With the summer recess for parliament having ended (the House of Commons returned on Monday 6th September 2021), a lot of people have been asking if there will be another debate on e-petition 567681: Grant an Urgent Amnesty to Undocumented Migrants Living in the UK*.
On Monday 19th July 2021, a parliamentary debate on the urgent and immediate regularisation of undocumented migrants living in the UK was held in Westminster Hall. The debate was a result of a petition that was signed and supported by 103,440 residents in the UK.
According to migrant rights activist Meena Ali, who set up the petition, the status of undocumented people living in the UK must be regularised and rights granted “to enable them to live their lives as decent human beings and help the country economically”. The petition also called for the UK Government to grant a pathway to citizenship to all undocumented migrants whose home is the UK “since the migrants are already in the UK, it would not only be cost effective but would make sense to keep them in the UK and grant them citizenship so that they are granted their basic human rights.”
The debate was led by Tom Hunt, Conservative MP for Ipswich, and chaired by Stewart Hosie, Scottish National Party (SNP) MP for Dundee East.
This was attended by Members of Parliament (MPs) from the three major political parties in the UK, with the following speaking in the debate:
- Virendra Sharma (Ealing, Southall), Labour
- Adam Holloway (Gravesham), Conservative
- Rushanara Ali (Bethnal Green and Bow), Labour
- Seema Malhotra (Feltham and Heston), Labour
- Ruth Cadbury (Brentford and Isleworth), Labour
- Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi (Slough), Labour
- Claudia Webbe (Leicester East), Independent
- Sarah Owen (Luton North), Labour
- John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington), Labour
- Anne McLaughlin (Glasgow North East), SNP
- Bambos Charalambous (Enfield, Southgate), Labour, Shadow Minister for Immigration
- Kevin Foster (Torbay), Conservative, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Minister for Future Borders and Immigration)
Of the MPs that spoke at the debate, ten were supportive of granting rights to undocumented people to allow them to live in the UK with dignity versus three who were against.
During the Debate: Arguments Against (including Regularise’s commentary)
The opposing arguments came from Tom Hunt, Adam Holloway and Kevin Foster, with Kevin Foster representing the Government as the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (the Home Office). Some of the arguments that they gave were that the petition didn’t specify a clear qualifying period and that they wouldn’t support a scheme that includes migrants who had come to the UK by irregular means.
On being questioned whether he was aware that the people being talked about had, for the most part, come to the UK by regular means (i.e. with visas and other forms of right of entry or leave to enter/remain), Tom Hunt, after his opening speech, clarified that he had made the point that the petitions proposal, by implication, included both those who came here by regular and irregular means, and that he would not support a scheme that granted rights to those who came to the UK by irregular means. He went further to differentiate the two by making a comparison between those “who came here legally but whose time has expired, who are struggling with the process, who have been here for 10 years and who are making a positive contribution” and those who came to the UK by irregular means. This is whilst still not being clear on whether he would support granting rights to those who came to the UK by regular means (i.e. with visas and other permits), whose immigration statuses had been irregularised, and who, despite the difficult circumstances, have continued to live here for over the 10 year period that he mentions.
Another opposing argument, given as a hypothetical example by Tom Hunt, was that regularising all undocumented migrants every 5 or 10 years would equate to an “open borders” policy, and would also act as a “pull factor” which, according to those opposing the petition (Hunt, Holloway, Foster), goes counter to reducing irregular migration to the UK. The petition itself makes it clear that it’s about migrants who are “already in the UK”, therefore it is proposing a one-off scheme and not one that is done every few years.
