Examination of Witnesses

Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 4:15 pm ar 9 Mehefin 2020.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Ian Robinson and Alison Harvey gave evidence.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Ceidwadwyr, Gainsborough 4:30, 9 Mehefin 2020

Good afternoon and welcome to our session. We have until 5 o’clock. Would you like to introduce yourselves for the record?

Alison Harvey:

My name is Alison Harvey. I am a barrister at No5 Chambers in London.

Ian Robinson:

I am Ian Robinson. I am a partner in Fragomen, the immigration law firm.

Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

Q I should like to ask both witnesses this. Part of the process of moving to a single migration system, which the Bill sets the framework for, is to simplify the immigration rules. Do either of you have any thoughts about how it goes towards doing that?

Alison Harvey:

Essentially, it does not have anything to do with that. There has been a lot of talk about the Bill setting up the new points-based system. It does not; it gets rid of the free movement law, and that is all it does. Although I have not sat on it yet, the Bar Council has appointed me its representative to the simplification committee on the rules, and I gave evidence to the Lords Constitution Committee about this a while ago.

If you look at what the Law Commission and the Home Office have published on the rules, it is simpler but not simple. We will not get to a simple system or anything like one until we consolidate the primary legislation. Let us remember that our immigration legislation is built on the Immigration Act 1971, which came into force on 1 January ’73, when we joined the EU. Before that, we had only had four years in this country, in all its history, without free movement. If you go back to 1066 and beyond, you have everyone within the King’s allegiance and dominions moving freely within the allegiance and dominions, subject to the limitations in place in 1066, but they were not legal limits. The passport that you have from Hull is the same as the passport that you have from Bangalore.

We then had the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1968, which cut off free movement, but we were bigger then. As well as our current overseas territories, we had the associated states in the Caribbean, from which people came. That period of March 1968 to 1 January 1973 is the only period in our history when we have been as small as we are going to be from June, so the change is massive.

We are managing with a rickety old Act that desperately needs changing. The problem with immigration law is that every time you change it, you have to deal with the people under the old regime and make transition provision, so change always results in complexity.

Ian Robinson:

The simple answer is that we are going from two immigration systems to one. Right now, we have reasonably simple arrangements for free movement and complex arrangements for non-Europeans. We will have one complex arrangement for everybody. In some areas, it will become slicker, I suppose, but it will remain complex.

In an international context, my clients will quickly recognise that the UK has a simpler, more transparent immigration system than many countries. That is great if you are a multinational, but if you are a small or medium-sized enterprise dealing just with the UK immigration system, that does not really help you, and the complexities can still trip you up. Likewise if you are an individual.

Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

Q Do you have any particular thoughts on how businesses will engage with this system?

Ian Robinson:

In terms of the skilled part of the system, we will have one of the better skilled immigration systems in the world, in terms of much of the policy and the speed as it relates to skilled people. Where that falls down is the cost. I suspect that there will be more questions about that later, and I can cover them. We are wildly more expensive than other countries. What businesses want is speed. Singapore and one or two central African countries aside, no one can issue visas as quickly routinely as the UK does. We are very good at that. There are on-entry arrangements in Canada, but we are very good at issuing visas.

If I were talking to an American or Canadian audience, they look for predictability. We can offer certainty. It is a fairly tick-box, prescriptive list for a work permit, which is good. In that respect, it is a good system. It becomes more difficult again when you look at cost. It becomes difficult when you look at lower-skilled workers and the fact that the tap will be turned off, unless we have a youth mobility scheme.

My clients are not quite sure where they stand on that at the moment. On the one hand, if you had asked me three months ago, they were very concerned. Covid changes things, but they are nervous about taking the gamble now that there will be enough people in the labour market after the pandemic is cleared.

The final point that I would make is that if you are an established user of the system, used to working with Indian, US and other non-European migrant workers, you are going to experience a much better immigration system when we have a lower skill level, marginally lower salary, and one or two other changes, particularly when the new technology comes in for sponsorship.

