Windrush scandal has big impact on fight against illegal immigration – watchdog

Repercussions of the Windrush scandal have had a significant effect on Home Office teams tasked with tackling illegal immigration, a watchdog report has said.

Inspectors were told that in the absence of removal targets – which were axed after the Windrush failings emerged – staff found it harder to evaluate the impact of their work and to define “success”.

Ministers faced a furious backlash over the treatment of the Windrush generation – named after a ship that brought people to Britain from the Caribbean in 1948.

A public outcry erupted after it emerged long-term UK residents were denied access to services, held in detention or removed despite living legally in the country for decades.

Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration David Bolt (pictured) said Windrush had a “significant effect” on Immigration Enforcement (IE), the Home Office division responsible for preventing abuse of immigration law.

The impact was both “operational” as a result of the pausing of data sharing with other Government departments, and “psychological” with IE “perceiving that other departments and agencies, employers and the general public were now less supportive”, according to the report.

It said: “The general view from those interviewed by inspectors was that Windrush had fundamentally altered the environment in which IE operated, in particular the declared move away from removal targets had left some unsure about what ‘success’ now looked like, and this was affecting morale.”

Some staff have seen a positive side in the strengthening of assurance processes post-Windrush, the inspection found.

It said: “Windrush has created both an opportunity and an imperative for IE (and the wider Home Office) to examine its approach to illegal working (and other compliant environment measures) and ask not only whether it is effective but also whether it is appropriate.”

The findings were outlined in an assessment of the Home Office’s approach to tackling illegal working.

There is no official definition of “illegal working”, but it has come to mean the act of working in the UK by someone who is the subject of immigration control, and who is either in the country illegally or is breaching the terms of their leave by working.

Between April 1 2015 and August 31 2018, Immigration Compliance and Enforcement (ICE) teams conducted 23,413 illegal working deployments, encountering 83,855 individuals and making 14,762 arrests.

Almost half of all deployments were to restaurants and fast food outlets, and concentrated on a few nationalities, according to the report.

It said: “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.”

Arrests of suspected illegal workers, and subsequent removals from the country, have been declining year-on-year since 2015-16, the report said.

Inspectors were told that lack of resources was impacting the ability of ICE teams to conduct illegal working operations.

One manager said: “We get intel packages for non-removable individuals and we don’t touch them. They won’t be tasked.”

Employers found to be employing workers illegally can be fined.

A 2015 Government estimate indicated that there were between 190,000 and 240,000 businesses employing illegal workers in the UK, although the Home Office says the figures are “speculative” and have since been discounted.

“If even broadly correct, this would mean that roughly 1% of non-compliant businesses are issued a civil penalty in any year, and only a third of these pays up,” the report said.

It also flagged up a rise in attempts to disrupt immigration enforcement deployments through acts of violence, threatening behaviour, verbal abuse and protests.

A Home Office spokeswoman said: “We are committed to an immigration policy which welcomes and celebrates people here legally, but which tackles illegal immigration.

“Illegal working undercuts honest employers, puts vulnerable migrants at risk of exploitation, cheats legitimate job seekers out of employment and defrauds the public purse. Tackling this damaging crime is a key Government priority.

“We are currently working closely with other Government departments, law enforcement agencies and employment sectors to develop new sources of intelligence, which will ensure we tackle illegal working in a broad range of industries.

“At the same time we are also making it easier for those here lawfully to demonstrate their status, for example through the introduction of an online checking service.”

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2019, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) The Home Office.