“I entirely sympathise with their desire to build a better life, and I might do exactly the same thing myself if I were in their circumstances, but an amnesty like this would do nothing to reduce illegal immigration*, which is what we are trying to do, and it would act as an additional pull factor to those wishing to come to the UK.”― Adam Holloway MP
“A point ignored by the petition and by some Members is the fact that the immigration routes already provide for undocumented migrants who have not broken the law except for by remaining in the UK without lawful immigration status.”― Kevin Foster MP, Minister for Future Borders and Immigration
“That is why I am against a blanket amnesty. It would be a significant movement away from the case-by-case approach that the Government are currently taking, which takes into account the differences between cases and the nuances of different circumstances.”― Tom Hunt MP
The USA and the Republic of Ireland are currently introducing programmes to regularise most of their undocumented populations, creating pathways to citizenship for many of them so that they can live with dignity, allowing them to participate in and contribute to their societies even more than they have been able to do with limited rights and security. The societal and economic benefits are clear. Neither of these states are doing so under the guise of “open borders” nor is this implied in any way. Instead, they understand that, in addition to being pragmatic, granting rights in this way is the right thing to do for justice and equity, and it is a necessary step to take in reforming their immigration systems by including people who have made their lives and homes in the respective countries.
In the UK, the current rules to regularise one’s immigration status exclude the majority of undocumented people due to the conditions that need to be met, e.g. the evidence and qualifying periods required, as in the 20 Year Rule on Long Residence for an undocumented person who has lived in the UK since the age of 15 and has not had children with a British citizen. If the decades old case-by-case approach is working, why are there so many people who came to the UK with visas from outside the EU, who were irregularised for any number of reasons and whose status today remains irregularised after more than 5 or 10 or even 15 years, who must therefore live precariously?
“We want to encourage people with skills and potential from around the world to make the UK their home and help make the UK a dynamic global economy, but we must not reward those who exploit the system and break the rules. We must also prevent the abuse of benefits and services paid for by UK taxpayers and disrupt the criminals who exploit and profit from the vulnerable, who will be tempted to use dangerous and irregular routes to get here if they can see a clear reward at the end of it.”― Kevin Foster MP
The claim that public services would be put under strain and the spurious claim that the benefits system is being “abused” by migrants, as implied by Hunt and Foster, is unsupported as this makes the assumption that migrants are here in order to misuse the benefits system and not contribute. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The majority of undocumented people in the UK, as well as many migrants from outside the EU living in the UK with leave to remain (visas and other permits), have been participating in and contributing to British society in many ways whilst being subject to an immigraiton rule called ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’. This condition makes anyone who is subject to this rule ineligible to claim welfare benefits like Housing Benefit, Universal Credit, Jobseeker’s Allowance etc (for more info, view our FAQs).
Many undocumented people somehow manage to sustain themselves through the extreme hardship resulting from the Government’s exclusionary policies, which puts them at a high risk of being exploited due to being left with no choice but to live and work in informal settings. Undocumented migrants are excluded from accessing both the private rental market in England (even when able to pay rent) and public housing across the UK.
Being an undocumented migrant in the UK is a highly precarious state, with an estimated 800,000 – 1.2 million people being forced to live invisible lives on the margins of society. Following the Immigration Act 2014 and Immigration Act 2016, the state of invisibility in which undocumented migrants are required to live has led to many of their human rights being effectively denied by criminalising the right to work (limiting the ability to provide for themselves and their families) and rent, whilst limiting access to healthcare – contravening Article 25 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Read our report here [pdf]).
With many having come to the UK by regular means (i.e. with visas and other permits) and having lived here for more than 5 or 10 years, it is evident that it is the current immigration rules and policies that put them in positions of being exploited right here in the UK. Instead of preventing exploitation by granting rights and protections to undocumented people whose home is the UK through inclusive policies, the Government chooses to maintain policies that facilitate exploitation, including modern slavery, and that enable the abuse of people in desperate situations. It is the current policies and rules that put these undocumented members of British society at high risk of exploitation, homelessness and destitution: risks that are ever-present for as long as undocumented people remain with no equitable and secure path to settlement and citizenship.
