The Hostile Environment
As Home Secretary, Theresa May declared to The Telegraph in May 2012 that she wanted to create a “really hostile environment” for irregular migrants in the UK. As the architect of the hostile environment, she has orchestrated a raft of policy proposals with the majority becoming law in 2014.
The hostile environment marked a defining shift in the architecture of immigration control whereby, state sanctioned ‘hostility’ became the centre-piece of immigration policy in a general sense. This extension of the hostile environment is exemplified by but not limited to ‘astronomically high and increasing immigration application fees, NHS surcharges, denial of access to public funds for women fleeing domestic violence, the continued policy of indefinite detention, the Byzantine complexity of the rules, the enforced separation of some families, the infamous “Go Home” vans and more. Acting together, these hostile environment policies designed as deterrents to constitute a form of state ‘harm’ on migrants.
The hostile environment is now referred to as the complaint environment since 2017, and continues to define UK immigration policy context and its wide ranging impact on migrants.
The impact of the hostile environment is both direct and far reaching, including but not the least limited to; denial of legal aid on immigration, no access to justice, and astronomical application fees. Migrants face the challenge of having no recourse to public funds, and limited access to welfare, healthcare and employment. This poses a struggle when indefinite leave to remain per person costs £2389 and NHS health surcharge for migrants is £624 per adult.
As a migrant rights and justice based organisation, Migrant Action offers migrants support pathways to access justice (legal advice & broader support with home office applications), advocacy support to access mainstream provision, provide hardship & destitution support and work with solicitors to help vulnerable migrants apply for change of No recourse status and more.
Beyond these direct interventions, our work also focuses on structural change. Through research, advocacy and grassroot campaigning, we articulate and seek to change policy and local systems that are impact adversely on migrants.
No Recourse to Public Funds
In 2012 Theresa May stated her aim “was to create here in Britain a really hostile environment for illegal migration”. The goal was effectively to make life as difficult as possible for any illegal migrant in the UK to continue living in the country.
Section 115 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 states that a person will have ‘no recourse to public funds’ if they are ‘subject to immigration control’. This means they have no entitlement to the majority of welfare benefits, including universal credit, child tax credit, housing benefit and a range of other allowances and tax credits. People with no recourse to public funds can access primary NHS healthcare regardless of their immigration status however most types of secondary and community NHS healthcare are chargeable.
There are many different ways in which people who have come to the UK find themselves with ‘no recourse to public funds’. Asylum seekers whose claim has failed, refugees who have been given refugee status or other leave but do not yet have the documentation necessary to claim benefits or apply for housing (newly recognised refugees may wait for their papers for months), people trafficked into the UK for work or other reasons who have not (yet) been able to secure recognition of their status as a victim of trafficking, people who have lost their documentation and so cannot prove their right to access benefits, european migrants who cannot claim benefits because of problems with their ‘right to reside’, parents of British children who have a specific right to reside under European rules which gives them the right to stay and bring up their children in the UK but does not make them eligible for housing or benefits,‘undocumented’ migrants: people who have no leave, who may have overstayed or entered illegally for a variety of reasons.
The policies introduced by the UK Home Office create a hostile environment because they are designed to restrict access to public services, housing and financial services for people living in the UK without leave to remain.
In 2015 laws were passed stating that anyone living in the UK as an undocumented migrant had to pay to access non-emergency healthcare. Charges are calculated at 150% of the cost to the NHS, for most conditions payment is expected upfront, and unpaid bills result in personal data being shared with the Home Office.
People with no recourse to public funds are at high risk of homelessness and destitution because they cannot access mainstream housing, welfare benefits and employment. Following the devastating fire at Grenfell in 2017, many survivors reported to Doctors of The World, a charity that runs clinics and offers advocacy to migrants, that they were too scared to seek medical care due to their immigration.
The NHS have aimed to support people with no recourse to public funds during the Covid-19 pandemic by marking testing, treatment and vaccinations against COVID-19 exempt from NHS charging, free to everyone regardless of their immigration status: However a person must be registered with a GP in order to receive an invitation to be vaccinated, studies by Doctors of the World, have found that an alarming number of GPs refuse to register people, despite the law stating that everybody in the UK has the right to be treated by a GP regardless of their immigration status or whether they have proof of address documents.
The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants have also provided reports of people who have died at home of suspected COVID-19, too afraid to seek medical help due to fear of deportation, they have argued these deaths are a direct result of the hostile environment.
Migrant Action is actively engaged in the campaign with other organisations challenging the government to scrap the policy as it is creating undue hardship and negates the human rights of migrants. Migrant Action has been successful in its legal advocacy work through working in partnership with legal partners to reverse no recourse condition attached to leave to remain for some migrants.