Report published 6 March 2019. Government response published June 2019.
Report and response published
Scope of the inquiry
Between 1948 and 1973, nearly 600,000 Commonwealth citizens came to live and work in the UK – with the right to remain indefinitely. This included the Windrush generation, named after the hundreds of people who travelled from the Caribbean to England on HMT Empire Windrush in 1948. In 1973, UK immigration law changed: Commonwealth citizens were no longer allowed stay in the UK indefinitely and were instead granted temporary residence. However, many immigrants arriving before 1973 had not been given any documentation and the Home Office had kept no records to confirm these individuals’ immigration status.
The last ten years have seen the introduction of the government’s “compliant environment”: only those migrants who are eligible have the right to live, work and access services like benefits and bank accounts in the UK. However, in early 2018, media reports began to grow about members of the Windrush generation being denied access to public services, detained in the UK or at the border, or removed from, and refused re-entry to, the UK. In April 2018, the government acknowledged that they had been treated unfairly.
The National Audit Office has found that the Home Office failed to protect the needs of the Windrush generation when it designed and implemented its immigration policies. These findings come despite the Department itself identifying in 2014 that there were around 500,000 settled migrants who would find it harder to prove their status, as well as evidence from the NAO, the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, and numerous Caribbean ministers about the quality of data on individuals, who were wrongly flagged as being in the UK illegally.
The Home Office has set up a taskforce to help resolve the Windrush generation’s immigration status and is setting up a compensation scheme. At the end of September 2018, it had issued documents to 2,658 people to confirm their status. However, the NAO report also found that the Department still does not know how many members of the Windrush generation have been wrongly impacted by policies designed to target illegal migrants, and the extent of the problems they have faced.
While the Home Office has made some attempt to identify people affected, the report found it has not considered individuals who are not of Caribbean heritage. Although it has identified 164 people who were removed or detained before 1973, and apologised to 18 people who it deems were treated wrongly, the Department identified them by narrowly focusing on the files of just 11,800 people from 12 Caribbean countries. It also has no plans to review the files of around 160,000 Commonwealth nations born before 1973, who may have also been wrongfully detained or removed.
The Public Accounts Committee has previously raised concerns about how the Home Office and its agencies manage the UK immigration system. In 2014, it found that the Home Office lacked the data it needs to manage its workload effectively and to track people through the immigration system.
The Committee will question the Home Office on whether it is doing enough to identify those affected and resolve their issues. It will examine the Department’s immigration systems and data management, and how this contributed to the problems experienced by the Windrush generation. The Committee will also look to the future, questioning the Home Office on how it is helping individuals to resolve their immigration status and getting further clarity on their proposed compensation scheme.