Covid exposed and exacerbated existing inequalities, significantly worsening situation of undocumented
JCWI examines the experiences of undocumented migrants in the UK during the Covid-19 pandemic
24 January 2022
A new report published last week by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) examines the experiences of undocumented migrants living in the UK during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The 34-page report, ''We also want to be safe": undocumented migrants facing COVID in a hostile environment, can be downloaded here.
For the report, JCWI interviewed ten migrants with experience of being undocumented during the pandemic, three of whom three had been granted status in the past year. In addition, JCWI interviewed three people from organisations who work with and support undocumented migrants.
The report finds that the Covid-19 pandemic exposed and exacerbated existing inequalities and significantly worsened the already precarious situation of undocumented migrants in the UK, leaving many destitute or at risk of destitution.
One worker from a migrant support charity told JCWI: "People who were just getting by, you know, struggling but still getting by, were now pushed into destitution, because they haven't been able to access Government support schemes. And they've lost jobs, they've gotten sick, they've had to care for people."
The report notes that undocumented migrants are overrepresented in jobs on the frontline of the crisis, such as cleaning, health and care work. This increased their exposure to Covid.
Despite the increased risks, undocumented migrants are deterred from accessing healthcare due to NHS charging and fear of data sharing between the NHS and Immigration Enforcement.
A migrant support worker explained: "A lot of service users just simply have never sought medical treatment of any kind, have never tried to register with a GP, or maybe tried once and had a really bad experience where the GP asked for a copy of their passport or proof of leave to remain in the UK. Within our group of young Filipino mums, a lot of them had amassed huge amounts of NHS debt… so were struggling financially to keep up with those payments. And I think when you've had that negative experience with the NHS… that doesn't make you want to engage. Whether that's for a vaccine or potentially lifesaving healthcare, or even getting a test."
Housing is also identified in the report as a key problem.
The report notes that a combination of hostile environment immigration policies, including 'right to rent' checks and 'no recourse to public funds' (NRPF), means undocumented migrants are more likely to live in unsafe and overcrowded housing.
Homelessness is a constant risk during the pandemic.
JCWI said: "Despite the temporary eviction ban and the [Government's] 'Everyone In' scheme introduced in March 2020 following the onset of COVID, undocumented people have continued to face evictions and homelessness throughout the pandemic. We know from anecdotal reports that with significant numbers forced out of work and unable to access Housing Benefit, many accumulated huge rent arrears and were eventually faced with eviction as soon as the ban lifted. Others became homeless after being informally evicted by family or friends who were worried about lockdown restrictions and/or contracting COVID at home. Several of the people we spoke to had experienced homelessness during the pandemic. All of these were women, who, as well as facing the risk of contracting COVID, face a disproportionate threat of both violence and abuse."
In concluding, the report says undocumented people need rights and the Government must put public health before anti-immigrant policies.
JCWI said: "Countries like Portugal, Spain, France and Greece have recognised the enormous contributions made by undocumented migrants during the pandemic through regularisation schemes, concessions and subsistence support. In the UK however, the Government has consistently prioritised anti-immigrant policies over public health, and in doing so has undermined efforts to protect lives and recover from this crisis."
The report makes seven recommendations, including calls to suspend NRPF and to end the hostile environment.