The rising profile of UKIP, an upcoming by-election in Rochester, comments from the outgoing President of the European Commission, public services under pressure and a looming general election are currently combining to place immigration in the eye of a perfect political storm.
Thunder rumbles among Conservative back-benchers about European migration while all of Westminster rained down criticism in the light of a National Audit Office report on the extradition of Foreign National Offenders.
But the recent spotlight upon the free movement of people within the European Union and the extradition of foreign criminals illuminates only two issues in a complex array of reforms to immigration law which have been underway this year. While the rhetoric surrounding immigration policy will doubtless continue to the General Election in 2015, practitioners must contend with a plethora of substantive changes currently being made to statutory provisions, the Immigration Rules and guidance.
The Immigration Act 2014 received Royal Assent on 14 May 2014, implementing a series of amendments to existing immigration statutes and introducing newly constricted rights of appeal against removal and detention. Subsequent changes have been made to secondary legislation in the form of the Immigration Rules, sometimes with extremely limited notice from the Home Office – as a case in point; the last statement of changes to the Immigration Rules contained some provisions which gave only two working days’ notice of a change.
The upshot for immigration law practitioners is a legal framework which is in an almost constant state of flux, putting increased pressure on firms to provide up to date know-how for employees and to temper all advice to clients.
And the outlook remains uncertain. The 2014 Act is not yet in force in its entirety and current commencement orders have been selective in the constituencies that the Act affects – currently singling out students and foreign national offenders facing deportation for fewer appeal rights. The further enactment of the Act and increased numbers of people to whom reduced appeal rights apply must be anticipated.
Furthermore, current topics of national debate such as the UK’s membership of the EU and the Conservative desire to scrap the Human Rights Act 1998 create further questions about the future of immigration law. Would workers from the European Economic Area still enjoy enhanced immigration rights into a United Kingdom set apart from the EU? Could the EU be persuaded to accept an immigration cap into the UK? How would the UK apply the European Convention on Human Rights to immigration law without the Human Rights Act?
While British voters feel the increased pressure upon scarce public resources and record numbers of the UK workforce are in low paid jobs, the debate about who should be permitted entry to live and work in the UK is unlikely to abate. Politicians court voters by posing difficult questions; immigration law practitioners are left to consider the answers.
Holly Terry is a trainee and Philip Trott is a partner and head of the immigration department at Bates Wells Braithwaite