Unhelpful – Review of data sharing: migrant victims and witnesses of crime

15 December 2021: Home Office: Review of data sharing: migrant victims and witnesses of crime


74.The submission of the super-complaint has highlighted the need to continually review and improve upon existing practices to provide confidence and assurances that any allegation(s) of crime will be given full and proper consideration by the police irrespective of the victim’s immigration status. We fully acknowledge the concerns raised around the current data sharing arrangements and wider issues around supporting migrant victims and witnesses with insecure status to regularise their stay if appropriate.

75. It is clear from representations made that IE’s role in protecting migrants is not widely understood. Greater transparency of IE’s activities and initiatives adopted would help build greater trust and confidence in law enforcements response to migrant victims of crime.

76. The Home Office is committed to supporting the reporting of crime affecting anyone and this includes migrants who are without immigration status. Current data sharing practices between the police and the Home Office are essential in protecting those most vulnerable and enforcing the UK’s immigration laws. Proposals to cease or delay data sharing between the police and the Home Office on migrant victims and witnesses of crime with irregular immigration status would be harmful to both the safeguarding of those victims and witnesses and the public interest.

77. Both the police and IE share a commitment to safeguard the individuals it encounters and protect the public from individuals who are considered to pose a risk of harm to communities. We support the police’s approach to treating someone who reports a crime first and foremost as a victim, prior to any referral to IE. The introduction of the IE Migrant Victim Protocol provides assurance that migrant victims have relief from immigration enforcement while they receive the support they need.

78. As part of this review, the Home Office has considered complementary measures that would provide migrant victims and witnesses of crime greater confidence and trust in the way the police and IE respond to the reporting of crime by that group.

79. Law enforcement agencies (including police and IE) are able to make requests to the Home Office for a foreign national to enter the UK, for their stay to be extended or for their removal to be deferred for the purpose of giving evidence. As such we believe this provides an alternative mechanism to a firewall for migrant witnesses.

80. The initiatives detailed below aim to use collaborative partnerships to improve access to existing mechanisms and to encourage migrants with irregular immigration status to report all crimes.

81. The police and IE will develop and implement a comprehensive stakeholder and outreach engagement programme designed to promote reporting of crime amongst migrants with irregular immigration status. A key component of this work will focus on building trust and confidence in IE and police activities in supporting migrant victims. It is clear from discussions that there are perceptions about law enforcement’s role in prioritising enforcement action over investigations into criminality, which need to be addressed through sustained and positive outreach with migrant groups and communities.

82. It is essential that IE’s role is clearly understood amongst communities affected, particularly in relation to safeguarding vulnerable individuals and supporting migrants to regularise their immigration status. Greater transparency of IE’s activities when encountering a victim of crime will help instil confidence. Only through sustained community engagement will IE address the misperceptions and educate communities about the routes to regularising immigration status. IE’s outreach work will be particularly important in raising awareness amongst domestic abuse victims, who are vulnerable to misinformation from their perpetrators. The Home Office would welcome the support of victims and support groups in reaching this often-hidden population.

83. IE will continue to build on its vulnerability strategy and ensure that staff are given the correct tools and mechanisms to respond effectively to migrant victims of crime. Victims and survivors’ groups have a wealth of experience in supporting migrant victims that IE are determined to draw upon. IE’s vulnerability team will seek to work alongside third sector organisations with direct experience in supporting vulnerable migrants of crime to deliver tailored training packages to staff on identifying vulnerable migrants and responding using the appropriate safeguards.

84. IE’s Vulnerability Strategy was launched in September 2018. Since then, IE has developed and placed emphasis on training and guidance materials as an essential means of embedding IE’s vulnerability strategy within operational areas. Operational guidance is updated to include the mandatory requirements and safeguards required of IE staff to protect vulnerable migrants in the immigration system.

85. IE will explore analytical options to assess the barriers to reporting crimes amongst migrants with irregular immigration status within the UK, to identify further initiatives that could encourage reporting amongst this cohort. Analysis will consider the weight that migrants attach to factors influencing their decision to report allegations of crime to the police. The Home Office would welcome the support of victims’ groups in reaching this hidden population to ensure that the analysis is fully representative of migrants affected by crime, to enable the initiatives identified as a result of the analysis to be as effective as possible. Options for this will be explored and developed over the course of 12 months.

86. The Home Office will consider creating (or enhancing where extant) a routine referral pathway between the police and specialist domestic abuse services for all victims of domestic abuse, including those with insecure immigration status, when reporting to the police. This would ensure that the victim has access to a safe space to disclose any abuse and seek support. These specialist services would be able to provide emotional and practical support to victims, including linking victims with independent legal advice. This option would likely require significant funding, which the Home Office are not able to commit to at this stage, but we are keen to take advantage of any multi- year Spending Review to consider options around this.

Kalayaan has released a statement in response: KALAYAAN justice for migrant domestic workers
Government review into data sharing practices for migrant victims of crime is a missed opportunity.
The government has today published their review into data sharing practices between the police and Immigration Enforcement regarding migrant victims and witnesses of crime with insecure immigration status. This comes three years after Liberty and Southall Black Sisters lodged a super complaint setting out the harm such practices cause women and wider communities across the UK. Their complaint was followed by an investigative report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services, the College of Policing and the Independent Office for Police Conduct which called for an overhaul of the laws in this area given the significant harm to the public interest in tackling abuse.

