{{ show.title }}Trailer Bonus Episode {{ selectedEpisode.number }}
{{ selectedEpisode.title }}
{{ selectedEpisode.title }}
By {{ }}
Broadcast by

The UK's hostile environment turns 10 in 2022. Immigration lawyer Colin Yeo explains the ideology and set of policies that made hostility to immigrants the law of the land.

Show Notes

In 2012, then Home Secretary Theresa May announced the plan: "The aim is to create, here in Britain, a really hostile environment for illegal immigrants." The idea, borrowed from counterterrorism, was to make life so difficult for unwanted visitors that they would give up and go home. Instead, the hostile environment became a policy of systemic discrimination against all immigrants, authorised or not, their British families and any person that could be mistaken for an immigrant. And rather than leaving, many were pushed into illegality by changing rules, long waits and exorbitant fees. Colin Yeo, immigration lawyer, author of Welcome to Britain and founder of, explains how the policy came about and what it's meant for Britons, wannabe Britons and the country's own future. 

★ Support this podcast ★

What is Borderline?

Borderline is a podcast for defiant global citizens covering geopolitics, immigration and lives that straddle borders, with host Isabelle Roughol.

Isabelle Roughol: Hey, it's Isabelle,
back with some uncut unedited early

interviews from the Borderline
podcast for your holiday break.

Today, I am rerunning my very early
conversation with Colin Yeo, who

is a British immigration lawyer,
the founder of free

And, uh, we talked about the hostile
environment, how that came to be

and the genesis of the incredibly
tough immigration system in the UK.

It was really an enlightening
conversation that helps you understand

everything else that's happening in
British politics at the moment, such

as the Nationality and Borders bill.

So it's very much, very much
a current conversation even

though this dates back...

a year and a half almost now.

Have a listen, here is Colin Yeo in our
full unedited conversation from 2020.

Well, thank you for doing this.

Um, I read the book last night.

I don't recommend it as a bedtime read.

It really gets your blood pressure up.

Um, but, but it was really interesting.

What is it like launching
a book mid pandemic?

Colin Yeo: Yeah, well, that's interesting.

Cause it's, um, you know, I
don't really know and lots of

about publishing and things.

This is my, this is the
first book I've written.

It's been quite, quite interesting
experience of going through the writing

process and the, the kind of launch bit.

But, um, yeah, we, we had to
have an online launch, which,

which kind of went, okay.

I think.

Probably more people tuned in for
that than we would have done if we'd

done it in person, which was nice.

Um, but yeah, man, bookshops
are barely open people.

Aren't sort of going to the shops.

Um, the online distributors aren't
necessarily ordering in many copies of

books because they're understandably
focusing on, you know, slightly more

vital needs than, than, than reading.

Um, so yeah, it's a slightly,
it's a slightly strange.

Isabelle Roughol: Yeah, I bet bet as
it must be to be an immigration lawyer

in a pandemic, how has that gone?

Has things sort of ground to a halt
or on the contrary, is it been really.

Colin Yeo: Well, it's a quite strange
time because, um, in, in the very short

term, there's basically no need for an
immigration lawyer, which is, which is

kind of great, um, because the, uh, lots
of countries and the UK is doing this

as well are basically saying that if.

Um, if you're a migrant and you're
in the country, then your permission

to stay there will be extended
automatically in the meantime.

Um, so people, you know, there
aren't that many flights available

at the moment and sometimes flights
just aren't available at all.

So people can't really move.

And also people, you know, people are
having to face some difficult choices

about what country to bunker down in
effectively, you know, should they be.

In the country of nationality or should
they be in the country that they happen

to find themselves in, perhaps they're
with family members or that they're

working goals or something like that.

So in the short term, people don't
really need the help of an immigration

lawyer because things are being handled
automatically, but there's also.

Um, a sort of huge demand for information.

And, um, certainly I don't know how
it's been handled in other countries,

but here in the UK, the information
that's been provided by the governments

has been pretty sketchy at times and
not that easy to access or understand.

So there's a huge, huge demand for,
for information, if not for the actual

sort of business of making application.

Isabelle Roughol: Yeah, I've,
I've wondered about that.


I, um, decided.

Early on in March to go spend a
lockdown in my country of residence.

And I found myself
counting the days because.

Um, you know, six months out of
every 12 months in the country,

residency requirement to get settled
status, which I still don't have.

And so, yeah, I found myself counting
days and being very unclear as do

you know what happens if, because
of the pandemic you go over.

Um, I decided to not chance
it and come back to the UK.

So I imagine there's a lot
of these tricky situations.

Colin Yeo: Yeah, well, in the
future, And we still just don't

know how it's going to work out.

And like you say, there are residency
requirements for various different

types of visas where you've got
spend a certain amount of time.

It also has tax implications.

I, not something I know nothing
about basically, but I know

that there's an issue there.

Um, and again, we don't really have very
much clarity at the moment about how

these things work out in the long run.

And you know, another, another
example of that is that in the UK,

and I think in quite a few other
countries, we've got various.

Income requirements for migrants.

Migrants are kind of, this goes back away.

Now migrants tend to be valued in
rather, um, basic utilitarian kind

of terms in the United Kingdom.

You know, what are they worth to us?

Um, in, in, in fiscal terms
rather than cultural or social

terms, which is very unfortunate.

Um, and one of the ways that manifests
itself in the rules is that migrants

have to earn a certain amounts.

Otherwise they have to leave basically.

And, you know, during a global pandemic,
when incomes have been hit, there's

a lockdown that's been imposed by
the government and people are being

laid off and having their incomes
reduced in various different ways.

