the private college industry all but eliminated, the introduction of interviews for students (both at application and at airports), the raising of English Language levels for Tier 4 students, the withdrawal of work permission, and the repeated intentions of the Government to reduce net immigration to ‘tens of thousands’.
The increasingly brazen actions of desperate refugees at Calais over the last weeks seem to have further hardened the stoic resolve of the Government to reduce the appeal of the UK abroad. Earlier this year the UK Government announced plans to criminalise landlords who rent accommodation to those without a visa (Illegal entry or overstayers) and prevent banks from opening bank accounts. In addition, measures have been put in place to prevent illegal residents from acquiring driving licences.
This week we have seen yet further penalties being proposed against those among us that are unfortunate enough not to have permission to remain (or work) in the UK.
The Government has this week announced the intention to take illegal working to a new level further, criminalising illegal workers (with up to six months jail terms), and to also increase penalties against employers, with employers facing possible jail terms (up to five years) if caught employing anyone without permission to work. (And to provide the law to close restaurants and food outlets found engaging people without work permits.)
The planned changes are all part of the new immigration bill, due to be introduced in the autumn (Sept/Oct 2015)
With the ever-tightening noose of legal UK immigration categories and the now criminalisation of illegals working in the UK, coming to (or remaining in) the UK is fraught with difficulty.
Although the new penalties against illegal workers are intended to prevent newcomers choosing British shores, the reality is that life will become all but unbearable for the millions already remaining illegally in the UK, without a bank account, without a car, and now without accommodation… and without work.
However, despite this crackdown by the Government, the Human Rights Act (in regards to family and private life), as well as Section 55 of the Borders Citizenship and Nationality Act giving priority consideration to children, continue to have an effect.
Although immigration may be a scary subject for many, knowing your legal rights is paramount.
For those whose visas are expiring, or for those who have no status in the UK, (Whether illegal entry or overstayer)_it is more than ever vital to know your legal position and how to extend or regularise your status and to seek confidential legal advice.