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New academic paper by Colin Yeo and Melanie Griffiths looks at the history and the impact of the ‘hostile environment’ immigration policy


Article argues that the hostile environment's defining characteristic is the 'deputisation' of border enforcement

Date of Publication:
22 January 2021

New academic paper by Colin Yeo and Melanie Griffiths looks at the history and the impact of the ‘hostile environment’ immigration policy

22 January 2021

An interesting and important new academic paper by Colin Yeo (of Garden Court Chambers and Free Movement) and Birmingham University's Dr Melanie Griffiths examining the 'hostile environment' immigration policy has been published by the quarterly Critical Social Policy journal.

You can read it online here or you can download it here.

The authors explain: "We trace the 'hostile environment' phrase, exposing its origins in other policy realms, charting its evolution into immigration, identifying the key components and critically reviewing the corresponding legislation. The article analyses the impact and consequences of the hostile environment, appraising the costs to public health and safety, the public purse, individual vulnerability and marginalisation, and wider social relations."

Colin Yeo says the paper was four years in the making.

The article traces the roots of the hostile environment from the Labour government of 1997–2010 through to its full realisation under Conservative Home Secretary Theresa May and the Immigration Acts of 2014 and 2016.

The authors argue that the defining characteristic of the hostile environment is the deputisation of border enforcement to non-state third parties, thus "making an unprecedented range of agencies, services, institutions, companies, charities and private individuals responsible for checking immigration status, passing on information to the Home Office and delivering immigration-related exclusion."

Yeo and Griffiths state: "Although journalists, politicians and academics often use the hostile environment label to refer to broadly marginalising, criminalising and punitive policies and practices, we argue that the hostile environment for migrants is more than just hostile policies. May's conceptualisation does not exist in a White Paper nor central policy document, but we can infer a definition from its origins and evolution. It is made up of multiple components which are spread across sectors and operate independently, but that share core characteristics and function cumulatively to produce a specific and holistic policy strategy. We argue that the defining feature of May's hostile environment for migrants is the 'deputisation' of border enforcement to third parties. Giving non-state actors responsibility for state functions is also seen in the hostile environment for terrorists and serious criminals, but in an immigration context those co-opted are not just in financial services. A sweeping range of public servants, agencies, companies, private organisations and members of the public are now obliged to check people's immigration status and enforce immigration-related restrictions. The significance of these policy developments for redrawing UK border practices and social relations risk being lost by loose use of the 'hostile environment' phrase to refer to generalised state hostility."

Yeo and Griffiths find the fatal flaw at the heart of the hostile environment (and one which leads to the Windrush scandal) is the conflation of being undocumented and unlawfully-resident: "It is assumed that those who have legal immigration status will have documentary evidence, so that a lack of 'papers' equates to a lack of immigration status."

"Serious problems arise from this mix of selective application of immigration checks coupled with erroneous assumptions over the quality of Home Office data and likelihood that people have documents," the paper continues. Deputised third parties are encouraged to adopt "over-cautious approaches to immigration checks and restrictions, affecting many more people than 'just' those unlawfully-present, and doing so in discriminatory ways."

The authors conclude that the hostile environment leads to "high costs for the public purse, health, safety, security and society, including by erecting barriers to healthcare and undermining equality and social cohesion through encouraging xenophobia and racism."

In addition, they conclude that the hostile environment remains "firmly embedded in primary and secondary legislation and professional services and culture", and that the problems demonstrated by Windrush "will inevitably be repeated" after Brexit.

Also of interest to readers of EIN on Critical Social Policy recently is an academic paper by Eve Dickson and Rachel Rosen looking at the 'no recourse to public funds' (NRPF) condition.

You can read it here.

The authors say: "Through close examination of policy, political statements, and media coverage, we make the case that the NRPF extension was – and continues to be – intentionally subjugating and punitive, most aptly understood as a policy of enforced destitution and debt imposed on negatively-racialised post-colonial subjects. In drawing out the implications of our argument, we point to time, destitution, and debt as core technologies of the UK's migration regime, alongside everyday bordering, detention, and deportability. Denying support through NRPF serves to exclude putatively included migrants while normalising conditional approaches to social support. Our article reveals why moral arguments against NRPF based on destitution fail and suggests that challenging welfare bordering requires a more systemic appraisal of policy frames, intentions and effects."