But if you have never used the immigration system in that way before, and if you do not already have a licence, there is a real risk that you will have no idea and no time at the moment to apply for a licence. You probably will not have before the end of the year, so you will realise you need to too late, at which point, unless a concerted effort is made not only by the Home Office, but by trade bodies to push employers to apply for licences, we will be back to six-month delays before a company can even begin to make a visa application, which is not great. Steps need to be taken to make sure that employers know what will be expected of them, and that they can, as easily as possible, get the tier 2 sponsor licence.

Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

Q I have a brief question for Ms Harvey, given the provisions in the Bill about Irish citizens. We are providing a clear provision for Irish citizens. I note your own background and work on that area, so I wonder whether you have any particular comments on those provisions.

Alison Harvey:

You have heard this afternoon—I did not manage to hear his evidence—from Professor Ryan. He has a grasp of the issue that is second to none. Clause 3ZA is very useful and important. I do think that it lowers the protection from deportation for the Irish. The Irish do not deport Brits at all. I think we ought to address that.

My own work has been around giving effect to the Good Friday agreement in the work I have done for the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission and the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission about looking at the Good Friday agreement. I would like to see, as a bedrock that would deal with some of the concerns about deportation and the question of identifying solely as Irish, a right of abode given to all the people of Northern Ireland, whether they identify as British or Irish or both.

A right of abode protects you from deportation. It is as close as you get to citizenship. You get the whole packet of rights. From the point of view of the Administration, the Government, the country, and the people in benefits offices, if you know that if you were born in Northern Ireland, you have a right of abode in the UK, it becomes much less problematic whether you identify as British or Irish or both. You essentially know what your social security entitlements and your health entitlements will be. I think that is the bedrock on which we build the flexibility in identification.

Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

Briefly, because I am conscious that others want to come in, there has been mention of the deportation of Irish citizens. Can you think of an example—not of an extradition, I have to say, because that is a different provision?

Alison Harvey:

An example where someone was deported?

Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

An example where an Irish citizen has been deported from the United Kingdom or Northern Ireland.

Alison Harvey:

I was looking at this recently for an article and I think there were examples at the time. I think they fall parallel with the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1974, where we were confining people to Northern Ireland or to Britain or not letting them in, so you have rules on third-country nationals, but they also have the potential to affect citizens of the two countries. It was in that period, and there was an overlap between the security powers that were being used at the time with the roll-over of the Prevention of Terrorism Act and the control orders and deportation—

Alison Harvey:

Yes, they have totally gone now.

Photo of Holly Lynch Holly Lynch Shadow Minister (Home Office)

Q We have heard evidence this afternoon from other witnesses regarding their concerns about some of the Henry VIII powers in the Bill. May I ask you to share your thoughts on those, and what they mean not only for parliamentary democracy, but for practitioners of law? Do you have concerns about them?

Alison Harvey:

Very much the concerns that Mr Berry expressed about certainty. If it is said that provisions of retained EU law are not compatible with the Immigration Act, please can we have a list? Tell us what they are. You must know, Home Office, otherwise you are not going to be able to operate the system. As he said, we had the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 and the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020, both of which essentially give us powers to save EU law. They also give us powers to knock out retained EU law bit by bit, so what is the point of the Bill at all, in substance terms?

I think the point must be, because immigration is a sensitive area and because it involves people, to give you the opportunity to put in place safeguards. I suppose the Bill goes beyond the European Union (Withdrawal) Act and the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act in that it would allow you to build a new system. There are wider powers of delegated legislation. I think most of the repeals could have been done under those Acts. If you want to test that, you go back to March, when the Immigration, Nationality and Asylum (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 were passed. Look at some of the things that they do: “Let’s give all Gibraltarians a right to apply for British citizenship.” There are big chunky powers in those regulations that are not in the Bill.