We don't really know how that's
going to play out in the longer run.

So it it's, it's a time of
real uncertainty for us.

Isabelle Roughol: um, and we've seen
that migrants also overly represented

these frontline essential jobs that ended
up being very exposed to the pandemic.

That was this story on the, uh,
the cleaners of the ministry of

justice that made a bit of a scandal.


Colin Yeo: Yeah.

They've suddenly find themselves going
from low valued, um, supposedly low,

skilled, um, roles to suddenly being
key workers, which is, which is nice.

But, um, it doesn't really count
for anything in the long run if the

rules don't change to reflect that.

But it's, it's interesting cause
it, it feels like it could be a time

where people are thinking again about.

About the value of migrants and just
that sort of priorities in life, perhaps.

And it's maybe a little
optimistic and naive on my part.

I don't know, but it feels like it could
be a time when people think, well, hang

on a minute, you know, they're the people
who've kept our country running, kept

the supply chains functioning and so on.

Maybe they are actually
quite important after all.

And maybe it would be a struggle
if we had to cope without them.

Isabelle Roughol: right.

We've been clapping for the NHS, which
is by a lot of migrants and, and cashiers

and delivery people and, and all of that.


Does this have weights in an
application to the home office?

I don't know, not at this point,
I guess maybe in the future.

Colin Yeo: Well, it's
certainly not at the moment.

Um, and what we see at the moment
is, is that the home office plans

before the pandemic were basically
to prevent the entry of what were

previously called low skilled workers.

It was never really back low skill.

It was always about low salary and
they're quite few skilled roles

that don't necessarily earn a lot.

Um, but that was the kind of
language that was being used.

And in particular, the end of free
movement rights for European citizens

would have meant that, um, unless some
sort of new scheme was introduced.

It would be that there'd be a lot less,
um, it'd be a lot harder for those

kinds of people to come to the UK to
pick fruit or work in the NHS or work

in supply chains, work in coffee shops.

There'd just be, wouldn't be
a route for them to come to

the UK to do that in future.

Um, and as far as we know,
that's still the home office

policy for after June, 2021.

When we're told there's
going to be new immigration.

Isabelle Roughol: So you mentioned
the, the income requirement, which

I think leads to one of the more.

Unjust and, and, and frustrating
situation of all the unjust and

frustrating situations to that you
discuss in the book, which is the

separation of family and the, and the
pushing into exile, pretty much of even

British citizens and British children.

Um, can you tell me a bit
about, about how that works in,

how we got to that situation?

Colin Yeo: Yeah.

So, so back in 2012, um, a new rule was
introduced by then home secretary, Theresa

May, and it requires, um, a person in the.

You sponsoring a spouse or partner.

It requires the UK based person to
be earning at least 18,600 pounds.

Now that's quite a lot of money.

Um, you know, it's a lot more than
the minimum wage was at that time.

Although the minimum wages has gone
up since then, it's still a bit more.

Um, but it's particularly a lot
of money for certain people.

So if you're living in working outside
London, If you, um, if you're a woman,

if you're part-time, if you're young, you
know, there's the whole groups of people.

Um, if you're an ethnic minority,
you know, you'll pay on average,

is it ends up being lower.

Um, so there whole groups of
people who are affected by that.

So you find it very different.

To sponsor, um, a spouse or partner.

And it means that either they
have to go and live in another

country to be together as a family,
um, or they have to live apart.

And, um, you know, one of the parents
is going to be basically a single

parent and you get what was previously
being called a Skype family, where,

you know, the children only really
know one of their parents through,

through video calls, which is just.

Isabelle Roughol: And so only in, in a
lockdown, I think it gave a lot of people,

a window into what that means to only be
able to reach your family through Skype.

Um, do you think that would
change people's attitudes, make

them care a little bit more
about this or is this something.

Really only people who have their
own experience of immigration

are going to be aware of.

Colin Yeo: I don't know.

I don't know who I knew.

I could see that perhaps more thoughtful,
um, people with a bit more empathy might

realize how inadequate video calls are.

Substitute for, for a hug for
actual meaningful family life and

engagement between parents and child.

Um, but others might well just
say, well, you know, we cope during

lockdown, so, so they can cope.

You know, I, I don't know, it, it,
it's often things, you know, we might

hope that things will be different in
future, but people often revert to type.

I think that's, that's what, um,
this will be experience of life.

Tell them.

Isabelle Roughol: And it's a type of.

Um, a bit ironic because it's coming
from a conservative government, which

for whom, you know, family values is
usually a big part of, of their platform.

Um, and, and thinking more broadly, not
just about the UK, uh, I think family

separation has been a big issue as well in
the U S immigration system the past or so.

And, and now we're seeing the U S really.

Uh, really restrict immigration
to, to a trickle, in the pandemic.

Um, ha uh, wondering sort of what
your reaction to, I mean, this, this

week we heard about international
students essentially asked to leave.

Colin Yeo: Yeah, I, I saw the
announcements on that and it,

it, it does seem extraordinary.

There's a chapter in, in, in the book,
which I think we're going to talk

about, about, um, students and basically
how, how valuable they are to, to the

country and to an economy and how.

How important it is to
proactively attract them's one.

I think one of the mistakes that we
see being made here in the UK and

perhaps also in future in the us,
um, is the assumption that people

will want to come to our country.

So if you make it possible for people to.

Then they will come.

Um, the kind of, um, it's a bit of an
obscure reference this, but the kind of

Kevin Cosmo field of dreams build it.

They will come type thing, and it, it
doesn't necessarily work like that.

You actually have to proactively attract
people and make your country a welcoming

place to get the kind of migrants to come.

