Home Office hostile environment policy

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The UK Home Office hostile environment policy is a set of administrative and legislative measures designed to make staying in the United Kingdom as difficult as possible for people without leave to remain, in the hope that they may "voluntarily leave".[1][2][3][4][5] The Home Office policy was first announced in 2012 under the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition.[6] The policy was widely seen as being part of a strategy of reducing UK immigration figures to the levels promised in the 2010 Conservative Party Election Manifesto.[7][8][9]

Origin of Policy[edit]

In 2012 Theresa May as Home Secretary introduced the Hostile Environment Policy with the remark:[1][10]

The aim is to create, here in Britain, a really hostile environment for illegal immigrants.

In May 2007 the Labour MP Liam Byrne, immigration minister at the time, had previously used the phrase in his announcement of the publication of a consultation document:[11][12]

What we are proposing here will, I think, flush illegal migrants out. We are trying to create a much more hostile environment in this country if you are here illegally.


May said, in 2013, that a tenet of the policy was to "deport first and hear appeals later".[13]

The policy includes the removal of homeless citizens of other European Union countries.[2][14][15] Additionally, through the implementation of the Immigration Act 2014 and Immigration Act 2016, the policy includes requirements for landlords, the NHS, charities, community interest companies and banks to carry out ID checks.[16][17][18][19][20][21][22]

The policy also implemented a more complicated application process to get 'leave to remain' based on the principle of 'deport first, appeal later', whilst encouraging voluntary deportation though strategies including "Go Home" vans as part of "Operation Vaken", as well as adverts in newspapers, shops, and charity and faith buildings used by ethnic minorities.[23][24][25][26]

In 2018 the Home Office lost 75% of their appeals against applicants for refugee status who challenged rejections by the Home Office.[27] Sonya Sceats, the chief executive of Freedom from Torture, said:

Long drawn-out legal processes are traumatic for anyone, let alone those who have fled persecution. Having an impartial judge accept that you are at risk of torture or death if you are forced back, only to have this challenged all over again by the Home Office before yet another appeal panel, can have devastating consequences ... important questions must be asked about the necessity for, and humanity of, these appeals.[27]

A 2018 governmental review revealed the Home Office had tried to deport at least 300 highly skilled migrants (including teachers, doctors, lawyers, engineers and IT professionals) under the 322(5) provision, at least 87 successfully. This mostly affected people who had lived in the UK for more than 10 years and have children born in the UK. Many were given only 14 days to leave the UK and were made ineligible to apply for visas to return. The review found that 65% of 322(5) decisions were overturned by an upper tribunal and 45% of applicants for judicial review were successful (28% of judicial reviews find in favour of the defendant). Additionally the review found that 32% of "complex cases" were wrongly decided.[28]


The policy has been criticised for being unclear, has led to many incorrect threats of deportation and has been called "Byzantine" by the England and Wales Court of Appeal for its complexity.[29][30][31][32][33][34][35] It has led to the under-reporting of crime against undocumented people in the UK due to a fear of arrest and deportation of the victims.[2][36][37][38][39] Over half of UK police forces hand over the identities of victims of crimes to the Home Office immigration enforcement.[40] In February 2018 Members of Parliament called for a review of the policy.[41][42]

Charities, campaigners and landlords have criticised the hostile environment within the Right to Rent scheme, saying it is 'unlawful and discriminates against tenants on the basis of their race or nationality', and that it contributes to homelessness.[43][44]

The immigration lawyer and campaigner Colin Yeo described the effect of the policy as: "the creation of an illegal underclass of foreign, mainly ethnic minority workers and families who are highly vulnerable to exploitation and who have no access to the social and welfare safety net."[45]

In December 2018, the first ever super-complaint against the police forces of England and Wales was lodged in relation an outcome of the "hostile environment" policy: the transfer, by police to immigration authorities, of the data of victims and witnesses of crime.[46]

Also in December 2018, it emerged that enforcement of the "hostile environment" policy in one part of the UK government – the Home Office – was dooming to failure initiatives championed and funded by other parts of the UK government.[47][48]

In January 2019, it emerged that tight restrictions on the right to rent (i.e. the right to become a tenant), under the "hostile environment" policy, had caused homelessness for some British citizens living in Britain.[49]


