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Migration to the UK: an introduction

The Hostile Environment

"We're going to give illegal migrants a really hostile reception" Theresa May, then Home Secretary, first stated in a Daily Telegraph interview (Kirkup and Winnett, 2012). 

She then went on to develop this into a term which has became synonymous with draconian severity towards those within the immigration system:

  • "The aim is to create here in Britain a really hostile environment for illegal migration," she declares (Kirkup and Winnett, 2012)

Liberty civil rights group has a page on the Hostile Environment (Liberty, 2020) and produced a guide Liberty, 2019).

The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI, 2020) has a page and links on information resources covering the Hostile Environment. 

The term 'Compliant Environment' was introduced in an attempt to soften the language, without substantially altering the policies and the involvement of 'ordinary people' in immigration control (Wemyss, 2018)


Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (2020) Ending the Hostile Environment. Available at: (Accessed 25 June 2020)

Kirkup, J. and Winnet, R., 2012) 'Theresa May Interview', The Daily Telegraph, 26 May, p.4

Liberty (2020) The Hostile Environment.  Available at: (Accessed 25 June 2020)

Liberty (2019) Report: a guide to the Hostile Environment. Available at: (Accessed 25 June 2020)

Wemyss, G. (2018) ''Compliant environment': turning ordinary people into border guards should concern everyone in the UK', The Conversation, 20 Nov, Available at: (Accessed 25 June 2020)

UK Immigration Acts 2014, 2016, 2019

Immigration Act 2014 - the stated aims were to:

  • introduce changes to the removals and appeals system, making it easier and quicker to remove those with no right to be here
  • end the abuse of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights – the right to respect for family and private life
  • prevent illegal immigrants accessing and abusing public services or the labour market

Immigration Act 2016 .  The Act introduced  "Right to Rent" and immigration status checks by landlords, NHS, Banks and employers, with non-compliance a criminal not a civil offence.  Since then, there have been significant increases in financial charges for applications for different leave to remain immigration statuses, which go well beyond covering the administration costs involved. Universities and Higher Education bodies and agencies now employ Immigration Compliance Officers (INTO, 2018).

2016 Act - the stated aims were to: 

  • Introduce new sanctions on illegal workers and rogue employers
  • Provide better co-ordination of regulators that enforce workers’ rights
  • Prevent illegal migrants in the UK from accessing housing, driving licences and bank accounts
  • Introduce new measures to make it easier to enforce immigration laws and remove illegal migrants

The Each Other journalist organisation has a plain English guide to the 2016 Bill (Lea, 2016).

In 2020-21 the Immigration, Nationality and Asylum (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 pass through Parliament. These specifically end Freedom of Movement (reciprocal rights across EU countries for UK citizens whilst they were EU members, and for EU27 citizens coming to the UK).  It introduces - or rather, further extends - a 'points-based system' with points requirements and a minimum income level for applicants. 


Gardner, Z. (2020) Parliamentary Briefing: Points-based System.  London: Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants. 

INTO (2018) Job Description Immigration and Compliance Officer. Available at: (Accessed 25 June 2020)

Lea, S. (2016) The Immigration Act 2016 in plain English. Available at: (Accessed 25 June 2020)

Liberty (2021a) Liberty's Response to the New plan for Immigration Consultation.  Available at: (Accessed 20 May 2021)

Liberty (2021b) 'Liberty: Government's Immigration Plan Undermines Access to Justice', in Access to Justice, Immigration and Migrant's Rights, 6 May.  Available at: (Accessed 20 May 2021)

Patel, P. (2021) Home Secretary's Statement on the New Plan for Immigration.  Available at: (Accessed 20 May 2021)

United Kingdom (2014) Immigration Act 2014.  Available at: (Accessed 7 June 2019)

United Kingdom (2016) Immigration Act 2016.  Available at: (Accessed 7 June 2019)

United Kingdom (2019) Immigration, Nationality and Asylum (EU Exit) Regulations 2019.  Available at: (Accessed 7 June 2019). 

The Cost of Migration

Application charges

Allegations of pressure on housing and health services, and lowering of wages, have been used as an argument against immigration.  Not so often discussed are the steeply rising costs of immigration for the immigrants themselves.

For those seeking to naturalize, seek temporary or indefinite leave to remain, extend limited leave to remain, or stay in the country for a short period, the costs have risen dramatically in recent years, despite a current freeze (Free Movement, 2020). The Immigration Health Surcharge is being increased to £624, with planned exemptions for NHS and related care workers (Home Office, United Kingdom, 2020).

  • For current pricing, see the Home Office's own Immigration and nationality fees web page (United Kingdom, 2020)
  • For a summary of the current situation, including charges for children to become British and the costs to employers for hiring non-EU foreign workers, see information from the legal group Free Movement (2020).

NB: costs and policies can change, so please check latest updates on the relevant web pages. 

See elsewhere on this page for links to key legislation.


Free Movement (2020) Immigration and nationality fees unchanged for 2020/21. Available at: (Accessed 29 June 2020) 

Home Office, United Kingdom (2020) 'Media Factsheet: Immigration Health Surcharge', Home Office in the Media. Available at: (Accessed 29 June 2020)

United Kingdom (2020) Home Office immigration and nationality fees: 29 March 2019: updated 6 April 2020. Available at: nationality-fees-29-march-2019 (Accessed 26 June 2020)


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