Who, who, who people design these
policies are kind of aiming it at.

So the sort of internationally mobile.

Um, very talented, potentially highly,
highly skilled, highly paid individuals.

And if you have policies that, um, are.

Generally tough on immigration.

If you use anti-immigrant rhetoric.

And if you have arbitrary policies,
which make the future uncertain

for people, then they'll think
twice about moving to that country.

Um, and it's not the lowest.

Migrants who get put off.

It's the high skilled migrants who
get put off because they've got

a choice about where they go to.

There's lots of countries
who are interested in sort

of trying to attract them.

And, um, you know, it's, um, I,
I saw something, I saw something

interesting where I'm a former minister,
Boris Johnson's brother actually,

um, has written the introduction
to a report on foreign students.

And he just mentioned in passing that.

And Theresa May was, um, was known
as agent may by, um, by the Canadian

university people, because she was so
helpful to their recruitment efforts

because she was putting international
students off, coming to the UK.

It was actually a drive to reduce
the number of international

students coming to the UK.

And that was great for other countries,
which were then able to attract them.

Isabelle Roughol: Yeah, I just
did an episode recently on,

on international students.

And it's a, was striking that, uh,
you know, in fact, most international

students come in from Asia.

But they now also mostly go to Asia.

Um, and the, the appeal of American
or UK universities has really declined

as part of that, that rhetoric
and, and the whole rhetoric around.

Um, you know, oh, we're we only
want highly skilled people.


As you said, the problem is when
you, when your, your rhetoric is,

is aggressively anti-immigrant,
um, the, the, you know, wealthy,

professional, highly skilled immigrants,
um, are also turned off, right?

Colin Yeo: Yeah.

Yeah, absolutely.


It's like a, it's like a market,
um, you know, you're, you're

trying to attract people.

Um, and in fact, politicians on
the right are often doing yeah.

Saying that they want the brightest
and best, but at the same time,

introducing policies and using language
that, that puts those people off.

Isabelle Roughol: and then the first
ones to leave because they can,

because they have options.


I was struck reading the book, uh,
by the phrase hostile environment,

which I would have thought, you know,
it was just a way for opponents to

describe the system, but is actually.

The actual policy, uh, that,
that willingly, um, the home

office is, is putting forward.

So, so what did they mean
by, by hostile environment?

And what's the goal

Colin Yeo: Well, there's a bit of
a sort of backgrounds to the, to

the words, hostile environment.

That was developed in the home office.

In this early years of, at the
millennium abarrotes and it was used

for terrorists in the first place.

The idea was that instead of catching
them and prosecuting them and putting

them in prison, you'd kind of try
and deter them and keep them away by

attacking their, their finances, their
support base and things like that.

And it was kind of extended
to serious organized crime.

And then just bizarrely,
it was extended to.

So immigrants, um, from about 2010
onwards and you actually see that phrase

being deployed and used deliberately by
ministers, like to resume, who was home

secretary at the time, the committee,
um, cabinet committee that was set

up to look at various different ways.

Deterring illegal migrants and then
trying to drive them out to the

country and stop them coming in.

The first place was actually called
the hostile environment working group.

Um, it was eventually retitled because I
think, um, the, the coalition partners,

the liberal Democrats at the time thought
I was a little bit just too sinister.

Um, you know, that, that was the, there
was a clear intent there, and that was

the deliberate language of, of ministers.

They've renamed it out that, that
compliance environment, which sounds.

Not that unseen sinister, if you see
what I mean, frankly, but, but sort of

less overtly hostile because it doesn't
actually have the word hostile in it,

but a lot of us still refer to it as the
hostile environment, because that was

the name the policy was labeled with by,
by the government itself at the time.

Isabelle Roughol: sounds like something
out of quite sinister, bureaucratic

department of naming things.

So, so what is the consequence of
the hostile environment and does

it achieve what it's intended to.

Colin Yeo: Well, and you can
use words in different ways.

So, um, a lot of people when they're
talking about the hostile environment

and they're talking about just being
nasty to immigrants, basically, and there

certainly is a lot of that know, we've
seen a lot of anti-immigrant rhetoric in

the UK over the last few years, started
to change a little bit, to be fair,

um, with, with Brexit coming along.

Um, but, um, When, when I, when I
use the word hostile environment,

I'm often referring to quite
specific set of policies, which,

which is quite wide ranging, but
it's basically a barracks introduce.

Sitters and on citizen immigration
checks, so that employers have

to check your immigration status.

Landlords have to check
your immigration status.

So do banks and building
societies, which are, you know,

they're not immigration offices.

And then it also extends to
two other public services.

Um, civil servants, um, who are working
for different government departments

also have to look at immigration status
and people working in local governments,

check your immigration status, the
NHS checks your immigration status.

Um, so you get this kind of culture of
checking everybody's immigration status.

That's, that's been spread
by various different laws.

People are fined if they
fail to do it properly.

Um, and, and the, the effect that it has.

Kind of similar to identity cards, but,
but in my view, a lot worse actually,

because what you're doing with the hostile
environment is you're forcing people

to prove their right to be in the UK.

And, um, the fines only kick in if the
person turns out not to have a right to be

in the UK and therefore a lot of private
individuals and civil servants and so on.

Take a shortcut and they think what
if you're white and you've got a

local accent, then I don't really
need to check your status because I'm

pretty sure you've got a right to be.

But if you're black or Asian or you've
got a foreign sounding name or something

like that, then I will check your status
because I'm not quite so sure about that.

And it's one thing for white middle class.

Middle-aged male, like me to
be asked to show my passport.

