Before Brexit there was the immigration goal. Reducing immigration down to several tens of thousands was an objective announced by David Cameron in 2010/11. Never mind that as part of the Single Market and thus free movement of people across the European Union this objective was all but unachievable. Politicians are obviously aware of this, so as diversion mechanism illegal migrants have been targeted through the hostile environment policy and removal targets. However, the problem is that the UK does not have a proper registration system and there are thousands of legal migrants (e.g., Windrush generation) that do not have proper documentation. Result: since illegal immigrants are hard to track down, bureaucrats go for low-hanging fruits – legal migrants with no or doubtful documentation. These could be member of the Windrush generation, foreign students who supposedly have cheated on their English exams, and even highly skilled non-EU migrants who are applying for permanent residence and get rejected on shady grounds. While one might find this approach by bureaucrats to go after legal migrants despicable, it can be easily explained by the incentives given to bureaucrats – quantitative targets (number of people to be removed) in times of reduced resources (courtesy of the coalition’s austerity policies). It is definitely not the agents’ but the principal’s fault, in this case the Home Secretary and the government, more generally.
Unfortunately, my family had to experience the Home Office’s hostile environment policy ourselves, when my wife (non-EU-citizen but as my wife with the right of residence in the UK) tried to get a visa to enter the UK and then secure the residence permit. Everything turned out well, but there were stressful moments of dealing and having to pay an anonymous bureaucracy that is supposed to serve the people and not fight and blackmail money out of them. I already fret the day when we have to renew her residence permit and when I have to secure settled status for our teenage boys and myself. And all of this obviously pales in comparison with what members of the Windrush generation and other legal migrants had to go through.
Coming from a family of civil servants and counting many civil servants among my friends, I appreciate their hard work and cannot blame for the current disaster. It was a political decision to create unachievable migration targets, it was a political decision to create a hostile environment for illegal migrants, it was a political decision to cut resources for the Home Secretary and thus turn the immigration environment hostile for both illegal and legal migrants. This is when populism meets bureaucratic incentives – an important lesson for the implementation of Brexit.
6. May, 2018