Clause 59 - Processing of visa applications from nationals of certain countries

Part of Nationality and Borders Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 3:15 pm ar 2 Tachwedd 2021.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Anne McLaughlin Anne McLaughlin Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control) 3:15, 2 Tachwedd 2021

We support amendment 151 for the self-explanatory reason that we need to know the impact of these actions. We are not saying that visa penalties should never be imposed in any circumstances, but we share many of the concerns voiced by the hon. Member for Sheffield Central and I will focus on a couple of them.

The Government say this clause will incentivise other countries to co-operate with the UK Government to remove those who have no right to be in the country, but they have presented no evidence that this will be the case. Saying it is one thing, but if they are so confident of it they should do some work and, as the hon. Member for Sheffield Central asks in his amendment, publish a report examining the impact on our relations with other countries.

The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants says that this clause will affect, among others, workers, including key workers. Have not the Brexit restrictions on key workers coming into the country taught us anything? There are also tourists and their massive contribution to our economies; performers; students—who pay thousands of pounds to study at our universities, many of which would struggle to survive without them—and academics, among others, including the family members of British citizens. Again, we are punishing the wrong people.

Specifically, I want to express the concerns of Elizabeth Ruddick of the UNHCR about the impact on family reunion. The UNHCR’s concern is that although the clause gives the Home Secretary flexibility on the type of penalties to impose, nothing explicitly prevents the imposition of penalties on applications for refugee family reunion. Elizabeth Ruddick says that delaying refugee family reunion on that basis is likely to violate their human rights, particularly under article 8 of the ECHR. Will the Minister do that thing that his colleague has done a lot in Committee, which is to reassure us that that will not happen? For the record, I am not reassured, but reassurances have been offered throughout the Committee and it would be good to hear his thoughts at least.

Will the Minister consider a scenario that could arise from the clause and reassure me about it? I might be taking this too far, but let us take the case of two asylum seekers who arrive irregularly by boat. Perhaps the Home Secretary is feeling generous and decides that, rather than offshoring them or jailing them—both options that the Bill allows to be considered—she will simply return them to their countries of origin, from which they fled. Country No. 1 has not signed an agreement and does not agree to take the person back, perhaps because—I will be generous—its Government recognise that they cannot protect that person, for whatever reason.

Country No. 2, however, is Afghanistan. We have talked a lot about Afghanistan in considering the Bill, and we are not currently returning people to Afghanistan, but that will not always be the case, so bear with me. The second asylum seeker is to be returned to Afghanistan and the Taliban men in charge are ready to welcome refugees back with open arms, primarily because they have been hunting them down anyway. For obvious reasons, Afghanistan complies, signs the agreement and accepts its citizens back. Does that mean that country No. 1 could have restrictions placed on its students, key workers and tourists who wish to visit the UK, while by comparison the Taliban could have free rein? I am not asking whether that is likely to happen; I am just asking whether the clause means that it could happen.

We welcome the reviews included under new clause 10, but they are not sufficient, and the powers under new clause 9 are too wide. Again, they give far too much power to the Secretary of State. It seems that nothing is off limits. The new clause encompasses three themes recurring in the Bill: first, too much power to the Secretary of State; secondly, not enough regard to international relations; and thirdly, closing down one of the few safe and legal routes, unless the Minister can reassure me that refugee family reunion is not affected by the provision—I hope he can.