The Bill is an opportunity to put some brakes in. What is astonishing is that the Bill looks almost the same as it did last time it appeared; yet last time we did not have a withdrawal agreement. All the wait and see markers that justified not putting something in primary legislation have gone. Similarly, although the Home Office delegated powers memorandum has got longer it has produced, for example, absolutely no more substance on why the powers on fees are needed. The Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee said that this is so unsubstantial you cannot even say it is a skeleton.

There really is no justification to explain why there possibly need to be those powers. It creates tremendous uncertainty. It certainly creates lots of opportunities for litigation; to go in and argue that, no, something is not incompatible. That does not seem to me helpful at all.

Ian Robinson:

Alison has said everything that I could and more.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Attorney General)

Q Alison Harvey, may I first go back to the idea that Professor Ryan was speaking about earlier: the notion of persons of Northern Ireland? The reason that would be useful would be to explain who has certain rights, in terms of family immigration rules or protections against deportation, for example, without having to claim British citizenship or to identify as a British citizen under the Belfast agreement.

Alison Harvey:

We have two groups. Proposed new section 3ZA to the Immigration Act is about the Irish in Britain, wherever born—all the Irish; anyone who holds an Irish passport—and it gives them protection wherever they enter the UK, so that if they come from Belfast and go for a weekend in Paris they have not lost all their rights just by spending a weekend in Paris, which technically in law at the moment they have.

The other group are the people of Northern Ireland, who are the people born on the soil of Northern Ireland. Those people, under the Belfast agreement, have the right to identify as British, Irish or both. The question is how you give effect to that right, because at the moment it is argued that you give effect to it by going through a renunciation process, which costs money and makes it very difficult for somebody to identify solely as Irish.

We have provided in the EU settlement scheme for the people of Northern Ireland—those who are born there—to be treated in the same way for family immigration purposes as EEA nationals. That is a fairly short-term right—not a short short-term right, but obviously one that is on the way out because we are leaving the EU and that advantage will disappear over time; it will not apply to new arrivals and it will not apply to the people of Northern Ireland who form subsequent relationships.

So we have said that we will make it not matter whether you are British or Irish, or both, because you will not be at a practical disadvantage. But what people would like to be able to do is identify as Irish without having to give up a British citizenship they never felt they held. That was a point made by Emma DeSouza in her litigation. That litigation ended because it was a case brought by her partner about his EU law rights. So although their arguments were about her ability to identify as Irish, that was not the crux of their case; their case was an EU case, so it died with the changes.

I have put forward in my paper a series of proposals as to how we could fairly simply amend the law to give effect to that aspiration, without in any way damaging the aspiration of those in Northern Ireland who say, “I in no way want to be treated any differently from anyone else anywhere else in the UK”. I think we can square that circle.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Attorney General)

Q You spoke earlier about how new immigration legislation always leads to challenges around transition and the need for transitional protections. Were you speaking then about EU nationals who are already here in the settlement scheme, or were you talking about a wider set of transitional concerns?

Alison Harvey:

With any change, you have to decide what you do; it takes five years to get to settlement. What perhaps worries me most when I look at the points-based paper and those proposals is that rather than saying, “This is where we want to end up—how do we get there?”, they are all about what we are going to do next. Therefore, the fear is that we will never get where we want to end up, because we are rushing things, in a way.

As I say, this is a massive change. When Vivienne Stern of Universities UK gave her evidence to the Committee, she said, “Universities will recover from this. The question for us is, what is going to happen in the short to medium term?” I think it is very similar for the immigration system. In the short to medium term, maybe the recessionary effects of covid will mean that there is less need for people, but the short to medium term is the bit that that paper does not even regard as a problem; it just says that this is what we want, and I think that is not realistic. The attention has been focused, for good reason, on the stock of EU nationals—the people who are here—but what will really hurt business is the flow, or the cutting off of that flow.

