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Global Mobility: Essential Best Practices

Nowhere to hide –right to rent checks

and the creation inhospitable environment for (illegal) migrants

In 2014 it was decided that the best way to deal with illegal migration would be to create an hostile environment in the UK for illegal migrants. How is this to be done? Maybe filling the channel with crocodiles? Or trolls under bridges tasked with checking immigration documents?

The Home Office hasn’t gone quite this far yet, but Ministers are not afraid of taking a hard line.   Over the next year we will see a steady stream of new laws aimed as making the UK as hostile as possible towards illegal migrants, starting with right to rent checks.

The policy, first introduced in the Immigration Act 2014 and piloted in the West Midlands, asks landlords to check the immigration status of potential tenants before entering into tenancies. The aim is to prevent illegal migrants from accessing private rented accommodation. Landlords who fail to complete the checks and rent out their properties to illegal migrants can face fines of up to £3000.

The scheme is set to be rolled out through out England on 1 February next year. Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland will follow later.  That housing is a devolved matter complicates things and they are it is unlikely to be rolled out beyond England  until October 2016 at the earliest.

What do landlords need to do? Before entering into a tenancy agreement with a new tenant they will need to check the passport of the prospective tenant, and if they are not a UK or EEA national check their visa. They will then need to make a copy of these documents and keep them on file and make follow up checks as appropriate by keeping track of visa expiry dates. If they discover that a person does not have the right to rent, they then need to make a report to the Home Office.

What do tenants need to do? Tenants need to make sure they have the documents to present to their landlord to demonstrate they are entitled to live in the UK – these documents will include, but are not limited to, a passport showing the holder is a UK or EEA national, or Visa/Biometric Residence Permit showing that the holder has limited or unlimited leave to remain in the UK. A full list of documents can be found here.

The checks themselves seem pretty straight forward, but in practice they are giving rise to some challenging logistical issues. Some migrants with less then 6 months valid leave on their visas are struggling to find accommodation. People who are looking to secure accommodation in the UK, whilst waiting for  their visas to be approved overseas will be restricted from doing so which will make house hunts and ‘Look See’ trips difficult for assignees.

To be fair, Home Office Ministers and officials have been typically open to listening to ideas about how the system should work in practice.  The process is similar to illegal working checks and will be familiar to many.

There has nevertheless been resistance to the scheme, amid fears that it could lead to discrimination that will adversely affect non-UK nationals, it could create a market for rogue landlords to exploit illegal migrants and add additional costs to the price of renting.

The Home Office recently released a report on how the pilot scheme went in the West Midlands. They surveyed just over 100 landlords and tenants and concluded that there was little evidence of increased discrimination, although a small number of tenants stated that they had been refused accommodation due to their nationality.

Is this inhospitable environment just for Illegal migrants or will anyone not called Dave or Jane feel the impact? How far can the hostile environment be pushed – maybe we’ll need to start checking the immigration documents of friends before we taking the big step of making it official on facebook, or your favourite Pret Barista will need to look at your passport before handing over your much needed caffeine fix in the morning, immigration officers flanking barriers at train station during rush hour? The possibilities are endless.  fragomen nov 2015

By Val Gascoyne, Fragomen

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