Immigration officers have been deployed by the Home Office to child welfare services and dozens of other local authority departments, in an arrangement that has raised concerns about the ability of those most at risk to seek assistance, the Guardian said can reveal.
The officers are part of an “extended inspection service” that includes information about people’s right to work and their eligibility for community services. The embedded officer can also share the details of undocumented persons with immigration officers.
These immigration officers were deployed to 25 local authorities, according to records obtained under the Freedom of Information (FoI) framework. They work in various services dealing with vulnerable people, including children, as well as homelessness, social care and mental health. Others using the agreement since 2016 include Transport for London and HS2.
Some of the ‘clients’ for this service are specifically childcare teams, but documents say officers are expected to work in a range of local authority services.
The local immigration office was reported by the Observer Early 2019. The revelation that the Home Office was “hiring” immigration officers to enforce the government’s hostile environmental policies drew outrage from critics, leading many local authorities to evict the officers and the Home Office to remove information about the service from government sites.
However, the service continued to operate. Records released in response to FoI requests show that at the end of 2021, 12 local authorities plus HS2 and TfL still had immigration officers working on behalf of the Home Office, including five where officers were specifically deployed to childcare facilities.
Mary Atkinson, campaign officer at the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, said: “It is appalling to hear the government hostilely anchoring the services families rely on for assistance and protection. Just like the hostile healthcare environment, we know this practice spreads fear in our communities and discourages people from seeking support.
“It’s time the government ended this dangerous and discriminatory approach – every resident should be able to trust local councils in times of need.”
Colin Yeo, immigration lawyer at Garden Court Chambers, said: “Councils are not required by law to work with immigration authorities in this way and it is disappointing to see them voluntarily creating a hostile environment for vulnerable migrants. Forced deportations and voluntary returns are now very rare, so this is only forcing people underground who need help and support to get back on their feet.”
A model agreement between the Home Office and local authorities seen by the Guardian shows the extent to which immigration officers work across all council services.
The document, marked “officially confidential,” states: “The case officer will work with the following teams within the client’s organization; housing needs; homelessness and immigration team; child care from care; adult welfare; adult mental health services … the officer conducts real-time immigration status checks to assist in client decision-making regarding the individual or family’s eligibility for assistance or benefits and advises on the impact of these status checks.”
Advice from the immigration officer includes providing information about people’s right to work and their eligibility for community service.
As part of the ‘no recourse to public funds’ policy, those without a right to remain in the UK will have access to a range of public services, such as B. living space, denied. The official is also there to advise on “voluntary returnees,” where people return to their country of citizenship, according to the document.
Local authorities that dispatched immigration officers to childcare facilities included Enfield, Sutton, Thurrock, Slough and Barnet.
At the end of 2021, the 12 local authorities still employing immigration officers on behalf of the Home Office were: Barking & Dagenham, Barnet, Bexley, Enfield, Essex, Greenwich, Hertfordshire, Hillingdon, Slough, Sutton, Thurrock, and Neuham.
An Interior Ministry spokesman said: “Local authorities may request targeted support on immigration matters, with advice on specific cases where appropriate, but this is voluntary and aimed at helping vulnerable migrants, particularly single mothers and families with young children, to gain their status clear up . It is usually used to help the destitute to access adequate support.
“Individual decisions are made by local authorities rather than immigration officials and it is wrong to suggest otherwise.”