migrants limbo immigration coronavirus

Hostile Environment Leaves Migrants in Limbo

Migrants Suffer Under Hostile Environment During COVID-19

You would be forgiven for assuming that, in the midst of a global pandemic, the Home Office would automatically relax or entirely scrap its widely condemned hostile environment policies. Yet, six weeks into the UK’s lockdown, such detrimental and life-threatening restrictions are yet to be lifted.

While the government has implemented some necessary, welcomed changes – including its decision to automatically extend for one year any visa held by doctors, nurses and paramedics that is due to expire before 1st October 2020 – it has failed to abolish (or at the very least temporarily curb) the vast majority of its hostile immigration policies.

Charities and church leaders across the UK are still calling for the suspension of the government’s hostile environment, which primarily targets asylum seekers and undocumented migrants. Faced with the increased threat of destitution, exploitation and homelessness, they have so far been excluded from the government’s financial support packages; a harrowing indictment of the ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’ condition.

Forcing migrants to choose between two equally deplorable demands – either leaving the country or finding the money to fork out thousands in fees – is utterly bereft of human decency

And it is not only undocumented migrants, asylum seekers and refugees who are suffering under the government’s hostile environment during the COVID-19 crisis. Heather Ducharme, 45, has spoken out after being informed that she would have to leave the UK with her young British son despite having lived here for the past decade.

hostile environment leaves migrants in limbo coronavirus
Heather, her six-year-old son Will and her partner Wendy. [Image: Heather Ducharme, iNews]

In her role as a senior manager for The Body Shop, Heather regularly travels abroad, which led to her application for permanent residency in the UK being rejected by the Home Office. Her options? To either leave the UK by the beginning of next month when her current visa expires, or to make a further £2,400 application; all of this transpiring in the midst of a pandemic.

The Home Office should be protecting migrants during this crisis, not exposing them to further adversity

The Home Office previously announced that all visas due to expire between 24th January and 31st May would remain valid until further notice. However, it remains unclear what will happen after this date passes, with applications likely to face huge delays.

What’s more, migrants in the UK are questioning how they ought to proceed with application submissions whilst they are currently unable to provide biometric information such as fingerprints – a crucial requirement of all applications.

Given the current circumstances, the Home Office’s persistence to uphold stringent conditions and place added pressures on migrants while already offering them the bare minimum by way of support seems entirely unethical. Forcing migrants to choose between two equally deplorable demands – either leaving the country or finding the money to fork out thousands in fees – is utterly bereft of human decency.

The Home Office should be protecting migrants during this crisis, not exposing them to further adversity and placing them in a state of limbo with little guidance or support.

During the current crisis, it ought to be a moral obligation that reasonable flexibility and understanding is extended to migrants

Speaking to iNews, Heather made clear how demoralising the UK’s immigration system is: “There is one part of me which thinks I should give up and go back to Canada. […] It’s hard not to feel enough is enough if the UK immigration system is so determined to reject me and others like me. But then why should my son have to be taken away from the UK and why should I have to leave my partner and my British family? I feel a crisis has been imposed on our life.”

She also noted: “The so-called ‘hostile environment’ was bad before but the pandemic has made it worse. Either we go or try to keep making our life here, but in a cruel state of limbo.”

Despite living and working in the UK for over ten years, Heather has potentially been given four weeks to pack up both her’s and her son’s lives in the middle of a pandemic.

Heather’s application for Indefinite Leave to Remain was rejected by the Home Office after officials included travel that she is required to undertake for work within their assessment of her eligibility, meaning that she exceeded the limit of 540 days of travel over a decade.

The lack of empathy and common sense displayed by the Home Office is regrettably something which has faced criticism time and time again. However, during the current crisis, it ought to be a moral obligation that reasonable flexibility and understanding is extended to migrants.

Written by
Holly Barrow