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The UK Border Agency: de-moralised


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In his speech on Monday addressing the long term causes behind the recent looting, David Cameron blamed the State. The communities that erupted need less help, not more, it would seem. In some classic post-Blair, verb-free rhetoric, Cameron recited some rather tired soundbites (communities, rights, responsibilities, the usual). He also blamed human rights and that old chestnut of health and safety. His strongest language was reserved for government itself, though:

“Some of the worst aspects of human nature tolerated, indulged – sometimes even incentivised – by a state and its agencies that in parts have become literally de-moralised.”

By ‘de-moralised’ Cameron clearly did not mean ‘listless’ or ‘demotivated’. He meant that the State and its agencies are moral vacuums, sucking good old-fashioned values and general stiff upper lip out of the population at large. More specifically, Cameron suggested that the State contributes to children being left without fathers.

On this analysis, the UK Border Agency must be one of the worst offenders in government. That particular agency has absolutely no respect for the institution of the family. It needs saving from itself before it does yet more long term damage to individuals, families and communities.

That is not to say the UK Border Agency is responsible for the riots. The media are putting forward enough supposed experts to rush to judgment on the causes and there is no need to add to the nonsense here. However, it is important to highlight the hypocrisy of accusing the State of de-moralising society while simultaneously being responsible for an immigration policy that is utterly devoid of morality or humanity.

While some civil servants at the Home Office have been working hard on social inclusion and encouraging active parenting, other civil servants within the same department have been busy working to ensure that children will never see their fathers again. Still worse, civil servants at the UK Border Agency have traditionally taken the view that British citizen children with an immigrant parent can be expected to grow up abroad in a different education system, culture and linguistic environment, but with an absolute right to return to the UK when they are old enough to make that decision themselves and afford the plane ticket. It is rather difficult to see how that promotes social cohesion and good old- fashioned values. It is a recipe for future alienation and resentment.

Once a person has children, it makes no sense whatsoever to separate them from those children. The fact that the person is an immigrant should be irrelevant – both that person and his or her child are still human beings and are still part of our society. Nevertheless, even where the parent has committed no crime, it is almost unheard of for the UK Border Agency to allow a parent to remain on the basis of human rights. This can do no good to society in the long run and it goes against everything the likes of David Cameron and Iain Duncan Smith purport to believe about the importance of the family. Those beliefs apparently do not extend to immigrants and their children, for whom the political right has a blind spot.

Damian Green, the Immigration Minister, was recently asked to describe his worst day. “Whenever we lose court cases,” he apparently replied. He must have a lot of bad days, because the UK Border Agency seems to lose every single big case that it defends. Indefinite detention is a moral abomination and costs the taxpayer a fortune. The Border Agency lost the big test cases on detention. The Certificate of Approval marriage scheme made it impossible for many immigrants to get married, despite right wing politicians extolling the virtues of the institution. The Agency lost the test case on that one too. The increase in the spouse visa age forced young British women to leave the safety of the UK, their friends and their families, all in the name of preventing forced marriages. They lost that one, of course. British citizen children were being denied the right to grow up in their country of nationality… I think you get the picture.

The courts are repeatedly saving the UK Border Agency from itself and using human rights laws to do so. Civil servants there should wake up and realise the long term damage they are doing to families and society with their total disregard for the fundamental human right to a family life. Human rights are the solution, not the problem.

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The Free Movement blog was founded in 2007 by Colin Yeo, a barrister at Garden Court Chambers specialising in immigration law. The blog provides updates and commentary on immigration and asylum law by a variety of authors.


16 Responses

  1. Another balanced post from FM…..

    On a serious note FM, is it really almost unheard of for UKBA to allow a parent to remain on the basis of human rights? It won’t be unheard of to most UKBA staff because they’re the ones granting the settlement before it even getting to an appeal stage so you’re unlikely to ever know of it.

