Concerns have been raised that the coalition government’s spending cuts could have a negative impact on the ability of the immigration services to protect and regulate the UK’s borders.
Proposed Cuts to the UK Border Agency’s Workforce
- processes visa applications;
- enforces immigration rules; and,
- controls and protects the UK’s borders.
About 5000 jobs are due to be eliminated over the next four years at the UKBA, in addition to the 1700 redundancies which were scheduled for 2010. These cuts would reduce the UKBA’s workforce of 24,000 by 20%. This will inevitably have a direct impact on ordinary travellers as well as migrants and refugees.
Saving Costs on Border Controls
As part of the cost-cutting exercise the coalition government proposes to relinquish continental border controls to the French. This would end the dual immigration system currently in operation at Calais, Boulogne, Dunkirk and the Channel Tunnel – where UK immigration officers operate national security and immigration checks. A similar proposal has been outlined for Eurostar immigration controls in Paris. This plan could leave French immigration officials in sole control of cross-Channel security, reversing the controls introduced in 2004 by the previous government.
There are concerns about the Agency’s ongoing ability to enforce UK immigration law if subjected to these cuts. The Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) denounced the proposals, warning that the cuts would lead to more illegal immigration to the UK. Lin Homer, chief executive of the UKBA, recently announced that Britain had a higher number of asylum seekers in 2010 and implied that the Agency’s resources were already overstretched. It has been argued that these spending cuts could be a false economy as the UK will consequently be faced with additional costs due to the extra migrants.
New Fees for UK Immigration Appeals
Immigrants to the UK already pay application fees for visas and permits. The Home Office reports that the UKBA is currently earning about £750 million each year from visa applicants. However, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) says that it costs the country over £115 million a year to run the immigration appeals system, which does not currently charge a fee for appeals.
To address these costs, the MoJ recently announced that immigrants and asylum seekers will now have to pay for appeals against some immigration and asylum decisions. Fees are due to apply to appeals against refusals to grant leave to remain, leave to enter, or to vary the conditions on leave to remain in the UK. Fees are expected to range from £60 to £250. It has been claimed that this will cover about 25% of the cost of running the immigration appeals system. Some applicants will be exempted from having to pay the fees – including those who qualify for legal aid or asylum support.
However, the legal aid budget has also been slashed as part of the government’s austerity budget. Therefore, it could be more difficult for many of the most vulnerable migrants, asylum seekers and refugees to qualify for assistance. The situation may have been compounded by the recent closure of a charity which offered advice and assistance to refugees and migrants.
A spokeswoman for an immigrant and refugee welfare charity has questioned the need to impose extra costs on vulnerable people who may be facing issues of life and death. She argued that immigrants already contribute more – through taxation, fees, etc. – to the public purse than they take from it. The spokeswoman also pointed to internal issues within the UKBA as contributing to the cost of running the immigration appeals system.
Spending Cuts and Foreign Students
In a bid to cut the risks of illegal immigration and reduce processing costs, the government is considering plans to cut back on overseas student visas by around 87,000. These cuts may be applied particularly to student visa applicants intending to study courses “at below degree level”. The UK’s home secretary, Theresa May, has claimed that abuse of the student visa system is common with this type of application.
The UKBA rates education and training providers according to their track record for monitoring overseas students. The burden of compiling evidence and filling out paperwork in order to achieve ‘Highly Trusted’ sponsor status falls upon colleges. Spending time and money fulfilling these obligations may not be an option for some educational organisations, which may also be facing stringent budget cuts.