As for UK taxpayers’ money, a report published by the National Audit Office (NAO) in June 2020 found that the Home Office spent £392 million on immigration enforcement in 2019-2020 to ‘facilitate the departure’ of 13,100 people without leave to remain. This shows that the average cost per person was £30,000 which, in some cases, could also include detention. It would cost billions of pounds to locate and forcibly remove 800,000 – 1.2 million people who are and could otherwise be productive members of British society. Considering that, in 2017, more than half of undocumented migrants had lived in the UK for 5 years or longer, with many having lived here for over a decade, the majority are already integrated into society. They have built their lives here, even though most live precariously and in fear and anxiety. Most undocumented migrants are already engaging and participating in many facets of our lives whilst living on the margins of society. With many working in menial but vital roles like hospitality, cleaning and caring for both children and adults, their forced removal would be socially and economically detrimental to British society (FAQs). The current rules and policies are stopping people from living with dignity and participating in more meaningful ways.
Regularising the immigration statuses of undocumented migrants who are living in the UK would add more funding to the public purse through income tax and national insurance contributions than many are currently able to pay, even though some undocumented migrants already pay these taxes and contributions whilst being denied access to support and services. Looking at the USA, a recent report from the Centre for American Progress found that ‘putting undocumented immigrants on a pathway to citizenship would increase U.S. GDP by up to $1.7 trillion over the next decade, raise wages for all Americans, and create hundreds of thousands of new jobs, advancing the country’s economic recovery.’ As for the UK, a 2009 report [pdf] commissioned by then Mayor of London Boris Johnson, that looked at the economic impact of regularising undocumented migrants, found that this would be a net benefit to the UK economy:
During the Debate: Arguments In Favour
“At a time when UK employers are suffering from the most profound labour shortage in a generation, we should turn to a hard-working, talented and resilient resource that already exists here in the UK—undocumented migrants.”― Virendra Sharma MP
In favour of the petition were a number of MPs : Virendra Sharma, Rushanara Ali Tanmanjeet Singh Desi, Seema Malhotra, Ruth Cadbury, Claudia Webbe, Sarah Owen, John McDonnell, Anne McLaughlin and Bambos Charalambous.
The arguments for regularisation touched on the humanitarian, practical, economic and societal benefits of doing so, both for undocumented people and British society as a whole.
Virendra Sharma highlighted the fact that, over the last few months, the UK has been experiencing profound labour shortages. These have been reported as being the worst in decades and some have even culminated in food shortages due, for example, to a shortage of the heavy goods vehicle (HGV) drivers that transport food items around the UK. The hospitality, food processing, agricultural, construction and warehousing sectors are also struggling with a shortage of labour. Sectors like health and social care have had long-term shortages of labour. Sharma points out that it is likely that the majority of undocumented people are already in some form of work and many have ‘undoubtedly honed their skills and developed their knowledge and experience since they first moved here, and that they are all desperate to contribute to this country.’
“Undocumented migrants are not some enemy of the state; they are not a risk to this country. The vast majority of them are desperate people who are keen to work and secure a future for themselves and their families. It is with that in mind that they must be given the legal right to live and work in the UK, which will give them the chance to prosper in this country and stand on their own feet, rather than being treated like criminals.“― Virendra Sharma MP
During the debate, the current rules on regularising one’s immigration status and maintaining regularised status were highlighted as being extremely difficult, unnecessarily complex and costly – requiring almost £13,000 for those who qualify (e.g. after 20 years of ‘continuous residence’ in the UK) over the course of an additional 10 years in order to be granted Indefinite Leave to Remain (‘settled status’). The ease by which migrants can be made undocumented was also called to attention, as resulting from an unforgiving immigration system that penalises people for making minor errors on their applications or entering financial difficulty, as well as being given incorrect legal advice, life events such as physical or mental health illness, bereavement or relationship breakdown. In addition, many of the MPs in favour of regularising the immigration statuses of and granting rights to undocumented people spoke about the real life impact of denying their basic rights:
“It is easy for us to become focused on numbers, but every number is a story of a family pushed into hardship, unable to pay bills or to cover the cost of food, and left in limbo … This Government cannot claim to be compassionate or just until they end the hostile environment faced by my constituents and many others around the country.”― Ruth Cadbury MP
“I want to share the story of Paul—that is not his real name, of course—who is a constituent of mine from Nigeria. He was on minimum wage, so he was just getting by and no more, but he was doing a really good job of keeping a roof over his son’s head, and making sure that he was healthy and educated—all the things a good dad would do. He realised that his leave to remain was due to be renewed or considered, so he went to apply, only to discover that the cost was more than £2,000, which would have required him to save up £1,000 for every year of his leave to remain. That is just not possible on the minimum wage.