It's not particularly intrusive.

It doesn't threaten me in any meaningful
way, but to ask somebody who's, who's

black to prove their status in the
UK, because you're not sure about.

That's a very different experience.

I think it's much more challenging
and existential, frankly,

and it's much more offensive.

Um, but that's what this
policy is, is all about us.

The whole point of this policy is, is to
have people's immigration status checked

by other citizens and civil rights.

Isabelle Roughol: is that your case?

Immigration policy racist
intentionally or accidentally?

Colin Yeo: It's a really
difficult question.

I think it is intentional in the end.

Um, and I think ministers would deny that,
um, that they'd say it wasn't intentional,

but it's, in some ways it's also.

It's also the wrong question,
because I don't think it matters

whether it's intentional or not.

What really matters is the impact.

And there's it, there's a huge
amount of evidence to show that

whatever the intention is before.

It is racist in the way that
it operates on the ground.

And there was a lot of evidence
beforehand, and frankly, it doesn't

take much to think it through to
realize that it was going to have racist

consequences, um, and, and ministers.

And, you know, I think to an extent
civil servants as well, simply

ignored, or didn't look at that
evidence or weren't bothered by it.

And they went ahead anyway.

And that's what.

Triggered the, the kind of Windrush
scandal to bubble to the surface and

that the causes of that were very
long-term potentially, you know,

immigration policies over the last
sort of few decades that, that, that

caused it to happen in the first place.

But it, people weren't being
turfed out of their jobs and homes.

Until really from 2010 onwards, by
real ramping up of enforcement of these

laws and a spread of these laws to,
to other areas than just employment,

which is where I applied previously.

Isabelle Roughol: and then in of
enforcement that essentially deputized.

Uh, landlords employers, the
entire British population and into

checking the immigration status,

um, since our audience is global, let's
just give people a summary of, of, you

know, who to when rush generation are
and, and what that scandal was about.

Colin Yeo: Yeah.

So the Windrush generation, that's a
label that, that somebody particularly

campaigners is Patrick Vernon kind
of invented re quite recently.

And, um, it's a label that's sort
of broadly includes basically that

the post-war generation of people
who came to the United Kingdom from.

The old, British empire, what was,
what was then named the Commonwealth.

And when they came to the
UK, they came as citizens.

So they weren't really migrants in,
in that sense, they actually had a

citizenship of the United Kingdom
and colonies as it was called.

And that was the same citizenship as
people born in the United Kingdom itself.

And they came from the Caribbean,
from the Indian sub-continent and

from Africa in the 1950s and sixties.

And then gradually over the 1960s and
seventies, um, once they graduate,

it was, it was fairly sudden actually
from, from 1962 onwards, um, new

rules were introduced, which kind of
created a two tier type of citizenship

where basically new entrants weren't
going to be allowed in very easily,

but the people who had already
come, um, would be allowed to stay.

There was no talk about toughing
them out or anything like that.

But they weren't issued with status
papers at the time, they were just

sort of a law was passed basically
saying that they were lovely

resident, but they didn't necessarily
have documents issued to prove it.

And for decades they didn't need
those documents because nobody

was checking their immigration
status on a day-to-day basis.

But from 2010 onwards with this,
this incoming conservative government

immigration checks became an everyday
part of life in the United Kingdom.

And that meant that people suddenly found
themselves losing their jobs, losing

their homes and facing deportation to
countries that they'd, they'd come from as

tiny children, you know, decades before.

Isabelle Roughol: And many did, and I
sinkewitz, what's probably most uncommon

incomprehensible to people looking at
the Windrush scandal from the outside.

Is that there seemed that there was no
way to prove your good faith, that, you

know, amount of, of having clearly been
educated and lived in the UK for decades

and, and having worked in having, um,
pay stubs and, and whatever, know, which

who has pay stubs from the seventies.

Um, it seemed like it didn't matter.

Was there a policy of disbelief on.

Colin Yeo: Yeah.

W w lawyers and campaigners often talk
about there being a culture of discipline.

Same office.

And that that's a phrase that's been
in circulation for quite some time.

And it's very accurately describes the
general approach of officials at the home

office, who simply assume that you're
lying unless you can prove otherwise.

And that kind of very.

Um, cynical approach was just
astonishingly, also applied to

Windrush generation migrants.

Who'd been, you know, obviously
living here for decades and had

obviously good proof to show it.

And officials were just applying then
the normal standards of proof, which

are incredibly hard to meet to, to these
people in a completely inappropriate way.

Um, and I just, it just beggars
belief really that those officials.

Couldn't see that what they were
doing was wrong, but that was,

that was the approach that they're
kind of policy documents and so on.

Talk them to.

Isabelle Roughol: where
does that come from?

Is there, you know, do they
have, numbered goals to hit?

Do they, I am fascinated by, by
organizational culture and sort of how

you get, you know, a bunch of people.

Decent people individually,
uh, to, to somehow, you know,

become this, this hostile force.

How does that work in
and how do we change it?

Do we burn the home office to the ground?

Metaphorically, obviously not advocate
advocating but how do we, how do we change

or do we just have to start from scratch?

Colin Yeo: Well, I, I'm not sure that
simply abolishing the home office.

Sorry the way forward.

And you know, there are people
out there who, who say we should

just abolish the home office.

Um, th th the reason I think that
is that, um, all the functions that

the home office currently sort of.

Um, follows or is responsible for,
um, those would all have to be done

by somebody and they probably end up
being done by homo festival servants.

They'd just be redistributed to other
departments or a new department of

immigration or something like that.

