The Home Office has placed immigration officers in children’s social services and dozens of other local authority departments, in an arrangement that has raised concerns about the ability of the most vulnerable to ask for help, the Guardian can reveal.
Officers are part of an “enhanced verification service” that includes providing information about people’s right to work and their eligibility for city services. The embedded official can also pass the details of undocumented people to immigration officials.
These immigration officers have been placed in 25 local authorities, according to records obtained under Freedom of Information (FoI). They work in all services dealing with vulnerable people, including children, as well as homelessness, social care and mental health services. Other users of the arrangement since 2016 also include Transport for London and HS2.
Several of the service’s ‘clients’ are specifically child welfare teams, but documents say officers are meant to work in a range of local authority services.
The on-site immigration officer service was reported by the observer in early 2019. The revelation that the Home Office was “hiring” immigration officers to enforce the government’s hostile environment policy sparked outrage from critics, leading many authorities local authorities to evict officers and the Home Office to suppress information about the service. from government websites.
However, the service 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.
Shadow Immigration Minister Stephen Kinnock said: “Keeping children safe is a top priority and no action should put that at risk. The Home Office must explain what exactly these officers do and how they can ensure that their work does not deprive vulnerable children of the support or protection they need.
Mary Atkinson, head of campaigns at the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, said: ‘It is chilling to hear that the government has rooted hostility in the services families rely on for help and support. protection. Like the hostile environment of health care, we know that this practice sows fear in our communities and prevents people from seeking help.
“It’s time the government ended this dangerous and discriminatory approach – every resident should be able to trust local councils when needed.”
Colin Yeo, immigration barrister at Garden Court Chambers, said: ‘Councils are not legally required to work with immigration authorities in this way and it is disappointing to see them willfully creating a hostile environment for vulnerable migrants. Forced removals and voluntary returns are very rare now, so all this is just forcing people into hiding 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 reveals the extent to which immigration officers work in council services.
The document, marked ‘official sensitive’, states: ‘The agent will work with the following teams within the client’s organization; housing needs; homelessness and immigration team; services for children leaving care; adult social care; adult mental health services…the officer will perform real-time immigration status checks to support client decision-making regarding the individual or family’s eligibility for support or services benefits and advise on the implications of these status checks.
Advice provided by the immigration officer includes providing information on people’s right to work and their eligibility for municipal services.
Under the ‘no use of public funds’ policy, people with no right to stay 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”, by which 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.
At the end of 2021, the 12 local authorities which 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 issues, with advice on specific cases where appropriate, but this is voluntary and aims to help vulnerable migrants, especially single mothers and families with young children, to resolve their status. . It is typically used to help people in need access appropriate support.
“Individual decisions are made by local authorities rather than immigration staff and to suggest otherwise is wrong.”