The hostile environment remains in place
Insights from the new report by RAMFEL

By Head of Campaigning at Refugee & Migrant Forum of Essex and London, Nick Beales
Monday 10 October 2022

The government’s ‘hostile environment’ was formally introduced in 2014 and has expanded ever since. It came to national prominence in the wake of the Windrush scandal, but despite expressions of regret, little if any of the hostile environment has since been dismantled.

What happened to the Windrush victims was not an accident. The hostile environment assumes a person does not hold valid immigration status until proven otherwise. This means that for those without a physical visa document – a British passport or a valid biometric residence permit – they are assumed to be in the country without permission and therefore not permitted to work or access many basic services. This is the situation those on ‘3C leave’ face, and is the subject of our report, The Hostile Environment Remains in Place. 

3C leave is a form of immigration status granted to people waiting for their visa to be renewed. It is designed to ensure that whilst awaiting a decision on their application, a person remains lawfully resident and holds the same rights attached to their previous visa, such as the right to work. Crucially though, whilst on 3C leave, a person does not hold a physical visa document and the current safeguards in place are ineffective at preventing those on 3C leave from routinely suffering discrimination as it is assumed they do not hold valid immigration status.

The hostile environment’s introduction coincided with the ‘10-year route to settlement’ coming into force. This route requires migrants in the UK on the basis of their family and/or private life to complete 10 years’ lawful residence before qualifying for indefinite leave to remain/settlement.

As periods of leave to remain are issued for 30-month periods, those on the 10-year route must renew visas every 2.5 years, meaning more people are spending more time on 3C leave.

The data for our report consists of 329 ‘in-time’ further leave to remain (FLR) applications, submitted between January 2020 and May 2022, meaning in each instance the person was on 3C leave. In at least 109 instances (31%), clients suffered some form of detriment whilst on 3C leave, most commonly their employer threatening to suspend them from work.

In 56 instances (17%) clients suffered more serious forms of detriment, with 21 clients (6%) wrongly suspended from work or prevented from taking up employment. 11 of these clients were wrongly suspended from work as their employer was not satisfied they were entitled to continue working without a physical visa document. 

Worryingly, 7 of these 11 instances occurred in the first 8 months of 2022. This increase is due to it now taking 11 months on average for the Home Office to process FLR applications, meaning people spend almost a year on 3C leave with no physical visa document. These delays have only caused added anxiety for employers, who understandably are anxious about employing someone without valid status, especially since the Immigration Act 2016 made this a criminal offence.

The Home Office’s response to our report was frustrating. When offering comment in The Guardian, there was no suggestion that they disputed our figures. However, they effectively stated that because 3C leave and accompanying safeguards should prevent such detriment occurring, there is no problem. This entirely ignores our report’s findings, which are in essence that said safeguards are not working.

The Hostile Environment Remains in Place: a study of how thousands of lawfully resident migrants are wrongly deproved of their rights each year  (click image to open)

Our report concludes by making 4 recommendations to ensure those on 3C leave are no longer wrongly suspended from work and denied access to other services. An immediate step is changing how FLR applications are processed, with the Home Office actually issuing written confirmation of a person’s 3C status and ongoing rights instead of their existing acknowledgment email, which makes no mention of such rights. They should also either reduce the 10-year qualifying period to settlement or increase visa lengths from 30 to 60 months. Both of these measures would see less people spending time on 3C leave, and the reduction in numbers of FLR applications would also increase Home Office resources.

Ultimately though, whilst the hostile environment remains in place, it is inevitable that those in the UK without a physical visa document will continue being treated inhumanely and denied their basic rights irrespective of their immigration status. If, as the government claims, they have learned their lessons from Windrush, then the time has long since come for them to scrap their hostile environment. 


Nick Beales is the Head of Campaigning at Refugee & Migrant Forum of Essex and London.