And I don't think that would necessarily
achieve cultural change, but w w what

we've seen is leadership from the top of
the home office that says that immigration

is a bad thing and needs to be reduced.

And famously that that comes from the net
migration targets set by David Cameron

as leader of the opposition in 2010.

And it was an official government
policy and basically ministers.

And that, that, that policy was announced
as a short-term political measure, I

think, um, in order to, um, position
the conservative party, um, with the

electorate and also to position David
Cameron within the conservative party

and to keep, keep certain people happy.

Um, but it turns out when you get into
government that reducing immigration

isn't as straightforward as you might
think, and that, you know, which

migrants do you want to, to get rid of?

Is it.

The highly skilled ones who are coming
in, in which case the economy suffers

and GDP falls and employers are unhappy.

Is it families, in which case
families ended up being split?

Is it refugees in which case you're,
you're being very inhumane and your

international reputation suffered.

Um, is it international students who
are incredibly valuable and, and sort

of heavily subsidized domestic students?

Um, so suddenly you've got all these
hard choices about what, what you're

going to do, and what they decided is
that they were just going to try and

do it, reducing immigration across
the board, pulling every available.

Trying to make things as difficult
as possible for migrants apparently.

And the policy was never
really spelled out.

So you have to kind of read
between the lines to see what they

were hoping to achieve with it.

And it seems to me that it was to
try and put people off, coming to the

UK in the first place, and also to
encourage people to leave the UK and

to make their lives in sufferable.

Um, but one of the things I talk about in
the book is that there's no evidence that

it actually achieves that what it does do
is it forces people out of legal status.

Once they're in the UK, the kind of
complexity of the rules there that

arbitrariness that the cost of the rules
or the income thresholds, and so on these.

Sometimes people can't meet
the rules and they don't leave.

They just become illegally resident.

And we've now got this potentially very
substantial unauthorized population in the

United Kingdom and estimates vary hugely.

It could be between guesses
range between 600001.2 million.

And these are people that.

I have no proper status, but they're
not also not being forced out of the

country, which is just, it's really
an intolerable situation for them.

And I think that for us as a society,

Isabelle Roughol: right.

And they've been pushed to the
margins and into, um, potentially,

you know, abusive situations with,
with landlords who, you know, don't

look too closely it's et cetera.

Is the solution a, an amnesty
for a lot of these people.

Is it a case by case regularization?

Of these

Colin Yeo: Well, I don't
think you can remove them.

That's that's the start.

You know, if you, if you look at the
number of removals from the UK, you,

I think people think that there are
more removals now than they used to be.

So, um, the, the labor government that
was in place before 2008, Isn't are

regarded as being soft on immigration.

Whereas the conservative and coalition
governments from 2010 onwards have

regarded as being tough on immigration.

But actually the number of enforced
removals from the UK is, has fallen

since 2010, quite substantially.

So there's less than 10,000
migrants in arrow, subject to

an enforced removal every year.

And we also know from the
statistics that an increasing

proportion of them are EU citizens.

Who've committed quite minor
crimes and it kind of looks.

Officials are plumping.

Even falling numbers with, with,
you know, low risk removals

that are easy to carry out.

So I don't think you
can, you can remove them.

That's just, you'll be inhumane.

It will require building detention camps,
tearing families and communities apart.

It would be horrendous.

So that leaves when, if they're
going to stay here, can you

just ignore the problem?

And I don't think we really can or should.

Um, or do you want to deal with it?

And there are two ways of dealing with it.

One is to try and bring as many
people within the law as possible

with a kind of one-off amnesty
or something of that nature.

But if you were to do that, um, it just
potentially doesn't deal with the problem

in the long-term and it recurs you also
have to address the rules that are forcing

people into illegality in the first place.

And also.

Uh, route to, to regular status.

So I don't think it's an either or
I think you need an amnesty because

there's just such a huge number of
people who seem to be here without proper

lawful status, which is bad for them.

And it's, it's bad for lawful
residents as well, but also you want

to look at the rules more widely
so that they're not forced into

that status in the first place.

And there is a root
activity in the longer term.

Isabelle Roughol: So I want to talk
about the EU settlement scheme, and

Brexit, uh, because you suddenly
have millions of people who never

really thought of themselves as
immigrants who are realizing that they

are, um, where, where are we with?

The scheme, which is
entering its last year now.

So people are eligible if they're
here before December 31st of

this year, and they have to apply
before the end of June, 2021.

So there's a little under a year left.

Um, where are we in terms of, um,
the number of people who've applied,

number of people who have obtained
status, uh, and, and does it look

like it's going to be success?

Colin Yeo: Yeah.

Can't say whether it's
going to be successful?

Uh, no, nobody can because one
of the I'll come back to this.

One of them.

Problems with this scheme is
that we'll never know how many

people didn't apply and who were
in the UK unlawfully as a result.

Um, but we, we know the latest
statistics say that there have been,

I think 3.7 million applications.

And I think status has been granted.

And something like 3.5 million
of those cases, um, around 40% of

people are getting what's called
pre settled status, which is, it

puts them on a kind of five-year
route to being settled in the UK.

And then the other 60% have been
granted settled status, which is

permanent residence in the UK.

Although you can still be deported if you
commit criminal offenses in, in future.

Um, there was a tiny number of
refusals, although that has started

to jump up quite considerably.


Last month.

I think it was an ounce, there'd be
900 refusals, which know in terms

of percentages is an absolutely
minuscule number of refusals.

Um, but this month has
jumped by further 1,400.

So it looks like, you know, the number of
refusals is going up and we think that's

because the was quite a backlog of cases.

And a lot of the cases in the backlog
were considered complex and somebody who.