    Not every person that is granted some sort of status has to have a lawyer! Anyway, I’m sure there’s plenty of other work out there for you to maintain a healthy bank balance at the taxpayers expense :o)

  2. A bit harsh on UKBA I think. Yes, there are many instances of them taking perverse and arguably, inhumane positions vis a vis family based applications/appeals. This is perhaps especially true in the tribunals where their representatives will often parrot the same line about how family life can be enjoyed elsewhere or maintained from abroad via modern technology. However as the other poster has pointed out, quite a few succeed at application stage.

    Also questions of where a family lives- for example where the child has one nationality and the parents another- are not simple ones either and it doesn’t always follow that they would be best off remaining in the UK. I have some sympathy for UKBA who have a very difficult task albeit one not always discharged particularly well. I don’t think polarised debates help matters- human rights on the one side versus, immigration control on the other- and part of this is down to our adverserial legal system which doesn’t admit of more nuanced positions which can do justice to the complexities of some of these issues.

  3. im going to print this post of your out FM, and put it on my wall……..to read on those days when everything feels hopeless and i wonder what im doing here..

  4. “On this analysis, the UK Border Agency must be one of the worst offenders in government. That particular agency has absolutely no respect for the institution of the family. It needs saving from itself before it does yet more long term damage to individuals, families and communities.”

    So true FM – It does more damage to UK Immigration Control and to the UK Gov’t finances by destroying families/marriages than by doing the “Right” thing. It may add to its own problems with its arrogance, incompetence, lack of apology, and a continuing lack of progress to improve (if I read John Vines reports correctly).

    I think the previous Gov’t has a lot to answer for though. Given the riots in Croydon I was surprised that certain HO buildings weren’t hit – that may be down to policing.

    I still see that UKBA have yet to provide their advice on Zambrano (March 2010). Another example of the UKBA failing to promptly respond, showing their lack of concern for the “rule of law” and for family. How difficult and time consuming can it be to hold a meeting, make a decision, and update their website? The Irish did all this months ago.

    1. You were surprised HO buildings weren’t hit? Let me enlighten you: HO buildings do not stock Nike trainers, G Star sweaters and cigarettes.

  5. “Its the rule of law, Dave” or “where to look last when trying to find the moral high ground.”

    Freemovement misses the point; it’s not about morality its about the law. Cameron attacks the looters as an affront to civilised society and the essence of such a society is the rule of law – something UKBA honours in the breach.

    “the constitutional principle requiring the rule of law to be observed. That principle too requires that a constitutional state must accord to individuals the right to know of a decision before their rights can be adversely affected. The antithesis of such a state was described by Kafka: a state where the rights of individuals are overridden by hole in the corner decisions or knocks on
    doors in the early hours. That is not our system. I accept, of course, that there must be exceptions to this approach, notably in the criminal field, e g arrests and search warrants, where notification is not possible. But it is difficult to visualise a rational argument which could even arguably justify putting the present case in the exceptional category.” R(Anufrijeva) v. Secretary of State for the Home Department [2004] 1 A.C. 604 cited in R (on the application of S) v Secretary of State [2011] EWHC 2120 (Admin) that was on 5 August 2011.

  6. The only flaw with that artical is that UKBA have just allowed a quarter of a million failed asylum seekers to remian under an amnesty……

    1. Exactly my point Dave but I think FM just saw the opportunity to have another dig at UKBA again and couldn’t resist!

    2. Onlyme, I apologise, at FM HQ I see all the comments together on one page and thought you had left this comment on Shivani’s post on the latest COIS report for Sri Lanka. Accordingly, I thought your comment rather failed to engage with the issue. However, I see that I was wrong and your comment is entirely on point.

      It isn’t simply a question of my looking for excuses to put the boot in. I genuinely think officials at the Home Office and ECOs lose sight of the humanity of the people they deal with. I see some awful decisions about families even where they are not deportation cases.

      You are right, though, because I come in at the appeal stage I do get a jaundiced view of UKBA decision making. I only see the cases that are refused.

    3. No problem- though it seems you’ve permanently deleted that post as I can no longer see it!

      I don’t doubt that you do genuinely think officials at the HO and ECOs lose sight of the humanity of the people they deal with. However, what is incredibly frustrating, as someone that works at the HO, is that

      (a) you make very broad brushed sweeping statements about ALL UKBA stuff. Sure there are some poor staff here but equally there are poor legal reps out there and poor judges. In any organisation there are poor staff.