Paul’s leave to remain then expired, so he became an undocumented migrant, but he was doing nothing wrong. His employer had to let him go because he did not have the right to work. He had no recourse to public funds..leaving him with no food, no electricity and rising rent arrears. He did not know what to do.”― Anne McLaughlin MP
“In many of our constituencies, there are countless examples of people facing violence or being trafficked, and of women facing domestic abuse. They sometimes arrived on spousal visas and then faced huge amounts of exploitation. Although people who face domestic violence can apply to stay in the UK even if their spouse does not sponsor them, they often do not pass many of the requirements, because if they do not have police reports and so on, it is difficult to prove to immigration officers that they have faced domestic abuse and violence.”― Rushanara Ali MP
Shadow Minister for Immigration, Bambos Charalambous (Labour), Seema Malhotra and Tom Hunt (even though Hunt was against the petitions proposal) also mentioned the economic benefits for the country of regularising the immigration statuses of undocumented migrants through the income tax contributions that many would be able to pay if this were done. It was also raised several times that the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, had proposed some form of regularisation on different occasions over the years, going as far back to when he was Mayor of London to more recently. The pressing question is why the over 10 years of proposals have not materialised as concrete policies considering that other governments of representative democracies, like in Ireland and the USA, are in the process of implementing programmes to regularise the immigration statuses of many of their undocumented populations.
“The Prime Minister himself advocated the creation of a migrants’ amnesty when he was the London Mayor in 2008. In 2016, as Foreign Secretary, he called measures to give amnesty to undocumented migrants who had lived in the UK for longer than 10 years “economically rational”, but after raising so many people’s hopes, and when he has the opportunity as Prime Minister to make a real difference and ensure that it is easier and simpler for those who are undocumented to become regularised, he has done nothing for the last two years.”― Mr Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi MP
“There is also clear economic evidence that if undocumented migrants can move out of informal employment and into more secure jobs, there are many benefits for wider society. According to The Economist, studies in America suggest that citizenship for its 11 million undocumented immigrants could boost the economy, with GDP rising up to $1.5 trillion over 10 years.”― Seema Malhotra MP
“I note that the Irish Government are currently looking at new plans for a fairer pathway to regularisation for undocumented migrants with a period of four years’ residency in Ireland. The current methods of regularising status in the UK are onerous and cumbersome, and need an urgent overhaul. In addition, the exorbitant level of fees for visas is scandalous, and clearly another barrier designed to make it harder for people to regularise their status—a continuation of the Home Office’s malevolent hostile environment.”― Bambos Charalambous MP, Shadow Minister for Immigration
“I therefore ask the Minister whether, as this problem is not going away any time soon, the Government will make it easier for undocumented people to have their status regularised, and what the long-term plan for addressing the problem is. It is surely in all our interests that the basic needs of everyone here are met, and that— undocumented or otherwise—everyone can contribute safely, openly and without fear to our communities. For that to happen, we need to see change.”― Bambos Charalambous MP
The current UK government have said that they are not planning to grant an ‘amnesty’ to undocumented people. Therefore, there will not be another debate on this particular petition.
