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The problem with the UK’s immigration rules

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Legal watchdog says simplifying 1,100-page rulebook would save £70m

In Depth James Ashford
Tuesday, January 14, 2020 - 3:06pm

The UK’s immigration rules are “overly complex and unworkable”, according to the Law Commission.

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The independent law reform agency, which advises government ministers, says the regulations have been “criticised for being poorly drafted” and have quadrupled in length since 2010.

The laws ran to 40 pages when first introduced in 1973 under the Immigration Act, but now extend across 1,100, reports The Guardian - although the newspaper notes that the commission’s newly published report “is not itself a model of brevity”, at 220 pages.

What has the Law Commission said?

According to the agency’s website, a Home Office-sponsored review found that immigration rules had been made more prescriptive in order to produce more “transparent outcomes”, but had become “harder to follow” for both applicants and case workers as a result.

Public law commissioner Nicholas Paines QC said: “This has resulted in mistakes that waste time and cost taxpayer money.” 

Calling for the regulations to be simplified, he continued: “By improving the drafting, restructuring the layout and removing inconsistencies, our recommendations will make a real difference by saving money and increasing public confidence in the rules.”

Evidence presented to the legal watchdog highlighted the increased need for clarity, with increasing numbers of applicants struggling to get to grips with the immigration process without expert help.

The structure of immigration regulations is “confusing and numbering inconsistent”, says the commission’s report. “Provisions overlap with identical or near-identical wording. The drafting style, often including multiple cross-references, can be impenetrable. The frequency of change fuels complexity.”

The agency estimates that simplifying the rules could save the government £70m over the next decade. The report continues: “It is a basic principle of the rule of law that applicants should understand the requirements they need to fulfil … For the Home Office, benefits include better and speedier decision-making.

“This leads to a potential reduction in administrative reviews, appeals and judicial reviews, and to a system which is easier and cheaper to maintain.”

And the reaction?

The commission’s recommendations have been backed by campaign organisation Right to Remain, which helps people establish their right to remain in the UK and challenges alleged injustices in the immigration and asylum system.

“The immigration rules are ‘overly complex and unworkable’…not news to anyone who’s interacted with them,” the group tweeted.

That view was echoed by Labour’s shadow home secretary Diane Abbott, who said on Twitter that the Law Commission was “correct to say immigration rules are unworkable”.

“[It is] long past time for fair rules and treatment, simpler rules and procedures and an end to the government’s “hostile environment’,” she added.

Scottish National Party MP Stuart McDonald tweeted: “Whole system of making rules needs scrapped & redesigned. UK ministers are making lives difficult, even destroying lives at stroke of a pen, with zero opportunity for serious parliamentary scrutiny.”

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