Earlier this year, the Home Office undertook a series of workshops with representatives from the domestic abuse sector including Liberty, Southall Black Sisters, Latin American Women’s Rights Service and the Domestic Abuse Commissioner. Representatives from the modern slavery sector including ourselves, Focus on Labour Exploitation and the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner were also invited to take part in this work. During these engagements, representatives from both sectors have endeavoured to make clear that Immigration Enforcement does not have a safeguarding role given the clear conflict of interest in upholding our immigration laws. Representatives also have first-hand experience in supporting their clients to access various safeguarding mechanisms so are well familiar with migrants having mistrust in authorities, an issue that has been longstanding for years now.

Kalayaan is of the view that a complete firewall between police and Immigration Enforcement is the only model capable of ensuring confidence in the systems that migrant victims and witnesses of crime need put their trust in.

It is therefore disappointing that despite our engagement, the Home Office has ultimately ignored our concerns and found that a firewall is not the appropriate solution. Instead, they have said they will be introducing an Immigration Enforcement (IE) Migrant Victims Protocol which they believe will allow migrants to feel safe in the knowledge they can report to the police, who in turn will then automatically share data with Immigration Enforcement. We believe such a protocol will serve to do only the opposite and will deter individuals from coming forward to make reports to the police with the net result that perpetrators continue their cycle of violence. Once again, we fear that immigration enforcement has been prioritised over the safeguarding of migrants as either victims or witnesses of crime.

Kalayaan does not consider the Home Office’s proposal will achieve the aim of supporting migrant victims and witnesses of crime to report to the police and support prosecutions. We urge them to reconsider the numerous benefits in a complete firewall.

For further information, please contact Avril Sharp, Policy Officer: avril@kalayaan.org.uk


Focus on Labour Exploitation (FLEX) : Home Office review of data sharing for migrant victims and witnesses of crime leaves victims unprotected and perpetrators able to exploit

Focus on Labour Exploitation (FLEX)[1] is disappointed by the Home Office review of data sharing of migrant victims and witnesses of crime for immigration enforcement purposes, which fails to adequately address the real concerns raised by victims and survivors, front line organisations and the recent Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services ‘Safe to Share?’ report. This failure will leave victims, including victims of slavery, unprotected and allow perpetrators to act with impunity. 

The Home Office’s failure to stop using data from victims and witnesses of crime for immigration enforcement purposes, despite the consistent evidence that this practice leaves those with insecure status too fearful to come forward, will prevent victims of human trafficking from reporting crimes and empower exploiters and other perpetrators of abuse.

The hidden nature of trafficking makes it difficult to gain an accurate picture of its true scale and nature. As a result, anti-trafficking responses are dependent on victims coming forward about their experience. The continued absence of secure reporting options that enable people with insecure status to come forward as victims of crime undermines our ability to address trafficking and run counter to the UK’s stated ambition to ‘lead the way in defeating modern slavery.’

We strongly dispute the Home Office claim that Immigration Enforcement has any safeguarding role. On the contrary, prioritising immigration enforcement undermines safeguarding and leaves victims vulnerable to continued exploitation. The proposed Immigration Enforcement (IE) Migrant Victims Protocol offers just another example of an initiative that will continue to dissuade some of the most vulnerable victims from seeking help. The Home Office response states that no enforcement action will be carried out against victims of crime while their case is being investigated and prosecuted. However, this provision will do very little to reassure victims and nothing for the many cases of misidentification. The European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights 2019 research on eight countries including the UK, found that migrant workers rank their insecure status as the main reason they chose not to report exploitation[2]. The Home Office’s approach plays into the hands of exploiters who target those with insecure immigration status with impunity. Organisations such as the Latin American Women’s Rights Service (LAWRS) have highlighted that exploiters use the threat of deportation as a means to prevent victims from reporting their modern slavery.

Undocumented workers supported by Labour Exploitation Advisory Group members describe feeling caught between an abusive employer on one side, and the Home Office on the other, having no pathways to report workplace violations without the risk of losing the income upon which their families depend, being detained or removed from the country, as described by Angelica, a Venezuelan undocumented worker supported by LAWRS:

“When you are undocumented you are forced to choose between many impossible choices. You have to choose between letting your employer steal away half your wages or keeping your children fed. You have to choose to either stay with a violent man or choose to sleep on the street. You have to choose between being robbed because they know you are undocumented or being raided by the immigration officers. Your life becomes a series of impossible choices. You just have to choose the one that makes you sleep a little bit better at night.”[3]

The Home Office needs to learn from people with lived experience and from front line workers about the real impediments to reporting rather than chasing counter-productive immigration enforcement objectives. 

For more information on the issues contained in this briefing, please contact: 

Kate Roberts, Head of Policy: kate.roberts@labourexploitation.org 

[1] Focus on Labour Exploitation (FLEX) is a research and policy organisation working towards an end to labour exploitation. FLEX seeks to achieve this vision through the prevention of labour abuses, protection of the rights of those affected or at risk of exploitation and by promoting best practice responses to labour exploitation through research and evidence-based advocacy.

[2] European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, Protecting migrant workers from exploitation in the EU: workers’ perspectives, 2019, p.74.

[3] Labour Exploitation Advisory Group, Opportunity Knocks: Improving responses to labour exploitation with secure reporting, April 2020. London: Focus on Labour Exploitation (FLEX), p.18.

There have also been some tweets from LAWRS and Kalayaan