On Monday Britain’s immigration officials are to be swelled by millions of new recruits – an army of private landlords.
February 1 marks the day landlords and any private home owner who takes in lodgers will be expected to act as immigration officers and check the immigration status of anybody renting a room. British, Swiss and EU citizens are exempt. But anyone with a foreign sounding name, black face or Aussie or American accent will immediately be under suspicion.
Failure to do so will mean that private landlords face a fine of up to £3000 (less for a first offence) and even once they are registered the landlord faces another fine if he or she fails to tell the Home Office when the lodgers’ visa runs out.
According to James Brokenshire, the immigration minister, it is all very easy and should prove no burden to millions of British citizens who let out rooms or have buy to lets.
As he says “Ahead of the scheme’s roll out, we have been working very closely with an expert panel to make sure their feedback is taken on board and to design a scheme that is as simple and light touch as possible. Many responsible landlords have already been undertaking similar checks – these are straightforward and do not require any specialist knowledge.”
Apart from his insult to thousands of professionally trained immigration staff, James Brokenshire’s comment is wide of the mark. As I wrote in Tribune magazine last week the scheme is so simple that the Home Office’s so called new ” simple guide” for landlords issued on January 8 was suddenly withdrawn and archived seven days later.
The reason became very clear. it was pretty complicated and required landlords to be able to distinguish between fake immigration papers and real ones.
The government’s brilliant test run has proved not to be so. Trialled in the West Midlands in places like Birmingham, Wolverhampton and Sandwell, it turned out that half the landlords never registered and it was difficult to find out who was taking lodgers. Some people relying on agents decided the best thing was not to take any foreign people at all, and the dangers of racism was obvious.
This suggests it could be difficult to enforce, particularly over lodgers. Nobody need be registered if they are staying less than three months. The rules say tenants leaving most of their belongings in a property for more than three months or are registered to vote or with a local doctor would have to be checked. And will cash strapped local councils have time or inclination to check.
They also want landlords to certify the documents are genuine, the picture is of the immigrant and to be wary of damaged documents.
In my view this another example of the government dumping its responsibility to check immigrants coming into Britain on to the general public rather than having an effective and well staffed Borders Agency in the first place.
But it will also be ineffective. My knowledge is limited and is mainly through connections to the Kurdish community after my daughter married a Kurdish asylum seeker – who now has a UK passport.
But it seems clear to me that each community sticks to its own – and is a mixture of people who have British passports, are awaiting asylum applications, and are illegal. The accommodation arrangements for the latter are informal and wouldn’t be covered by the new Immigration Act as no contracts would be signed. So unless Mr Brokenshire is going to ask the police to raid the house of every former immigrant in England he will never discover what is really happening.
Instead he has dumped a bureaucratic system on millions of law abiding citizens as a ” window dressing ” operation to cover up his government’s failure to police the immigration system itself.