Mr Robinson has made the point that our system is quicker than that of many countries, but employers are used to it being a lot quicker, and the employers who have the least difficulty are the global multinationals, which have the persons already employed in one part and can move them across. The solely British business, which does not have an overseas branch, has the most disadvantages. It is a bit like the recovery after the pandemic, and the supermarkets have actually done really well during it and the corner shop has closed. It is that sort of thing—this change will advantage the very people who you would have thought, given the Brexit ideology, were the people who were supposed to face a bit more competition from the Brits.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Attorney General)

Q Is that a fair point, Mr Robinson, that those companies that are already tier 2 will have a significant head-start—they may find that processes slow up a bit, but at least they are well established and know these procedures inside out, and it will be the many, many thousands of businesses that have no experience of employing from outside the EU that will face a huge challenge?

Ian Robinson:

Yes, that is spot on. If I were to have two conversations, one with an established tier 2 sponsor and one with a new employer using the system for the first time, the first conversation would be to say, “Okay, the systems that you have will become simpler and quicker, because there will be no advertising, no cap and so on. You will be able to bring more people through sponsorship, because skill level is going down.” It will be more expensive and it will be slower than free movement, but overall, frankly, they can absorb it.

If I then pick up the phone to an employer who has never used the system, they will probably spend between two and four weeks collecting documentation in order to put together an application. The application right now is typically taking four to six weeks, against an eight-week service standard. If we have a rush of employers applying for licences, it seems quite possible that, towards the end of the year or the beginning of next year, that lead-in time will become much longer, during which time they could miss out on an opportunity or a worker.

Then you get to the kicker: if you are sponsoring Stuart, who is single and coming in for three years, for an SME that would cost about £4,000 and for a larger employer it would be about £5,500. If you were coming in with a partner and three children for three years, that would be £17,000 in Government fees, not including the other associated costs.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Attorney General)

Q I daresay that some of the larger companies you may work for will absorb quite a lot of those costs themselves, but if you are running a small business with limited margins, you may not be able to pay the health surcharge that bringing somebody in entails. You will then be left in a place where you are offering a job to somebody, but it comes with a £5,000, £10,000 or £15,000 price tag for that individual, whereas they might have a job offer from Dublin or anywhere else in the EU that involved no such difficulty.

Ian Robinson:

Yes, that is fair. If you are coming in as a single person and you are covering your own fees, it is broadly £600 for a three-year visa. You will be paying an extra £624 a year for the health surcharge. You get to indefinite leave to remain, which is about £2,200 or £2,300, and then citizenship is about another £1,200. If you add that up, as I am about to attempt to, it would be not far off £10,000 just to get through to citizenship. If we assume that you are on £26,000 a year and clearing however much of that, it is a hell of a cut. If you also have children, you have to pay another £10,000 each.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Attorney General)

Q All things being equal, the job in Dublin seems significantly more attractive. You will not be surprised if I turn to the issue of Scotland. I should explain to the Committee that a few months back, I and Westminster colleagues instructed Fragomen to produce a report on behalf of the Scottish National party, looking into what other countries do about having a differentiated system for different parts of the country, and looking for options that might work for Scotland and, indeed, other parts of the UK. Would you be able to summarise that work and its conclusions as best you can in a few sentences?

Ian Robinson:

We made several suggestions on simplifications for employers and individuals in Scotland: lower salary requirements, faster routes to settlement and so forth. The headline finding was that if the political will were there, it would be quite possible to continue free movement in Scotland after free movement ended for the rest of the UK. I appreciate that that may seem counter-intuitive to some people in the room, but the rationale is that, if you were to continue to operate free movement in Scotland, people would be able to move there and live and work on the structure of their European passport. The obvious challenge is what happens if they subsequently want to move to the UK, as some may, because at that point they would need to have permission to live and work in the UK, just as any other migrant would.

One of the challenges we have had is whether that would turn Scotland into a back door for England, Wales and Northern Ireland. It is hard to make that argument when you consider that the front door is open, given that there will be no visit visa requirement for Europeans coming to the UK. If you were a German who wanted to work in the UK and were content to do so illegally, there would be no incentive to go through Scotland first. You would jump on an easyJet flight into Stansted, maybe not even see an immigration officer and start work if you were so minded.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Attorney General)

Q I suppose the broader point is that we operate a land border and a common travel area with a country that has free movement and a completely independent immigration system.

