What The Nationality and Borders Bill Really Means


This Status Now Network briefing is from the standpoint of migrant communities across the UK who live with precarious residence status: a legacy of the hostile environment.

Why is the government proposing this bill?

This Bill is intended for purely political purposes. It amounts to an attempt to recoup ground lost to hostile environment policies through negative public perception about Government action in both the Windrush scandals and other revelations of injustice in immigration policy that have emerged in recent years. 

During the Covid-19 period, as migrant people have been profiled as key workers in health and social care, transport and supply chains, providing the wider population with vital goods and services, public perception of immigration has undergone changes.  The measures set out in the Borders and Nationality and Borders Bill are intended to disrupt this growing solidarity and identification with hard pressed migrant communities. It consists of talking up an existential threat via small boat arrivals and types of British citizens who are not considered worthy of that status when no threat of this nature exists. Refugee and asylum procedures for routes of entry without grave risk to life are completely achievable. Criminal law exists to address criminal activity by any British citizen without any distinctions that rely on ethnic or immigrant origin.

Penalising ‘irregular’ arrival

In International law the UK Government has a duty to provide sanctuary for people in need who are in the UK. People seeking sanctuary in the UK do so by right, and because other pathways to safety are very limited and inadequate. 

In effect measures proposed in the Nationality & Borders Bill 2021 would allow the UK Government to remove the right of those who arrive directly, for example in small boats or in lorries, to be granted settled status here. We deplore this proposed legislation.  It would allow the Government to avoid its duty, thereby placing people at undue risk of physical and emotional harm.

There is a yawning gap in a key part of the government’s proposed strategy to push back people who arrive at UK borders via irregular channels. It hinges on an ability to promptly remove people to a country whose Government agrees to receive and accommodate people during out-of-country processing. However, not a single agreement has been reached with any of the countries mooted – Albania, Ghana, Rwanda – in fact each have issued statements denying any obligation to the UK authorities.

With no credible agreements, the people who have entered the UK would be placed in a queue and no effort made to consider their asylum applications for six months. Thereafter, the procedure used to consider applications would not comprehensively review their available evidence.

Any subsequent appeal process by people refused precludes further appeal – even when appeal is necessary to prevent a miscarriage of justice. Further, the Home Secretary is empowered to instruct judges to discount some types of appeal evidence. If, despite these restraints, appeals were successful, those awarded refugee protection would be granted on a time limited basis only. Rights to family reunion and financial support would be severely curtailed.

Why is this a Status Now issue?

These asylum procedure changes would add tens of thousands of people to the population of migrants already living with precarious immigration status: people whose lives in the UK are precarious because of constant challenges to their right to work, rent accommodation, access NHS healthcare, further and higher education, and access other public services. This community is already under the constant surveillance of the Home Office authorities, being subject to requirements to apply for status renewal which often involve very considerable financial cost.

SNN is working to end the current practice of imposing precarious status on migrant and refugee people – the effect of hostile environment policies. Therefore, we oppose the current bill. It runs counter to our objective and, if it became law, would subject more people to intolerable precarity.

Deprivation of citizenship

Historically, the proposed power for the Home Secretary to deprive a person of their British citizenship if it is ‘conducive to the good of the public’ has been used rarely and only with people considered ‘treasonous’. Recently, more frequent use is against those deemed to be active ‘terrorists’ or ‘criminal’.

In principle a person can only be deprived of their British citizenship if it does not render them completely stateless. The Home Office view is that this condition is satisfied if: 1) it is plausibly assumed that the person either is a citizen of a second country, or 2) the person is able to obtain citizenship if they apply to the authorities of that second country.

This Bill would add to the draconian power to deprive citizenship by ending the current requirement that the Home Secretary notify the person concerned prior to taking that action, in which event the person may appeal the decision. The government says the power to deprive citizenship without notice would only be used in exceptional cases, i.e. where it was not possible to locate the person concerned and serve notice of intention to deprive them of citizenship. Critics of the Bill are sceptical, foreseeing practice where the requirement to give notice would be waived, both in cases where it was proven impossible to locate the person, and when establishing current whereabouts was difficult or ‘too expensive’. For example, a British citizen with several criminal convictions travels abroad for an extended period. During that time, their precise whereabouts becomes unknown to the UK authorities. In these circumstances the person might have their citizenship taken away and only find out when they attempt to return to the UK.

Excluding the Republic of Ireland, an estimated six million people with British citizenship are likely to have some claim, should they wish to exercise it, on citizenship of another country. Of this group, many are descendants of families who entered the UK in previous decades as immigrants from South Asia, the Caribbean, and Africa. This Bill would make the risk of deprivation of citizenship a more significant consideration for people with these backgrounds. This fact increases the structural racial bias against these communities. Earlier legislation has already increased the power to deprive citizenship, but by allowing it to be exercised in some circumstances without the person being informed, and losing the right to challenge the action, this aspect of the bill would increase insecurity in vulnerable communities.

Why is this a Status Now issue?

This aspect of the bill would extend insecurity to large numbers of British citizens with immigrant family origins who would become at risk of losing this status if they incur the disfavour of the British authorities.

‘Criminal’ behaviour of any sort is not appropriate grounds to deprive people of their status as British citizens. When such action could only be directed at categories of British citizens whose familial ethnicity are distinguished, it is racist. It must be vigorously opposed.




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