So today’s big immigration story seems to come from Damian Green’s Ministerial statement announcing that as of October of this year, following changes to the Immigration Rules, those who fail to discharge debts to the NHS in excess of £1000.00 will normally be refused if they seek entry clearance or leave to remain. Access to the NHS by foreign nationals – Government response to the Consultation also seems to suggest that this is also to apply to citizenship applications.
Fact or fiction?
This was first proposed by Labour last year, and has obviously been enthusiastically embraced by the Coalition Government. At least part of the rationale behind the measure is to address the so called phenomena of ‘health tourism’. However as the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights pointed out, there is a distinct lack of evidence or statistical information which would suggest that this is in fact a problem.
Aside from the above, there are of course already ample powers to deal with recovery of debts of this kind. Indeed this is surely the function of debt proceedings through the civil courts? In fact, if anything, the use of these provisions is more likely to mean that the authorities lose track of debtors – it will afterall surely be more difficult to pursue debt recovery through the courts against people in foreign countries.
In any event, debts can of course already be taken into consideration when dealing with entry clearance applications, and applications for leave to remain, and citizenship applications – see for example the policy guidance on good character.
Playing to the galleries again…
The reality is that this yet another attempt by the Coalition to play to the galleries on the question of immigration. However the Coalition should pause and take note of Labour’s lesson in office – tough sounding rhetoric and extraordinarily illiberal legislative initiatives do little to endear governments to the electorate, but an awful lot to manfacture fear, misinformation, and general distrust by the electorate.