A new bill addressing concerns over the United Kingdom’s (U.K.’s) immigration system was introduced in Parliament on July 6, 2021, and is currently in the committee stage, where members are examining it line by line. The aims of the Nationality and Borders Bill’s wide range of provisions include:
- Fixing problems with British overseas territories citizenship.
- Streamlining the asylum processes.
- Amending the immigration offenses of entering the country illegally and assisting unlawful immigration or asylum seekers.
- Tackling modern slavery.
- Providing new methods to assess the age of asylum seekers to determine whether they can be considered children.
- Providing tribunals with the power to charge participants whose behavior wastes tribunal resources.
On October 15, 2021, the government proposed an amendment to the bill that, if enacted, would provide the home secretary with a new power to impose “visa penalties” on countries that do not cooperate with the return of its nationals or citizens who are present unlawfully in the U.K. The amendment specifically states that countries could be penalized regardless of whether they have accepted the return of other citizens or nationals, the relevant factor being simply that there are nationals or citizens present unlawfully in the U.K. from a country that the secretary of state has been unable to return.
When developing an opinion of whether or not the country is cooperating, the secretary of state must consider
- all formal and informal arrangements that the U.K. and the government of the uncooperative country have made that aim to facilitate returns;
- whether the government of the uncooperative country is promptly taking necessary or expedient steps to facilitate returns; and
- any other appropriate matters.
Before designating a country as uncooperative, the secretary of state must take into account how long the government of the country has not been cooperating with returns; the extent of, and reasons for, the lack of cooperation; and any other matters the secretary of state thinks are appropriate.
The penalties for uncooperative nations would be provided for in the Immigration Rules and would be imposed by the secretary of state as he or she considers appropriate in each case. The penalties available to the home secretary include imposing a surcharge of 190 pounds (approximately US$262) on visa applications to the U.K., increasing visa processing times, and suspending visas entirely. The secretary of state must give the uncooperative country “reasonable notice” that he or she proposes to introduce these visa penalties before implementing them, and they must be revoked when the secretary of state considers the country to have begun cooperating with the U.K. regarding the return of its nationals or citizens.
The aim of this amendment is to help “speed up the removal of illegal immigrants,” and the government has stated that the amendment will help the home secretary deliver “on her commitment to create a fair but firm immigration system as part of the New Plan for Immigration.”