What needs to change in the new immigration bill
The government recently published a new immigration bill. According to Mark Harper, the immigration minister, the bill 'will stop migrants using public services to which they are not entitled, reduce the pull factors which encourage people to come to the UK and make it easier to remove people who should not be here.'
However, from our work supporting refugee and migrant children and families up and down the country, we know that these changes will have a detrimental impact on their lives, many of whom who are already unable to access vital services such as health care and legal advice.
There are an estimated 120,000 undocumented children living in the UK, the majority of whom were born here or came here at a very young age. For many this is the only home they know. These children already face homelessness, destitution and exploitation because of their precarious status and their limited access to support. The proposals in the bill will only increase the risks to some of the most marginalised children in this country.
Access to housing
Under this bill, private landlords will be required to check the immigration status of tenants before they let accommodation. This is likely to make children and families homeless, including many British citizens, who are unable to prove their status.
This could exacerbate the problem of sub-standard and over-crowded accommodation - and end up costing local authorities more money as they will need to house any families who become homeless as a result of the bill.
Access to health care
The bill also restricts access (including for children) to the NHS, based on immigration status. However, the details of how this will be done have not been set out by the government and remain unclear.
Limiting access to vital primary care services - like GPs and vaccinations - for migrant children and young people will have significant consequences not only for them but for the population as a whole and poses serious public health risks. If these changes are implemented as the government previously proposed, they are likely to increase attendance at costly A&E services.
Reducing contact between children and healthcare professionals also has implications for child protection as these children will be less likely to come into contact with key professionals who can recognise and act on signs of abuse and neglect.
Article 8 of the Human Rights Act
It is particularly disappointing that the government has not considered the best interests of the child, including under the provisions to restrict considerations of an individual’s Article 8 right to family and private life, or the home secretary’s duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of all children, regardless of their or their parents’ status or nationality.
Many undocumented migrant children have legitimate reasons to remain in this country on the basis of their family and private life, having been born or grown up here. This is not recognised within the bill. What's more, without legal aid available for most immigration cases, many children will be left in legal limbo, increasingly marginalised and excluded from vital services, and yet unable to resolve their status.
We will continue to work on this bill to ensure that the voices of children and young people are heard within this debate.
You can read our consultation response to government plans for private landlords to check immigration status here, and changes to health care access and financial contribution.