Ian Robinson:

Yes.

Ian Robinson:

No. The Government is content that the compliance environment/hostile environment measures that we have in place are sufficient to stop illegal migration and working from tourists. It would be equally capable of stopping that sort of migration from Scotland.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Attorney General)

Q Alison, any thoughts on the notion that you could have different rules for Scotland or Northern Ireland, which will face significant challenges as it shares a land border with an area that is still part of the free movement landscape?

Alison Harvey:

It is partly that and partly that we are small, so you can travel a long way quickly. If you give someone a visa for one part of Australia, it works very differently. I remember asking the Australian Minister about that, and he said that it was salary that glued people to the Northern Territory.

In our current points-based system, a tier 2 skilled worker works for a particular employer, so it is not that much of a leap to say, “You must work for the employer in X, Y and Z offices.” Applying it generally may be more complicated, but applying it to workers who work for an employer—whether they are highly skilled or low skilled does not matter—is easier. If you are someone who is on a payroll, it is easier to envisage it working. It becomes more complicated to stop people moving around outside the paid employer—they must be employed by that person.

Ian Robinson:

A very quick point: right now, you sponsor a particular person to work for a particular employer in a particular location. If that location changes, the Home Office must be notified. I could not say how much scrutiny they give to that—I do not think it is a great deal—but employers are already reporting on that sort of thing.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Attorney General)

Q I have a final question. Alison, you have obviously been critical of the nature of this Bill. Politicians would say that it gives the Home Office a blank cheque. As you say, last year, the answer appeared to be, “Wait and see. We have to be ready for whatever the outcome of the negotiations is.” This year, it seems to be, “Well, we have to move quickly.” How should we be going about making immigration policy in a way that gets the balance right between allowing some degree of flexibility and speed, and getting a significantly greater degree of scrutiny that does not allow thousands of changes to be made to the immigration rules without an MP batting their eyes?

Alison Harvey:

I think Wendy Williams has given you an excellent blueprint in the Windrush lessons learned review. Although those recommendations emerged from Windrush, what she is saying is that you get a Windrush when you have a lack of understanding of your own laws. Complexity makes that understanding so difficult to achieve, as happened with Windrush. She recommends the consolidation of legislation. It is obvious. We need to do that through a consolidation Bill.

We have to have a self-denying ordinance so that no one is trying to change it—not the Government, not the Opposition—and we just get in and consolidate what we have got. Then we go in and change it afterwards. It is difficult enough to consolidate it. It can then go through the consolidated Bill procedure in Parliament, which is the only way you would ever get a consolidated Bill through Parliament without abandoning all other business in the Session to deal with it.

If the Immigration Act 1971 was our “going into the EU” immigration Act, we now need to start again and build up from the top. We need to think much more teleologically about where we want to be and what we want to achieve, rather than start with the how. The problem with the current paper is that it starts with the how and ignores where we are. It cannot cope with pressure such as from the pandemic and its effects on the economy. It is a rigid system full of teeny little routes. We do not need that; we need an idea of what the end result looks like, and then we can look at how to get there. We need a lot more sensitivity to regions, so we need to devolve down a great deal to regions such as Scotland, where immigration is needed. In Somerset, where I come from, the agricultural crisis is going to be huge.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Ceidwadwyr, Gainsborough

Thank you very much. I am afraid that it is 5 o’clock, and the rules state that I have now to ask the Whip—it is his moment of glory—to move the adjournment motion.

Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned. —(Tom Pursglove.)

Adjourned till Thursday 11 June at half-past Eleven o’clock.

Written evidence reported to the House

IB01 English UK

IB02 Royal College of Nursing

IB03 Lift the Ban Coalition

IB04 Families Together Coalition

IB05 The Children's Society

IB06 Equality and Human Rights Commission

IB07 Professor Bernard Ryan