Medical professionals have criticised the hostile environment for putting at risk, or even damaging, people's health because it leads to individuals avoiding visiting doctors due to fears of having their details passed on to the Home Office, or concerns they will be unable to afford the medical bills.[43] This has included refusal to perform a heart transplant and end of life care for a 38-year-old man.[50] Even within its own regulations, the hostile environment has led to people being wrongly denied urgent healthcare including cancer treatment.[43][51] Research at the University of Manchester showed that the policy made health services difficult to navigate and negotiate.[52] In April 2019 several UK medical professional organisations accused ministers of a cover up for refusing to release three official reports commissioned by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) in 2017 into its decision to force NHS trusts in England to implement up front charging for services.[53]

Deaths in custody[edit]

Since the inception of the hostile environment policy, a number of detainees have died in immigration removal centres, including at least five at Morton Hall.[54][55]

Deportation of people at risk of murder or torture[edit]

The Home Office has been strongly criticised for its deportation, under the hostile environment policy, of people to countries where they are known to be at particular risk of being tortured or killed, such as Afghanistan and Zimbabwe. This practice is prohibited by Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which forms part of UK law as part of the Human Rights Act 1998.[56][57][58][59][60] In 2017, the Home Office under Amber Rudd deported a refugee back to Afghanistan in spite of a High Court order not to, was found in contempt of court[61][62][63] and on review was ordered to return him. Kenneth Baker was found in contempt of court when his Home Office did the same thing in 1991.[64][65][66] Another person was murdered in Afghanistan following deportation from the UK.[67][68]

Mistreatment of trafficking victims[edit]

In 2018, it emerged that under the "hostile environment" policy, victims of modern slavery and human trafficking in the U.K. had been jailed in breach of the Modern Slavery Act 2015, and that several had been deported by the Home Office.[69][70][71]

In November 2018, the Home Office reduced financial support for victims of modern slavery, but was subsequently ordered by the High Court to reverse the cut.[72][73] Approximately 1200 victims were affected.[74]

Windrush scandal[edit]

The policy led to issues with the Windrush generation and other Commonwealth citizens not being able to prove their right to remain in the UK.[24] The resulting Windrush scandal led to the resignation of Amber Rudd as Home Secretary, on 29 April 2018, and the appointment of Sajid Javid as her successor.[75][76][77]

In comments seen by the press as distancing himself from his predecessor as Home Secretary, Theresa May, Javid told Parliament that "I don't like the phrase hostile. So the terminology I think is incorrect and I think it is a phrase that is unhelpful and it doesn't represent our values as a country", preferring the term "compliant environment" instead.[23][78][79] However, former officials from the Home Office have said that "She's (Theresa May) wedded to the hostile environment albeit with a different name. It's going to be difficult for any home secretary to put their own stamp on things."[23] Javid "stopped short of rowing back from the meat of the hostile environment policy, insisting that tackling illegal immigration is vital".[23]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Hill, Amelia (2017-11-28). "'Hostile environment': the hardline Home Office policy tearing families apart". The Guardian. Retrieved 2018-04-16.
  2. ^ a b c "How Theresa May's "hostile environment" created an underworld". Newstatesman.com. Retrieved 2018-04-16.
  3. ^ "Inspection report of hostile environment measures, October 2016 - GOV.UK". Retrieved 2018-04-16.
  4. ^ Letters (2018-04-15). "A Home Office humanity test | Letters". The Guardian. Retrieved 2018-04-16.
  5. ^ Channel 4 News (2018-05-20), Highly-skilled migrants told to leave UK under ‘hostile environment’ policy, retrieved 2018-05-20
  6. ^ Kirkup, James (25 May 2012). "Theresa May interview: 'We're going to give illegal migrants a really hostile reception'". The Telegraph. Retrieved 17 January 2019.
  7. ^ Hill, Amelia (2017-11-28). "'Hostile environment': the hardline Home Office policy tearing families apart". The Guardian. Retrieved 2018-04-16.
  8. ^ editorial, Observer (2018-04-15). "The Observer view on the UK's increasingly harsh immigration policy | Observer editorial". The Guardian. Retrieved 2018-04-16.
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  10. ^ Slawson, Nicola (2018-05-23). "Ex-mayor of Ipswich denied citizenship after almost 40 years in UK". The Guardian. Retrieved 2018-05-26.
  11. ^ "PREVENTION OF ILLEGAL WORKING" (PDF), The Guardian, 2007-05-15, retrieved 2019-08-10
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  31. ^ "the3million | preserving the rights of EU citizens living in the UK". The3million.org.uk. Retrieved 2018-04-16.
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Further reading[edit]

Grierson, Jamie (27 August 2018), "Hostile environment: anatomy of a policy disaster", The Guardian, archived from the original on 27 August 2018