The Government has proposed new legislation which will overhaul the asylum and immigration system in the UK

The Nationality and Borders Bill, which will make these changes, is currently being considered by parliament. More detailed scrutiny will take place in the autumn when a committee considers the proposals and suggests amendments, before further votes in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords.

Many of the proposals in the new law were set out in the New Plan for Immigration which was published earlier in the year and put out to consultation. To date the Government has not responded to the consultation or released any summary of responses; it is therefore unclear whether the measures are supported or opposed. At the time of the consultation the Evangelical Alliance raised a number of concerns about how the policy ideas affected the dignity of people, and pressed for a system that put compassion and care at the centre. 

Political context

Immigration is an area of seemingly permanent political tension, with repeated efforts by governments to reform the system and address public concern. The system is definitely in need of reform, but we do not believe these proposals will achieve that.

There is also a sense that, at times, political moves are intended to make a party look as if it’s tough on illegal immigration, resulting in the effectiveness of policy failing to be a primary concern. At the most cynical, perpetuating a crisis of immigration allows governments to continually present a tough stance. This is why we are calling for immigration and asylum plans which place people rather than politics at the centre.

Poor process

The failure of the Government to respond to the consultation process or engage in the very many concerns raised, means that this bill enters parliament amid considerable opposition. The approach of this legislation, and the wider policy platform, has been to press ahead with an agenda the Government indicates has widespread popular support, and as a result does not engage with those raising concerns. The Government’s stated reason for introducing legislation before responding is the urgency of needing to secure the UK’s borders; however, it is unlikely the final legislation will be passed until early 2022

Furthermore, throughout the proposed legislation, rather than spell out the detail of how the new system will work, place-holder measures are included, which gives sweeping powers to the home secretary to make future regulations with minimal parliamentary scrutiny. Such powers have been extensively used, and sometimes abused, during the response to the coronavirus crisis.

The system must treat people with dignity

At the heart of the Evangelical Alliance’s engagement with this legislation is a desire for an immigration and asylum system that treats people with dignity and compassion. We believe this should be possible and should be supported regardless of the level of immigration one may want to see into the UK

The current proposals fail to achieve this. The areas addressed by the legislation, handling asylum claims, tackling human trafficking and creating a fair and just system, are all important policy considerations. Considering human trafficking, the system established in the 2015 Modern Slavery Act does require review, and referral mechanisms do not appear to be functioning well. The changes proposed will often criminalise those seeking asylum rather than those trafficking people.

An unfair two-tier system for claims

The proposed system would create a permanent segregation between two groups of asylum seekers: those who enter through formal safe’ routes, and those who enter illegally. The impact of this will be those who enter illegally will permanently be disadvantaged even if granted asylum. This distinction is ill thought through in its design and unfair in its implication. There are currently few safe’ routes into the UK, and for some, such as Christians persecuted for their faith in some countries, these routes are not safe as they require disclosing the reason for their application in a context where that puts their life at risk. 

Regardless of whether an asylum claim is judged legitimate, to differentiate on the basis of route of entry appears as more of a device to limit successful applications rather than, in the Government’s words, to disrupt the business model of people traffickers. Currently, two-thirds of successful asylum claims are from people who arrived through irregular routes. Often these are the only routes open to them; privileging so-called safe routes fails to serve those who are likeliest to be in greatest need. 

The imprecision of the proposed reforms

The current asylum and immigration system is complex and in need of reform. The proposed changes serve to make it more complicated for applicants to navigate. At present, 41 per cent of rejected asylum applications are overturned at appeal, which is clear evidence of the system failing. Rather than arbitrarily seeking to reduce claims, we believe that reforms should seek to humanise the system. This includes attending to our language when discussing asylum and immigration measures, remembering that in every situation people are at the centre. 

Society has over the last two years become increasingly aware of the consequences of policy actions on the most vulnerable in our country. We should match this with an awareness and attentiveness to the impact of our actions on those in greatest need across the world. We will continue to work for an asylum system that treats all with fairness, dignity and respect.