Measures under the Home Office’s hostile environment policy “may disproportionately impact on people of colour”, a review has found.
A charity campaigning for the rights of immigrants branded the conclusion a “watershed moment” in acknowledging a finding it said had been “long known” by others.
In 2020, the then-Home Secretary Priti Patel promised a “full evaluation” of the policy in the wake of the Windrush scandal.
A critical independent review of the department’s handling of that scandal recommended a full review of the policy, which aimed through a series of administrative and legal measures to make staying in the UK as difficult as possible for people without leave to remain, in the hope they will depart the country of their own accord.
Ms Patel previously said Wendy Williams, the solicitor who carried out the Windrush Lessons Learned Review published in 2020, was “just a fraction away from even calling the Home Office institutionally racist”, describing the scandal as a “stain on this department”.
An overarching equality impact assessment of the policy – now known as the compliant environment – said data indicates migrants affected by it are more likely to be of South-East Asian or Black ethnicity.
The assessment, published on Thursday by the Home Office, stated: “It would initially appear that data indicates migrants impacted by the compliant environment are more likely to be from one of a select number of nationalities rather than a wide-range, and may also be more likely to be of South-East Asian or Black ethnicity.”
It added: “We note that of the top five nationalities impacted, most are identifiable as being from/of brown or Black heritage and all five are visibly not white.
“This means that the internal data suggests some of the compliant environment measures may disproportionately impact on people of colour.”
Albanian, Indian, Pakistani, Brazilian and Chinese were listed as the nationalities most commonly found to be illegally present in the UK in 2019, the assessment stated.
But it found that it was Indian, Pakistani, and Nigerian nationals who accounted for over a third of the temporary migrant population impacted by data-sharing between other Government departments to regulate access to work, benefits and services under the policy.
The Joint Council for the Welfare of immigrants (JCWI), which campaigns for justice in immigration, nationality and refugee law and policy, said the assessment indicated the policy “is racist”.
The organisation tweeted: “It acknowledges for the first time what we’ve long known – that these policies have ‘disproportionate impact’ on POC (people of colour).
“In other words, the hostile environment is racist. This is a watershed moment.”
The Windrush scandal erupted in 2018 when British citizens, mostly from the Caribbean, were wrongly detained, deported or threatened with deportation, despite having the right to live in Britain.
Many lost homes and jobs, and were denied access to healthcare and benefits.
The Home Office’s equality impact assessment comes after the current Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, was criticised last month for a decision to “backslide” on reforms designed to prevent another Windrush scandal.
Ms Braverman has decided to row back on accepted recommendations made following a scathing review into how the Windrush scandal unfolded at the Home Office.
Ms Williams said she was “disappointed” that Ms Braverman had reversed the Home Office pledges to establish the position of migrants’ commissioner and strengthen the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration (ICIBI) post.
In November 2020, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) found the Home Office had failed to comply with equality law when implementing its hostile environment immigration measures, contributing to serious injustices faced by the Windrush generation.
Bishop Derek Webley, co-chair of the Windrush working group, described the publication of the assessment as “an important part of the Home Office’s work in response to the Windrush Lesson Learned review”.
He said: “We welcome the findings and the work the Home Office has carried out to rectify the injustice of Windrush.
“I am also pleased to see an understanding of the risks involved with the compliant environment policies so we can ensure we protect those who have every right to stay and live in the UK.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “Steps have already been taken to improve safeguards and ensure individuals who are lawfully in the UK have appropriate protection and do not experience difficulties demonstrating their entitlement to work, benefits and services.
“We remain committed to ensuring the immigration system works to protect those who have the right to be in the UK.”