      (b) you never provide any balance. OK, you write from a particular perspective but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t provide a slight more balanced argument.

      (c) I know a lot of UKBA staff who would like to provide a human angle to their decisions but they can’t due to processes/ red tape etc. That is the fault of Ministers and senior managers- don’t take it out on the rank and file staff who can only do as they’re told.

      (d) as you’ve acknowledged, there are a lot of cases where decisions are made i favour of applicants- sometimes even where we are very confident the courts would dismiss their appeal.

    4. Dave O

      I think you may have equated/confused “Family Immigration” and “Asylum”.
      The article is primarily about the former, your point is about the latter.

  7. The UKBA, for eg. with the cases it has defended and lost, undoubtedly appears to be part of the problem. The main problems are the existing immigration laws and administrative laws.

    A foreigner who has custody of a minor German child can get a residence permit in Germany. It is a very easy application without a maintenance or language requirement. It doesn’t matter whether the child already lives in Germany (applicant can enter with the child) and it doesn’t matter where the German parent lives. There is no application or extension fee. Refusal/revocation are only possible if a danger to public security, fraudulent paternity acknowledgement, abandonment of child-parent relationship.

    This law arises from the German constitution which on family matters goes far further than the ECHR. Immigration law is generally subservient to family law decisions (ie. immigration decisions await family law decisions). The consitutional court has interpreted the provisions broady including that a child who will be a German citizen has a right to be born in Germany with both parents present. That means a visa for the non-German parent prior to birth.

    Administrative law provides for eg. that if documents are missing then the authority must name them and ask for them before refusing for that reason. A valid application can be submitted without the form, the authority asks for it later (it’s only four pages long). Indeed a valid application can be submitted by fax or post or in person with witnesses. In all cases an appointment then follows to which documents and passports are brought. (At the embassy, or if in-country, in the city/county of residence.) In many cases the authority must make a decision within three months, or the court can order immediate processing. In all cases processing an application must commence within three months, most applications are decided sooner.

    The provisions for foreign parents are almost unique (at least until and unless ECJ Zambrano leads to the same thing throughout the EU) and the provisions for spouses are much better than those of the UK. (If you have a German spouse and German child, it is easier to apply based on the child.) So on the one hand many European countries have immigration law more comparable to the UK, though not all of them. On the other hand, this is a model for what immigration law for family members could and should be. Yet the UK priority is a “points based system” which suits big business, the government and establishement and leaves many genuine family members seeking DLR.

    1. Mutly, thanks for this, it is really interesting. And quite inspiring too – it is all too easy to lose sight of the fact that the UK rules needn’t be as dismissive of family life as they are.

  8. MMM, I and my family have been directly affected by bad staff at the UKBA. I am a UK National a real one with ancestry going back for hundreds of years. I was forced out of the UK to keep my marriage together and also for the welfare of our 2 young children aged 6 and 3 years. A vunerable age, and they need the love and care of both parents.

    In the last 8 months trying to get my wife from Spain where we had been forced to live for the last 4 years, the 4 UKBA staff that had handled our matter showed that they did not understand the immigration laws regarding free movement. Even when l told them about UK immigration rule 9.2 that involved the Surrinder Singh judgement. I got my MP involved and he aquired a letter from the head of free movement at the UKBA and still it was very hard to get the ECO’s to except that my wife was perfectly entited to enter the UK with no visa or permit, as it was her right under EU Directive 2004/38 and UK immigration 9.2.

    One adviser in Barcelona actualy said to me that he had 20 years experience and he instructed Easy Jet not to allow my wife on the plane without a visa. I told him that I had 2 months experience and he did not know what he was talking about. My wife eventualy entered the UK without a visa or family permit. The UKBA caused a great deal of harm, now our little girl sceams her head of when we take her to school as she is afraid to let go of her mum. So mabe the UKBA could film that and show it to all the people they employ to just make them aware of the damage they do with their ignorance.