Just in case Brexit wasn’t demoralising enough for immigrants, the Home Office is now charging them to send an email

The Tories quietly confirmed the implementation of new fees, slashing the number of languages used for communications by more than half and restricting opening hours for everyone but English speakers

Thom Brooks
Tuesday 06 June 2017 11:50 BST
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The Home Office has privatised its customer services function and started charging applicants £5.48 to send an email
The Home Office has privatised its customer services function and started charging applicants £5.48 to send an email (Getty)

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas

Editor

Migrants have a new reason to feel unwelcome in Theresa May’s post-Brexit Britain. Not only is the Home Office notoriously poor at managing immigration applications and enforcement – now migrants need to start paying out to find out how to apply in the first place.

The Prime Minister isn’t launching some new premium phone number to call for advice. Her Government is now charging precisely £5.48 to send a single email – paying the fee by credit or debit card before submitting enquiries on an online email form.

In a little noticed announcement issued during an election campaign that has seen her Conservative Party’s lead over Labour cut to only three percent and shrinking fast, May’s government issued an official statement confirming the new fees, slashing the number of languages used for communications by more than half and restricting opening hours for everyone but English speakers. A Home Office source claimed the service would become cost-neutral.

Migrants paying the fee and seeking advice will find this service is privatised and now outsourced to the firm Sitel UK.

This is not the first time the Tories have used private providers to deliver immigration services. Previously, the Tory-led coalition government outsourced the management of asylum seekers to G4S. It was discovered only last year that G4S had received demands since 2012 to act on the abuse some asylum seekers were receiving in areas like Middlesbrough where they were readily identifiable by the doors having been painted red by subcontractor Jomast.

As an outsourced service, the Immigration Minister James Brokenshire claimed to have no previous awareness of this continuing problem – which might never have been stopped if those affected had given up repeatedly calling for action to be taken. The danger now with charging a fee to prospective migrants to simply ask basic questions about how to get a visa for work, study or travel is that any poor delivery of service could limp on without notice by ministers responsible for it.

The new fee creates a serious risk that fewer people will want to come to the UK because of the increasing costs of getting information and other immigration fees. Plus the charges for emailing may deter more migrants from receiving correct guidance on how to lawfully enter the UK.

A more sensible strategy for making migrants pay for the services they use might look to changing fees on applications rather than for advice on making an application. But while the government might claim a high price tag to make services cost-neutral, it’s unclear that migrants are getting what they pay for from the Home Office.

General Election polls and projections: June 6

While Theresa May was Home Secretary, the then Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, John Vine published a report in 2014 that found the Home Office failed to engage in much more than only routine background criminal checks – going short of the full costs paid for by migrants in making applications. Vine found that this meant some were gaining entry and even citizenship that should have been prevented had proper checks been made.

Charging migrants abroad for sending emails is not the only twist in Theresa May’s failing effort to reduce net migration by any and all means, whatever its consequences. Last year, her government issued a much ridiculed form for individuals to report ex-lovers to the Home Office for deportation and help “smoke out” any over stayers. My research into this found that the forms were useless – asking for no contact addresses or indicating where the form should be sent – and risked playing into the hands of abusive partners who could use it to threaten spouses with deportation.

Depending on next week’s results, May’s latest immigration gimmick might not be her last – and the only winners are the private firms doing the Home Office’s work.

Thom Brooks is Head of Durham Law School and author of Becoming British: UK Citizenship Examined (Biteback 2016)

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