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Abolition of police registration requirement for migrants announced
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Earlier this month, the Home Office announced the abolition of the Police Registration Scheme. The scheme required certain foreign nationals to register with the police and keep them updated about important changes to their personal details. The abolition of this outdated scheme is very much to be welcomed. It will do away with the need for cumbersome paperwork and removes an onerous ongoing visa condition.
There is confusion, though. A notice was quietly posted to the Metropolitan Police website announcing immediate abolition of the scheme on 4 August 2022. But the original notice, now amended, stated that those affected would need a new visa, which is not the case. Some Home Office stakeholders were then privately notified on 8 August 2022 that the scheme was suspended with immediate effect. A public announcement was belatedly posted to the Home Office website announcing that the scheme ended on 4 August 2022. The related Home Office guidance to its own caseworkers was then marked as ‘withdrawn’ and ‘archived’.
But in fact the scheme still exists as a matter of law. In theory, breach of the requirements is a criminal offence. Our working theories are that (a) the announcement of abolition was made prematurely or (b) that someone at the Home Office announced it without realising that changing the law is not so simple as putting out a press release and amending gov.uk. We assume that formal, legal repeal of the scheme will follow shortly. In the meantime, no-one is actually going to be prosecuted for failure to comply with the scheme.
What was the Police Registration Scheme and why was it introduced?
The scheme was introduced in one form or another 108 years ago via the Aliens Restriction Act 1914 and associated Aliens Orders, a kind of precursor to today’s immigration rules. According to the national archives, the Act was passed the day after war was declared on Germany and required all aliens (foreign nationals who were not British subjects) to register or be deported. The supposedly temporary and emergency legislation was extended into peacetime in 1918 and continued to regulate the entry of aliens until the commencement of the Immigration Act 1971.
The scheme required specified nationals of the 44 countries listed at Appendix 2 to the Immigration Rules or who met the conditions at paragraphs 325 and 236 of the Immigration Rules to register with the police as a condition of their permission to enter or permission to stay in the UK. An individual had to present themselves at the Overseas Visitors Registration Office at a local police station within seven days of arrival. A police registration certificate was issued and the individual was required to update it throughout the duration of stay in the UK. A fee of £34 had to be paid.
In practice, it became impossible for individuals to comply. It was yet another government service that was overrun and understaffed. And the police had better things to do, frankly. The problem became worse during the pandemic. Attempts to automate parts of the process were made in 2021, when an online portal was introduced. This allowed individuals to satisfy the requirement to register within 7 days by simply creating an account. After that, if a certificate needed updating, appointments were not being issued until 2023. Securing an appointment became an unofficial but acceptable means to demonstrate you were taking steps to comply with the condition.
The scheme still exists as a matter of law
The existence of the scheme today is brought about by a combination of the Immigration (Registration with Police) Regulations 1972 (as amended) and Immigration Rules (Part 10: Registering with the police and Appendix 2: Police registration). At the time of writing, these remain unchanged.
Failure to register or notify of a change of details for the purpose of police registration is a breach of conditions. Failure to comply with conditions is, according to s.24(1)(b)(ii) of the Immigration Act 1971, a criminal offence carrying a maximum penalty of six months’ imprisonment. Further, a failure to comply with conditions would normally have a detrimental impact on future applications under the Immigration Rules, Part 9: grounds for refusal. Paragraph 9.8.3 states:
An application for permission to stay may be refused where a person has previously failed to comply with the conditions of their permission, unless permission has been granted in the knowledge of the previous breach.
That said, we think there probably isn’t too much to worry about. We assume the relevant law will be repealed in due course and will not be enforced in the meantime.
Individuals can rely on the news that the scheme is now abolished
The Home Office itself now states that the scheme is outdated and is being abolished to avoid a duplication of data gathering. Apparently there is no need to report on arrival or keep the police updated to changes in details, because these individuals are now screened before travelling to the UK.
The Home Office have circulated a public notice, which confirms that individuals no longer have to comply with the requirement to register. The Home Office itself says there is no need to retain a police registration certificate or present it as evidence in any future visa application. Any existing visas or Biometric Residence Permits that include the condition don’t need updating and the requirement won’t appear on any new visas or Biometric Residence Permits. Any booked and paid appointments will be cancelled and fees won’t be refunded. And anyone who failed to register before 4 August 2022, will no longer be expected to do so.
Changes in name, address and nationality etc will still require reporting in the same way as other visa holders via the Home Office’s change of circumstances form.
Keep checking for updates…
Whilst this is a positive step for those migrants who continued be pointlessly inconvenienced by the archaic scheme, the implementation and delivery of this news is likely to cause confusion. It seems that Home Office disregard for the law is just as evident when liberalising requirements as tightening them. Advisors can expect to receive questions from concerned clients.
As and when we come across any news regarding the repeal of legislation, we’ll update you.