It doesn't seem to meet the requirements
of the scheme or who has committed

criminal offenses and declared them,
or those are considered complex cases.

So the homeowner have been sitting on
those for a while and it's finally gotten

around to actually dealing with them.

And it is refusing a
certain number of them.

So there's a high number of
application has been made.

We don't know how many use
systems that are in the UK though.

They've never been counted.

There isn't a mechanism for
counting them here in this country.

Um, and so the, the problem is that no
matter how many applications that are.

We think that there will be many
people who don't make applications, who

could have, and those people are going
to end up basically as unauthorized

migrants, once the deadline passes.

And we, we just, we just have no
idea how many that's going to be.

It could be tens of thousands, you know,
a small percentage of the estimate.

Three or 4 million EU citizens is still
a very substantial number of people

and they will be subject to all of the
hostile environment policies we were

talking about earlier, where they,
they're not able to work properly.

Their bank accounts get shut down.

They have to get turfed
out by their landlords and.

Isabelle Roughol: Yeah.

And get the emails from the home
office on the settlement scheme.

And there was a, a tiny line
at the bottom of the last email

that, that really chilled me.

It said, don't forget
to apply for children.

And I wonder if, you know,
give it another 10 years, we're

going to have a situation like.

In the U S where you have a bunch
of children who one applied for they

couldn't speak for themselves and, and
will find themselves without status.

When they're adults.

Colin Yeo: Yeah, I think it's almost
inevitable that it's going to happen.

Um, so other EU countries
that are dealing with.

British citizens in a different way.

You know, some countries are basically
doing what the UK did for the Windrush

generation in, in previous decades
and passing a law, saying you are

automatically lawfully resident, and then
trying to sort out the documents later.

Um, and other, some other countries
like the UK are saying, well, those

who are resident have to apply.

Otherwise there'll be unlawful.

And neither of those
is a perfect solution.

They're the only two available solutions.

Um, but the neither of them is perfect
because if you pass a law saying

people are lawfully residents, but
don't issue them with documents,

then they can have problems later on.

Although I'd say it's
a bit of a different.

Problem being lawful, but not being
able to prove it easily isn't as

bad as being unlawful and having no
legal status and just being deported.

Um, which is what the UK is, is
essentially doing to a very large number.

We think of a used systems.

It could be like I say, tens, maybe even
hundreds of thousands of people with.

Isabelle Roughol: and that's a distinction
you make very early on in a book.

You, you choose to use the word
unauthorized migrants, uh, Cause

because you can have people.

With legal status, but just not
the papers to prove it reading it.

I realized a, I think I'm an
undocumented Mike, um, because I have

pre settled status and all I got is
an email that made very clear that

this was not legal proof of my status.

So the EU settlement scheme does
not in fact provide documents.

Colin Yeo: Well, yeah, you should
be very reassured that you've got a

little number on a database, somewhere
in the home office that employers

and landlords and banks and building
societies and doctors and so on.

Can, uh, if they, if they can be.

Um, they have to sort of phone up
the home office or, or get to the

home office website check whether
you've got a, a black mark or a

tick against your name, basically.

And, um, and then they can
provide the service to you

without fear of being fined.

If you have.

And it's one of the big problems
with the EU settlement scheme and

there's lots of problems with it.

But the biggest one is that
it forces people to apply.

And some people won't for
various different reasons.

But another problem is that no
physical documents are being issued.

Um, and it means that say, for example,
if you're an employer in the UK,

um, or a landlord, and you've got.

Several people who apply for a
job or for a tendency or whatever.

And some of them have got easy to
understand proof of their residency, like

a British passport, and they can just
show it to you and others of them don't.

And as the, as the employer or a
landlord, you've got to go away and

check with the home office, whether
somebody has status or hasn't, that

is going to lead to discrimination
against the citizens almost inevitably.

Um, and that isn't what the
government say they want, but that's

obviously what's going to happen.

Isabelle Roughol: And they charge
you for that check to when, uh,

when you're trying to get a place.

Um, I want to talk about the Hong
Kong situations, which I know you'll,

you'll tell me, but it, it sounds like
it's actually, um, quite different.

Uh, you know, we've talked about
this very hostile environment and

all of a sudden, you know, the
prime minister is essentially.

Potentially opening the door
to, I don't know, 3 million

people, is that what's happening?

What, what is it that's being offered?

Colin Yeo: Yeah, I'd be
cautious about saying opening

the door to 3 million people.

Cause it's like saying.

I don't know how many million people
there are, who live in the EU.

Um, and yet obviously free movement
rights opened our doors to all those

millions of people, but only a small
number of them actually want to come.

You know?

Um, and it's, it's like we
talked about earlier, it's

kind of, it's not just about.

Allowing people it's also about whether
they, whether they want to, or not.

Now, Hong Kong is a bit different because
there are what, what, uh, a sociologist

or an academic might call push factors.

That's very neutral way of putting it.

You know, there's some, some
pretty awful things going on

in Hong Kong at the moment.

And that may well drive
people to want to leave.

Um, and the, the group of people that the
UK is saying can move narrow to the UK

are called British nationals overseas.

British nationality law is a real mess.


It's kind of, it's a, it's an after
effect of, um, the withdrawal of

the United Kingdom from its empire.

And there are several different
types of nationality status, which

have the word British in them.

One of them is British citizen
and that allows you to live and

work in the United Kingdom itself.

But there are several.

Um, one of which is
British national overseas.

And it's really, basically
just a piece of paper.

I already said it was
just a piece of paper.

It didn't allow you to
live in the United Kingdom.

