Will the riots stir-up UK immigration issues?

12 Aug 2011 | Posted by Carl Thomas

Riots have gripped London and other areas of England over the course of the past week, sparked initially by the death of a young black man.

The treatment of Mark Duggan's family at the hands of the police and the failure to release information to his next of kin ignited anger among those who knew him. But this local anger has since grown into full-scale rioting as people burnt buildings and damaged property across London, Birmingham, Liverpool and other English cities.

Much of the right-wing press has claimed that UK immigration is in part to blame for the looting and rioting that has taken place. The Daily Mail, for example, had this to say in an opinion piece on the current sitution: “Mass immigration - imposed on Britain without any debate - has stretched schools and other social structures to breaking point and saturated the jobs market with foreign workers.”

The incident has certainly bought the country's immigration policies under scrutiny, but the Conservative-led coalition government is already coming down hard in this area, lowering the number of work permits and tightening up on UK visa conditions. But what of people already in the UK?

One immigration lawyer has suggested that the immigrant community is fearful that the government will use the riots as an excuse to “clamp down on immigration in the UK and step up removal of the undocumented”. Writing for Joy Online, Rodney Nkrumah-Boateng, who runs an immigration advisory service in Ghana, explained that any immigrants caught up in the riots could find themselves with real problems if caught by the police.

Those with dual nationality are unlikely to be within the reaches of the UK immigration authorities unless their crime is of a very serious nature. But those in the country on student visa or even those with permanent residence fall under the regulation of the UK Border Act 2007. This states that any non-British, non-EU national becomes automatically liable for deportation (subject to appeal) if convicted and sentenced to a prison term of 12 months of longer.

Mr Nkrumah-Boateng explained that this applies regardless of the individual's UK immigration status and, if the sentence is less than 12 months, the Home Office still retains the discretion to commence deportation proceedings at the end of the sentence.

There is also the risk that police attention on those caught up in the rioting could be transferred to their families and other members of the immigrant community, putting their immigration also under the spotlight.

There are no excuses for the violence and destruction of the rioters, but the government and society as a whole are continuing to look into the possible reasons behind the events of the past week.