Immigration law in the UK has always been subject to some level of scrutiny. There have been complaints that law is deliberately vague in certain aspects and that it is designed to catch out those who do not have experienced lawyers at their disposal. A major complaint with regards to immigration rules in the UK is that they constantly change with little to no preparation. These changes make the process more confusing and complex for all parties involved, particularly visa applicants. Until recently, the full extent of these changes was not known. However, a Guardian report has revealed that there have been a huge amount of changes since 2010. The total tally of changes since 2010 added up to 5,700 changes. This is an extraordinary amount, and the report gave vindication to those who had been severely affected by these changes.
The number of changes has to be analyzed with the context of how long the original document is. The current immigration rules consist of around 375,000 words which are double the amount it was in 2010. This figure has prompted some prominent figures to speak out against the plethora of changes in recent years. One such figure is Lord Justice Irwin who has referred to these changes as “something of a disgrace.” He is not the only one who is calling for a radical change to the system. It is abundantly clear that a structural change is required to alleviate the issues caused by these changes.
The blame for the confusion and chaos caused by immigration legislation lies squarely with the Conservative party. The current administration must bear responsibility since it has been their decisions which have caused this crisis. Fingers can be pointed at the current Prime Minister, Theresa May who made a staggering 1,300 changes in the year 2012 alone. This was during the time when she was foreign secretary and thus had the ability to radically affect immigration policy. It is not known whether these changes have ideological undertones of the Conservative party or whether they were more autonomous decisions taken by the home secretary. In any case, May’s successor, Amber Rudd continued along with a similar approach. There was no significant shift in the policy after her arrival. Sajid Javid who was made the new secretary, has issued some messaging which seemed optimistic at the time. He has previously acknowledged the issues that exist, but so far there has been no real action taken. It is evident that whoever the foreign secretary is, they have been following a programme of fast changes that are rapidly being introduced with a distinct lack of foresight.
It is not the number of changes that is the only problem. It is the speed in which they are being introduced. This gives little time for lawyers and those completing applications to comprehend the changes fully. Many changes have been introduced at lightning speed with no fair warning given. This approach gives little to no time to have checks done, and so far there has been little discretion as to the volume of changes. The Guardian report cites a 2014 document as a stark example of just how hectic the changes have been. They show a 2014 document which had 22 changes altogether. This doesn’t seem that significant, but the document was updated just three days later with 250 additional changes. There is clear malice in the way that these changes have been implemented as they deliberately make the entire process far more complex than it needs to be. The sheer volume of changes can be put into perspective when you consider that since 2010 there have been 600,000 words that have been changed. This has had huge implications for the partners and spouses of British Citizens who apply for a UK settlement visa. It has caused undue stress on applicants who can never be sure how the changes will affect them. The sheer volume of changes given in such a short time is unacceptable.
This approach to immigration policy has caught the eye of immigration and barrister lawyer Colin Yeo. He has vocalised his complaints with the system, and he has added that the needless complexity of UK immigration rules means that ordinary applicants are forced to use lawyers that can understand the technical jargon being expressed in these changes. Not all applicants can afford the “astronomical” legal fees and can, therefore, be put off from the process entirely. Yeo did notice something peculiar about the changes and the specific aspect that they had been targeting within the immigration legislation. He noticed that the rules have been targeting the human side of immigration decisions. The human aspect had left room for discretion in specific cases that may have unique circumstances. However, the changes have given more power to cold computational methods that leave this sentiment aside. This makes it less likely that extraordinary cases can receive the same level of human judgement. The lack of subjectivity in immigration legislation makes cases more difficult to get through especially if there are particularly extreme circumstances.
Yeo also noticed the difficulty in being able to keep up with the changes. Immigration lawyers have to stay up to date, and the sheer frequency has made this a difficult task for them. As previously mentioned, the changes require the use of a lawyer for money; however, even lawyers and judges are having trouble in comprehending some of the changes. This clearly shows that the speed of changes has had an effect on the quality of the legislation. If errors must to be corrected, it means that changes are not being given enough consideration before they are rolled out. The fact that qualified professionals have trouble interpreting these changes means that this approach is clearly failing. The only thing these changes accomplish is making the immigration process more complicated and more difficult to properly understand. There is wilful incompetence inflicted by the government as they have been aware of the various difficulties that these changes have caused. Yet, there has been no concerted effort as of yet to look at this policy and take real action properly.
However, there is some optimism for the future. The law commission is investigating the legislation and will make a decision once they have reviewed. A more transparent, coherent and simple set of rules is urgently required to produce fairer outcomes. This will create a fairer system where every applicant has an equal chance. The Home Office as of yet has not given clear reasons for why so many changes were needed. We remain hopeful that the commission’s findings will finally lead to real change that will simplify the process.