It gave you a few minor advantages
over other categories of migraines,

but it didn't give you a right
to live in the United Kingdom.

And what the UK is saying is
that, that they're not changing.

Basic requirements.

So they're not giving what's called
the right of a boat, which would

allow people freely to move to the
United Kingdom if they wanted to.

But they are going to say that you
can get a visa and that's that the UK

will charge you a lot for that visa,
but there will be a visa available and

you can come to the UK if you want to,
you'll be allowed to work and you'll

be allowed to settle after five.

Isabelle Roughol: Right.

That's something we don't talk about a
lot, but the fees are incredibly high.

So not only do you have an income
requirement to get to the UK, but it

can cost you a small fortune to get
to the point of legal settlement.

Colin Yeo: Yeah.


It's, uh, it's very expensive.

The, the home office is trying
to make the whole border system,

essentially self financing, so that
migrants have to pay, um, enough money

that it basically funds all of the
home office, immigration function.

And it ends up operating as a kind of
double taxation because migrants who come

to the UK often, you know, most of them
are working here and they pay their taxes,

but they also pay these really substantial
fees, which are by as a standard.

Usually it's at least a
thousand pounds for any kind of

application you have to make.

And depending on the route that you're on.

You might have to make a number of
different applications and it can be a lot

more expensive for some routes as well.

And the one that really just gets me
is it particularly counter intuitive

is one right at the end of the
process, which is the fee for service.

Because it costs, I think over
1,300 pounds to apply for British

citizenship, I said, well, some people
might think, oh, well, it's a, it's

a privilege to be a British citizen.

And therefore you should
have to pay a lot for it.

But don't we want people who
are long-term residents in the

United Kingdom to become citizens.

Wouldn't we encourage them to do that
and charging them a small fortune.

Th to, to do that just seems like
a really insane policy to me,

particularly where their children
and, and even children have to pay a

substantial amount to be registered.

And we come across families where
the parents simply can't afford it.

So the children never become British
citizens, even though they are entitled

to it or that the parents have to pick
one of their children to be British.

And the others don't become British
because the parents just can't afford it.

It's just ridiculous.

Isabelle Roughol: Yeah, but do we want.

People to become British if it's
a system that is as you're right.

Um, set up to maintain
the, I forget how you are.

You phrased it, maintain the, um, ethnic
composition or integrity of, of what the

UK used to be in, in a certain, nostalgic
phishing of what the UK used to be.

Colin Yeo: Well, I think if you have
closed citizenship laws where you've got

high costs and it's difficult to become a
citizen, particularly for migrants that.

The effect of that is that it's,
it tends to preserve the existing,

ethnic composition of the population.

I'm putting that as neutrally as I can.


It's racist basically.

You know, it's about stopping migrants
who are generally speaking, not

white from becoming citizens and
whether that's the overt intention

or not, that certainly the effect.

And so.

I would say that making citizenship
easier to get, or at least not easier

in sense of lower standards or something
like that, but just less reducing the

barriers to citizenship, you know, not
having these ridiculously high costs,

um, not making it so difficult for
migrant children to become citizens.

Um, even restoring what, what
we call birthright citizenship.

So in the U S if you're born
on the territory of the us,

you're automatically a citizen.

And that was a rule we used to have
in the United Kingdom until 1983.

That, that kind of thing, it
hasn't affected diversifying

the population, which, which is
surely, surely good and healthy.

Isabelle Roughol: I wonder, you know,
what it is that makes us hold onto a

system that sees more interested in, in
punishing, um, people who are, who are

trying to, to make it in this country as
opposed to a system that actually works.

And you mentioned in
the book, uh, China's.

Migrants as citizens and waiting.

And, um, now I wonder if you could talk a
little bit about that and you know, what

it does to someone who will eventually be
a British citizen to have been abused by

their own society and their own government
many years before they get there.

Colin Yeo: Yeah.

It's so that, that phrase systems
in waiting is one that that's,

um, I borrowed from, um, from
the U S essentially where the.

Status of American in waiting.

It was actually, it was quite a
really interesting bit of sort of

us citizenship, law, and history.

And it's a, it's a different
way of seeing migrants.

So at the moment we've got in the
United Kingdom, we've got all of these

policies, really, which flow from,
I think the net migration targets of

basically reducing the number of migrants.

We've got all these policies.

I've collectively called
deterrent policies.

And the idea is that it stopped
people from coming and it encourages

them to leave essentially.

And that's the cost, the
complexity, or these income

thresholds and, and, and so on.

Um, and.

W what it, what it does.

I sort of talked about
it a little bit earlier.

It, it doesn't actually deter
people from coming quite often.

Um, at least it doesn't deter, um, any,
but the most internationally mobile, it

can deter them, but it, but it doesn't
deter most migrants from coming, but

it does make their lives very difficult
once they're in the United Kingdom

and this things like double taxation.

Well, th the effect of that
in real life is that a migrant

family has a lot less disposable
income than a comparable family.

That's already resident.

They can't take holidays, they
can't afford, you know, new

clothes and nice things in the
same way that other families.

And they're in extreme cases, they,
they can't afford the fees that

they're being charged and they end
up becoming unauthorized migrants.

But even when they don't, even when
they can't afford the fees, it's

financially punishing for them.

And it, it hampers their life chances.

And yet we also say that they should be
integrating into our society and they

should be grateful to be here and so on.

And you say, well, that doesn't
match with those deterrent policies.

You know, how, how is it, how is it
encouraging people or facilitating.

The integration, if you make
their lives here, so deliberately

difficult in the first place.

And if it did have the effect of deterring
people or forcing them out, then you could

see that there's a certain logic to it.