However, we urge you to keep fighting for the rights of undocumented people as nothing comes easy in the struggle for rights.
“Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”― Frederick Douglass
Our purpose is to organise, build power and create an impactful movement for migrant rights and justice with undocumented people. We will continue to do so for as long as this struggle endures. Rights, justice and an equitable and secure path to settlement and citizenship must be granted to all undocumented people living in the UK today.
Always remember these words of Martin Luther King Jr.:
“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”― Martin Luther King Jr.
Are you undocumented?
- Contact us if you would like to share your story (this can be done anonymously).
- Contact your MP (if you need help contacting your MP, reach out to us and we will be able to assist you).
- Join us in growing and creating the movement for the rights of undocumented people where the people most affected are at the forefront.
- Be safe, stay safe. #HomeIsHereUK
Are you a supporter?
- Contact your MP to highlight the pressing need for regularisation (you can use the template letter here or on our website) and the urgent need for a safer, and more equitable path to settlement and citizenship for undocumented people in the UK.
- Join us in growing and creating the movement for the rights of undocumented people where the people most affected are at the forefront.
- If you are a trade association, trade union, other union or community group:
- Work on implementing and promoting approaches that include undocumented people in your organisations, communities and in workplaces around the UK.
- Help to amplify the voices and highlight the needs of undocumented people who live and work in the UK, along with young undocumented people and children who live here. Be explicit about it.
- Read our reports and FAQs and feel free to contact us to discuss how we can work together.
- If you are a Member of Parliament, political party, or member of a political party, consider the real benefits of inclusive immigration policies of which there are many:
- Pledge to end exclusionary immigration policies and to implement a regularisation programme like ours in your manifestos, creating a safer and more equitable path to settlement and citizenship for undocumented migrants living in the UK. Many people in Britain support policies that help people who live here to integrate, and that support people and communities to participate fully and contribute to society even more than they are.
- Read our reports and FAQs and feel free to contact us to discuss further.
Remember that undocumented migrants are #HumanLikeYou #HomeIsHereUK #PathtoCitizenship
Share this article with others and with anyone asking if there will be another debate on this petition. You can also contact the House of Commons Enquiry Service for general questions about the parliamentary process in the UK.
Read the update from our July 19th demonstration here.
Regularise are a grassroots collective of migrants, British citizens and allies campaigning for the UK government to implement a regularisation scheme for all undocumented migrants and migrants with insecure status in the UK.
The regularisation scheme must allow undocumented migrants who have lived in the UK for at least 5 years to be able to apply for settlement (Indefinite Leave To Remain) and those who have lived here for less than 5 years to be given a ‘right to remain’ similar to the pre-settled status in the EU Settlement Scheme that will allow them to apply for settlement after they reach the same period of ‘continuous residence’ (5 Years).
Regularising undocumented migrants will grant these marginalised members of British society some fundamental rights including being able to work and access housing safely, and access health services without fear. This will mean that they can live with dignity and participate in society fully. Regularising undocumented migrants will ensure that they gain a safe, lawful and defined route to settlement in the UK.
We were founded in 2019 and have been campaigning since early 2020.
*No human is illegal [pdf]
*Migration is not a crime... Migrants in an irregular situation should not be treated as criminals, or as national or public security threats (A/HRC/10/21, para. 68). Criminalising people on the basis of their migration status can lead to a number of other human rights violations, including discriminatory profiling, arbitrary arrest and detention, family separation, and the inability to access critical health care, housing, education or other rights. Such approaches further push migrants to live and work in the shadows of society and increase their vulnerability to exploitation and abuse by State and private actors. In the absence of safe pathways for migration, many migrants are compelled to enter and stay irregularly in countries of destination. ― Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, OHCHR
Regularise do not currently provide immigration advice. If you need free legal advice please contact JCWI’s helpline.
Also, see the Right To Remain toolkit.