Fri 17 September 2021

Schools are requesting proof of pupils’ immigration status, although Government denies return to ‘hostile environment’ policy, reports Stephen Delahunty

The Government has denied it is reintroducing a “hostile environment” into schools after reports emerged of parents being asked to produce their children’s passports as proof of their immigration status. 

The term “hostile environment” describes immigration policies designed to limit access to work, healthcare, bank accounts and social support. It refers to a 2012 interview with then Home Secretary Theresa May where she said she wanted to create a “really hostile environment” for irregular migrants in the UK. 

Campaigners have warned this latest example of passport checking could be unlawful and threatens backtracking towards the extension of a hostile environment and border policing into the classroom and the lives of schoolchildren.

Ninky Mama, a parent from Coventry shared an email on Twitter that claims her children’s school is under a “legal obligation” to ensure all of its pupils have the required immigration permissions. The email gave parents a 31 June deadline to allow the school to review the nationality and status of all its pupils. 

Eleanor Doody, a parent of two children who attend different schools, said: “This is definitely a thing in schools. Both my kids’ schools have sent home emails saying that EU citizens/pupils have to prove their right to remain for the start of next academic year.”

Neither mother was willing to share the identity of their school with Byline Times and both the Home Office and the Department for Education have confirmed that their guidelines have not changed.


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Hostile Environment in Schools

State school admission authorities must not refuse to admit a child on the basis of their nationality or immigration status – nor remove them from the roll on this basis. 

However, independent schools with a sponsor license have explicit sponsor duties around keeping copies of documents that show someone has a right to be in, and study, in the UK.

In addition, Department of Education guidelines show all independent schools are required by the Independent School Standards to have an admissions policy and should make parents of all pupils and prospective pupils aware of the policy by, for example, posting it on its website.

Campaign group Schools Against Borders for Children confirmed it had seen correspondence sent to parents by some schools which have stated a “legal obligation” to check on immigration status.

In a statement it said: “We are alarmed by recent reports from parents of schoolchildren that requests have been made for passport and other documentation checks to take place in UK schools. It is our firm belief that schools asking for passports or proof of immigration status as an admission requirement, is likely to be unlawful and contravenes current UK government guidance.”

Schools Against Borders for Children explained it remained unclear why some schools appear to be advising parents that schoolchildren from the European Economic Areashould prove their right to remain status for the start of the next academic year. 

Between 2016 and 2018 the group campaigned to challenge what it described as a “hostile environment” in schools after a change in the school census led to the collection of country of birth, nationality and English language data of schoolchildren in England and Wales. 

The practice came to an end after a joint complaint made by Schools ABC and human rights group Liberty was upheld by the Information Commissioner’s Office, along with other complaints by children’s privacy organisation Defend Digital Me. In March this year, the Department for Education deleted the collected nationality data held on over six million schoolchildren after an ICO audit found its data collection wasn’t compliant with data protection standards.

Schools ABC said: “The latest examples of passport checking would threaten again to backtrack towards the extension of a hostile environment and border policing into schools and the lives of schoolchildren.” The group urged parents to check whether these immigration checks were being put in place in their schools and to get in touch if they had any concerns. 

A Government spokesperson said: “We have not instructed schools to check these documents. However, independent schools with a student sponsor license have a general duty to assure themselves that pupils have a right to study in the UK throughout their course. This is a long-standing policy for student sponsors that are able to recruit international students from overseas through the student or child student routes. 

“The Government is using every possible channel to encourage anyone who may need to, and is eligible for, the EU Settlement Scheme to apply before the 30 June deadline,” the spokesperson added. So far, there have been 4.9 million grants of status.

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