I don't like it, but at least I
can see there's a certain logic

to it, but it doesn't do that.

There's no evidence at all that it
actually does force people I hurt.

So they end up living here anyway.

Um, and, and what's the point of that?

Just, it just doesn't make any
sense on a public policy level.

So if, instead we were to see migrants
as future citizens, as citizens in

waiting and, you know, a small number.

Mike commit criminal offenses and might
end up being deported and removed.

But most who come here for work or
for family, or for refuge, for asylum,

they will be allowed to stay in the
longterm either as a sort of unlawful

unauthorized, but strangely tolerated
group, or as, as lawful resident.

Wouldn't it be better to be helping
them to become active parts of

society and ultimately citizens
rather than, or hampering them in this

way, which has know w w w we're all
talking a bit more openly about race.

It has racist effects.

You know, a lot of migrants are
from, um, from, from black and ethnic

minority groups and to, to be hampering
their life chances and creating them.

Um, almost sort of an underclass
or servant class of, of migrants

in a, in a society is just really
unhealthy unhelpful thing to be.

Isabelle Roughol: And you're
talking about a change policy that

doesn't have to mean big numbers.

It's just about how you treat
them the numbers that we do have

Colin Yeo: Yeah.

And I I'm, I like to think of
myself as being liberty-minded.

I don't, I don't really mind how
many migrants come to the UK.

I welcome immigration.

I'm an immigration lawyer, I think.

But, um, you know, it it's,
I'm not that bothered about the

numbers when it comes down to it.


Rules are introduced that stop people
from coming in the first place.

If we stop skilled workers from coming
to the UK or whatever, that that's kind

of economically self-harming, but I
haven't got a particular problem with it.

I'd argue against it on a policy level.

What I've got a real problem
with, which I just think is just

unconscionable is treating people who do.

It without respect and as this kind of
beasts of burden, almost with this really

starkly, utilitarian fiscal approach to,
to their, their worth as human beings.

And that's just, it's really wrong
and it's counterproductive and it does

not lead to, uh, a healthy society.

Isabelle Roughol: That's an important
point that, that we can end on.

We could talk forever about
how broken the system is.

I wonder if you have sort of a parting
thoughts on, on how we fix it and how

we get people who, you know, British
citizens who do not have a personal

or family experience of immigration,
um, to care about this and about what

their government is doing in their name.

Colin Yeo: I can't help on that
last thing, how to make people

care is, is very difficult.

And I think the.

Evidence suggests that the more
contact people have with migrants,

the more sympathetic they are.

And that that's something that
happens over time, essentially.

Um, the, the areas that were our most
hostile to immigration tend to have

the lowest levels of immigration.

So ironically, um, um, One of the things
that we have seen over the last few years

is that concern about immigration has
plummeted since the Brexit referendum.

Um, we're not quite sure why that is.

Maybe it's because it's in the papers
last, maybe it's because people

think that immigration is magically
under control as a result of the,

the vote or something like that.

Even though immigration
policy hasn't changed yet.

Don't know, but immigration concern
has really plummeted and people are

much more worried about other things.

And that was even before the pandemic,
um, in terms of making things better.

Quite concrete short term wins,
like reducing the cost of the

system and the cost of applications
I just think is, is wrong.

And it has all sorts of, um,
brilliant, nasty effects.

Um, also I think creating proper
routes to regularization is as campaign

is called it so that people who are
here unlawfully come become lawful.

So amnesty and also proper routes to
regularization, um, in the longer term.

We, yeah, we don't want people to
start getting upset or feel that

migration is, is sort of an unknown
thing or out of control in some way.

And I, I sort of reluctantly advocating
favor of an ID card system in the book.

So I just think that the way the
hostile environment works with.

Immigration checks is just again,
I've used the word unconscionable.

I'm going to use it again.

It's just wrong.

It's racist, encourages
discrimination, and it's just,

it's an appalling system, I think.

And identity card system where.

People's identity is checked rather
than their immigration status.

And where, for example, if you're
an employer, instead of being

fined, if the person turns out to
be illegal, you get fined for not

carrying out checks on anybody.

So it's a proper universal system.

I think that would be
significantly better.


I'm not a, I don't close my eyes
to the fact that it might well

result in some discrimination.

You know, if, if, if, if you're forced
to carry ID cards, know other countries,

show that please disproportionately
stop and check you if you're, if you're

black and ethnic minority and so on,
but it would be a huge improvement on

the hostile environment was just, is.

It's just wrong and should never have
been introduced in the first place.

Um, and then there are other Simon was a
long-term complex things like simplifying

the rules, making them less arbitrary
and reforming citizenship laws as well, I

think is important to make citizenship bit
more, um, accessible for, for those who.

Oh here and actually having a proper
think even about our citizenship policy.

Cause we don't really seem to have
a citizenship policy in the UK.

Like is citizenship reward for
integrating or is it a step to,

to, to encourage you to grow?

I don't, I don't know.

W we just haven't really sort
of talked about these things.

Um, so yeah, it was kind of a range
of things that I'm trying to push

in the book, some of which are.

Quite easy to do in a way where
the public opinion agrees with

them is, is, is a different actor.

But legally there'd be very easy to do.

Others of them would have to be a bit more
long-term because it involves a bit more

thought, a bit more consultation and has
longer term, more profound consequences.

Isabelle Roughol: Okay.

Well, thank you so much, Colin.

Thank you for carrying that message.

I really recommend the book.

I think, especially to people who
do not have a personal experience

of immigration, I want to know it,
what it's like in this country.

Um, thank you.

Colin Yeo: Well, thanks for having me.