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Banks to join Theresa May’s ‘hostile environment’ plan for illegal migrants

The idea is to make it so difficult for individuals to remain without permission that they will either refrain from trying to enter Britain or if already present, leave voluntarily.

world Updated: Oct 01, 2017 23:06 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
Prasun Sonwalkar
Hindustan Times, London
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May in Manchester on October 1, 2017.
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May in Manchester on October 1, 2017.(AFP)

Millions of bank accounts are to be checked as part of a strategy to create a “hostile environment” for illegal migrants in the United Kingdom, adding a new level of uncertainty in the current Brexit-related climate.

The terminology “hostile environment” – usually used to refer to a conflict or war situation – was first used by Prime Minister Theresa May when she was the home secretary.

“The aim is to create here in Britain a really hostile environment for illegal migration … What we don’t want is a situation where people think that they can come here and overstay because they’re able to access everything they need,” she had said in an interview to The Daily Telegraph in 2012.

The plans were included in the Immigration Act, 2014 and expanded in the Immigration Act, 2016. These include landlords carrying out immigration checks, academics reporting on international students at universities, and new checks while applying for driving licences.

The idea is to make it so difficult for individuals to remain without permission that they will either refrain from trying to enter Britain or if already present, leave voluntarily. The package is part of the Conservative government’s plans to cut immigration.

Indians are said to be among the unspecified number of illegal migrants who arrived here over the years.

Beginning January 2018, around 70 million bank accounts are to checked. However, the timing has added a new worry for EU nationals, who are currently unsure about their future post-Brexit — the checks could adversely affect genuine migrants too.

Some EU nationals have reportedly faced such bank checks, even though there is no uncertainty about their presence until after Britain leaves the EU, which is expected in March 2019. Indian professionals and others legally in the country are also likely to face the checks.

Satbir Singh, chief executive of the campaign group Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, criticised the latest check: “The government’s own record shows it cannot be trusted even to implement this system properly.

“Immigration status is very complex, and the home office consistently gives out incorrect information and guidance. Migrants and ethnic minorities with every right to be here will be affected by the imposition of these new checks,” he said.

However, a home office spokesperson defended the bank checks: “We are developing an immigration system which is fair to people who are here legally, but firm with those who break the rules. Everyone in society can play their part in tackling illegal migration.

“As approved by Parliament in December 2016, from January 2018 banks and building societies will be required to carry out regular checks on the immigration status of all current account holders against the details of known illegal migrants to establish whether their customers are known to be in the UK unlawfully. This is part of our ongoing work to tackle illegal migration. People who are here legally will be unaffected.”