Immigration officers placed in 25 local authorities by Home Office, FoI reveals | Immigration and asylum



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The Home Office has placed immigration officers in child social services and dozens of other local authority departments, in an arrangement that has raised concerns about the ability of the most vulnerable to seek support, the Guardian can reveal.

The officers are part of an “enhanced checking service” that includes providing information about people’s right to work and their eligibility for council services. The embedded official can also pass the details of undocumented people to immigration enforcement officers.

These immigration officers have been placed in 25 local authorities, according to records obtained under freedom of information (FoI). They work across services dealing with vulnerable people including children, as well as homelessness, social care and mental health provision. Others using the arrangement since 2016 also include Transport for London and HS2.

Several of the “customers” for this service are specifically child social care teams, but documents state that officers are expected to work across a range of local authority services.

The on-site immigration fficer service was reported by the Observer in early 2019. The revelation that the Home Office was “hiring out” immigration officials to enforce the government’s hostile environment policy was met with outrage from critics, leading many local authorities to eject the officers, and the Home Office to remove information about the service from government websites.

However, the service has continued to operate. Records released in response to FoI requests reveal that at the end of 2021, 12 local authorities plus HS2 and TfL still had immigration officers working within them on behalf of the Home Office, including five where officers had been placed specifically in children’s services.

The shadow minister for immigration, Stephen Kinnock, said: “Keeping children safe is an absolute priority and there should be no action that puts that at risk. The Home Office must explain what exactly these officers are doing and how they can guarantee that their work does not deny vulnerable children the support or protection they need.”

Mary Atkinson, campaigns officer at the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, said: “It’s chilling to hear that government have been entrenching hostility into the services that families rely on for help and protection. Just like the hostile environment in healthcare, we know this practice spreads fear in our communities, and prevents people from seeking support.

“It’s time government ended this dangerous and discriminatory approach – every resident should be able to put their trust in local councils at times of need.”

Colin Yeo, an immigration law barrister at Garden Court Chambers, said: “Councils are not legally obliged to collaborate with the immigration authorities in this way and it is disappointing to see them voluntarily creating a hostile environment for vulnerable migrants. Enforced removals and voluntary returns are very rare now so all this does is force people underground who need help and support to get on their feet.”

A template agreement between the Home Office and local authorities seen by the Guardian reveals the extent to which immigration officials work across council services.

The document, marked “official sensitive”, states: “the officer will work the following teams within the customer’s organisation; housing needs; homelessness and immigration team; children’s services leaving care; adult social care; adult mental health services … the officer will conduct real-time immigration status checks to support the customer’s decision-making in relation to the individual’s or family’s eligibility for support or benefits and advise on the implications of those status checks.”

The advice provided by the immigration officer includes providing information about people’s right to work and their eligibility for council services.

Under the “no recourse to public funds” policy, people without the right to remain in the UK are denied access to a range of public services, such as housing. The officer is also there to advise on “voluntary returns”, whereby people return to their country of citizenship, according to the document.

Local authorities that placed immigration officers in children’s services included Enfield, Sutton, Thurrock, Slough and Barnet.

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At the end of 2021, the 12 local authorities that still had immigration officers working with them on behalf of the Home Office were: Barking & Dagenham, Barnet, Bexley, Enfield, Essex, Greenwich, Hertfordshire, Hillingdon, Slough, Sutton, Thurrock, and Newham.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “Local authorities can request dedicated support on immigration related matters, with advice on specific cases where appropriate, but this is voluntary and aims to help vulnerable migrants, particularly single mothers and families with small children, to resolve their status. It is usually used to help those who are destitute access appropriate support.

“Individual decisions are made by local authorities rather than immigration staff and to suggest otherwise is wrong.”

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