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Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration examines Home Office’s approach to illegal working

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David Bolt, the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, last week released his latest inspection report, which looks at how the Home Office tackles migrants working illegally in the UK.

The comprehensive 92-page report is available here.

This inspection examines the efficiency and effectiveness of the Home Office’s approach to illegal working, specifically:

  • the assessment of the illegal working threat
  • the operational response, including the performance of Immigration Compliance and Enforcement (ICE) teams
  • the collection, analysis, assessment and use of intelligence
  • the identification and safeguarding of potential victims of modern slavery and of other forms of exploitation
  • the use of Civil Penalties and Closure Notices against non-compliant employers
  • engagement by and joint working between Immigration Enforcement (IE) external partners and stakeholders
  • the impact of the Windrush scandal

The Independent Chief Inspector last examined illegal working in a 2015 report.

He said: “The current inspection looked to see what changes and improvements the Home Office had made in tackling illegal working since 2015. It found there had been significant efforts from within IE [Immigration Enforcement] to develop strategies and to encourage partnerships and collaborations with other government departments and with large employers and employer groups in particular sectors. But, there were no metrics in place to measure how successful or otherwise these had been, and it was unclear what level of support they enjoyed at the most senior levels in the Home Office and elsewhere, especially since the Windrush scandal.”

The report found that evidence suggested little had changed ‘on the ground’ since 2015.

The report states: “Immigration Compliance and Enforcement (ICE) teams were still largely reliant on allegations received from members of the public as the main source of operational leads, and almost half of all illegal working deployments were to restaurants and fast food outlets, and concentrated on a few nationalities, essentially those believed to be removable. Bangladeshis, Indians, Pakistanis and Chinese made up almost two-thirds (63%) of all illegal working arrests. Whatever the logic of this approach from a removals perspective, the inference for other nationals working illegally, especially if they were not employed in restaurants and takeaways, was that the likelihood of being arrested for working illegally was low and the likelihood of removal was negligible.”

The Independent Chief Inspector found that the Windrush scandal had had a significant effect on Immigration Enforcement both operationally and psychologically. Immigration Enforcement perceives that other government departments and agencies, employers and the general public were now less supportive, and that having dispensed with removals targets it was no longer clear, at least to ICE teams, what success looked like.

The report noted: “Windrush has led to questions about whether sufficient safeguards were in place when IE identified individuals they believed to be migrants without the right to live and work in the UK. Certainly, stakeholders were clear with inspectors that they considered ICE teams to be ill-equipped in terms of expertise, time and incentive to identify where an individual encountered working illegally was in fact a victim of modern slavery or some other form of exploitation, and the small sample of case records examined by inspectors tended to support this view. Inspectors also heard concerns that fear of falling foul of IE might encourage some employers to discriminate against individuals who found it difficult to evidence their right to work.”

David Bolt makes six recommendation in the report, noting: “The majority focus on improving the mechanics of illegal working compliance and enforcement but, while important and necessary, these are not enough by themselves to answer the criticism that the Home Office’s efforts are not really working, and may have had the unintended consequence of enabling exploitation and discrimination by some employers.”

You can read the Home Office’s response to the Independent Chief Inspector’s report here.

David Bolt said: “The Home Office has accepted all six recommendations. However, it seems that implementation of the key recommendations remains some way off and, while it is entirely sensible for it to look to the various reviews of the immigration system, including of Windrush Lessons Learned, to inform the updated illegal working strategy, in the meantime the problems identified in my report persist, with little clarity about the Home Office’s thinking or intentions.”


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