Migrants’ rights challenges coming up in autumn 2012

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By Ruth Grove White (MRN)

It’s only the beginning of September, but changes are already underway in Parliament. We have already speculated that appointment of new immigration minister, Mark Harper MP, in last week’s reshuffle, seems unlikely to herald major new reforms on immigration before the 2015 general election. Mr Harper launched into his new post with a bang, within 48 hours representing the government in the recent population growth and immigration backbench debate in parliament. Unsurprisingly he gave little indication of his plans for the future there, but his policy priorities will no doubt become clearer over the coming months.

Luckily for Mr Harper, and unluckily for many of us, the major planks of government’s immigration policy changes have already been introduced (with great speed) in the period since 2010, leaving much bedding down of the changes this autumn. In terms of family migration the convoluted new rules, introduced in July 2012, are likely to keep lawyers busy during the coming period in clarifying their implications for clients. Campaigners and legal advocates are also preparing for both public campaigning and legal challenges to the rule changes. Keep an eye on the MRN website for more news on how you can get involved in action aimed at ultimately overturning the worst of these rules – and if you are affected by rule changes then do let us know.

What seems certain is the ongoing furore set to continue over international students to the UK in tandem with the start of the new academic year. The high profile case of London Metropolitan University will continue to make headlines while the university pursues legal action against the UKBA for removal of its Highly Trusted Sponsor license, leaving over 2,000 foreign students due to study there in limbo. If the new BIS taskforce is unable to resolve their situation then this could well amount to more egg on the government’s face. In addition, in July this year the home office promised that up to 14,000 foreign students will be subjected to ‘targeted interviews’ with the UKBA over the coming academic year – heralding a new level of monitoring for international students in the coming period.

For once, migrant workers seem to be out of the spotlight, and we are unlikely to see any further rule changes targeting non-EEA workers over the coming months. Government has calmed the heat around the immigration cap by assuring the public that the level of the limit on migrant workers will not now change until 2015 and is unlikely to introduce other major policy shifts affecting this group in the coming months. No significant rule changes are planned in the near future affecting asylum seekers and refugees either so far as we are aware, although ongoing pressures on legal and support services will continue to make life extremely difficult for many seeking protection in the UK.

There is a clearer indication of plans afoot when it comes to reviewing migrant access to healthcare in the UK. Recent comments by former junior health minister Simon Burns suggest that the government is currently assessing this area – and the (as yet unconfirmed) rumour is that the government may release a further consultation on charging for NHS services for overseas nationals. A ‘wish list’ by Conservative backbencher & health select committee member Chris Skidmore MP published earlier this week may indicate the areas under scrutiny. He is urging the government to reserve free primary healthcare for citizens and introduce a controversial ‘stabilise and discharge’ system for non-citizens receiving hospital treatment.

The run-up to next year’s major cuts to legal aid in the area of immigration from April 2013 are likely to impact on migrants and migrant advocates already, as legal advice services prepare for the adjustment. It’s also not yet clear what impact the replacement of Ken Clarke at the Ministry of Justice with hardliner Chris Grayling will have, but there has been speculation that this could herald a more Eurosceptic position, supporting attempts to replace the European Convention on Human Rights with a British Bill of Rights. At some point this autumn the government is expected to release an updated ‘Life in the UK’ handbook, for people applying for settlement or citizenship in the UK, including some controversial new questions for applicants…

We can expect debate about migration facts and figures to kick off around the release of the next batch of census data, planned for between November 2012 and February 2013. Information expected in this phase of date will paint a picture of key issues relating to migration, including estimated numbers of foreign born people in the UK, their country of birth, location in the UK, employment status and other relevant information useful for painting an overall picture of migration trends in the UK today.

Finally, the operational management of the UKBA will continue to come under close scrutiny by the UKBA chief inspector John Vine and the home affairs select committee. Perhaps this autumn will see more concrete steps towards the home secretary’s vision of a UK Border Policing Command – until now significantly delayed.

All in all, a busy autumn – plenty to watch out for and you will be able to find updates on the MRN website as we hear more on all these issues.

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