Lord Taverne, a former financial secretary to the Treasury, has accused the Home Office of presiding over a “a national scandal, every bit as outrageous as the treatment of the Windrush immigrants” in a debate in the House of Lords.
The debate on the impact of the government’s approach towards immigration was introduced by Lord Bassam, the former shadow chief whip of the Lords.
Taverne, a former director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, used the debate to accuse the Home Office of “not only breaking every canon of a civilised society [but] ignoring one of the most basic tenets of the rule of law: the golden rule that someone is assumed innocent until proven guilty”.
Taverne said that “in their determination to increase the number of deportations and intensify the hostile climate for immigrants”, the Home Office is improperly using an anti-terror power intended “for really serious crimes such as murder, terrorism and for conduct that constitutes a threat to national security” against those who have made minor and legal amendments to their tax records.
“It is almost unbelievable but under 322(5) [of the immigration rules] migrants are deprived of their right to work, rent property or access the NHS, while the burden lies on them to prove their innocence, not on the Home Office to prove guilt,” he added. “And not just innocence but also that the Home Office’s decision was ‘perverse’ or ‘irrational’. And to top it all, they cannot get legal aid. What could be a greater betrayal of our traditional respect for justice and the rule of law?”
It is the second time in two days that the Home Office has been held to account for its use of 322(5) against highly-skilled migrants. On Wednesday, SNP MP Alison Thewliss held a heated debate in Westminster Hall about the issue with Caroline Nokes, the immigration minister, at which MPs from all parties spoke up about the issue.
Last month the home secretary, Sajid Javid, promised “all applications potentially falling for refusal under the character and conduct provisions of paragraph 322(5) … have been put on hold pending the findings of the current review”.
But the Guardian revealed on Monday that the use of 322(5) was ongoing. Opposition MPs have said the Home Office’s failure to pause all cases, “smacks of a government department unjustly and incorrectly misusing a draconian power” and “shamelessly ruining innocent people’s lives”.
Taverne took that case further by demanding the Home Office quash all residency refusals made under paragraph 322(5) and reopen those applications for fresh consideration.
He also demanded the immediate restoration of the right to work, rent property and have access to the NHS “to those who who were deprived of these rights because of the abuse of the subparagraph?
“This is vital to the hundreds or thousands of skilled migrants who are a great asset to this country but whose lives have been ruined, or who face ruin,” he said.
Taverne demanded that the Home Office make public the terms of its review into its use of 322(5). He cited cases still going forward that the Home Office claims have already been reviewed and found to be a correct use of the power.
Taverne called on Javid to “make his mark as a radical reformer”, and asked him to “tell us that the use of 322(5) will be discontinued and that in cases where it has been used, visa histories will be wiped clean, that IRL [indefinite leave to remain] applications will be reconsidered and that applicants’ right to work, rent property and access to the NHS will be reinstated in the meantime”.