Immigration Bill Given a Second Reading In The House of Lords – July 22nd – Government challenged on trafficking, exploitation, family visas, child refugees, data collection, the adequate staffing of care homes and indefinite detention.
My Lords, on 15 July, the Minister told me that “the Home Office is unable to state how many applications from asylum seekers for refugee status are currently being assessed or how long it takes on average to resolve each application.” Data collection and the adequate staffing of care homes have both been mentioned during this debate by other noble Lords. Those are questions to which, along with others, I hope to return at later stages. At this point, I want briefly to ask about trafficking, exploitation, family visas, child refugees and indefinite detention.
I am a trustee of the Arise Foundation, which combats human trafficking and modern slavery. Alongside the new points-based system, the Government are considering an extension of their pilot scheme for strict six-month visas for seasonal agricultural workers. The system gives people limited opportunities to change their employer or to challenge abusive practices, and it is therefore essential to ensure that proper safeguards against exploitation are in place.
More widely, we know that traffickers will seek every chance to abuse new immigration policies. We also know that fear of prosecution currently deters many people from escaping abusive employment practices or presenting themselves to the police. Repealing the offence of illegal working so that no victim is at risk of being punished would be an important step towards protecting people from exploitation. I hope that the Government will take this opportunity to do that.
Under any new or extended scheme for seasonal agricultural workers, what steps will the Government take to inspect recruiters, working practices and living conditions, as well as ensuring that seasonal agricultural workers are aware of their rights and know how to challenge exploitation?
For those who are here legally but who miss the June 2021 deadline for the settlement scheme, what steps will the Government take to ensure that access to healthcare, housing or employment is not lost? Have they made any assessment of older and more vulnerable people who may not yet have applied to the settlement scheme and therefore will be at risk of losing their rights?
The UK remains the only European country without a time limit on detention. Last year, the longest detention stood at a shocking 1,002 days. Covid-19 has led to speedier and more humane decisions. Will the Government build on that and end indefinite immigration detention by replacing it with a 28-day time limit and robust judicial oversight, and amend the Bill to introduce a time limit on such detention? Simultaneously, it would be humane to examine the family visa system to prevent prolonged separations that are detrimental to family life, and to help families to stay together by reforming the minimum income threshold for family visas.
Can the Minister say what steps will be taken under the new rules to ensure that child refugees have access to family reunion with relatives in the UK? More than 1,600 unaccompanied refugee children are stranded on islands in the Aegean. Surely in the context of this Bill, we can do more to help people like them.