Speaking for Ourselves

No document, no justice

No document, no justice

Mansoor Ahmad

 Migrant Voice -
 Migrant Voice - No document, no justice

There are many ways to become an “undocumented migrant” in the UK and their exact number is unclear. Studies have guesstimated the total at between 417,000 and 863,000.

Their status makes them vulnerable to exploitation by bosses, landlords and money-lenders, and to sexual exploitation.

A variety of circumstances can cause people to fall into the undocumented category.

Because people fleeing their country in search of asylum often find there are no legal routes to safe countries, they may enter the UK illegally, even though it is legal to claim asylum.

Others arrive on a valid visa but overstay or find they cannot continue their immigration status legally - sometimes due to bureaucracy or circumstances beyond their control.

Then there are students whose colleges shut down and who do not have enough money to secure admission to another college in time and so become over-stayers.

Victims of trafficking may become over-stayers because they are given bad advice by solicitors.

Though the undocumented face a daily struggle for survival they do not stand up for their rights for fear that their employers will retaliate by calling the police or immigration officers to detain or deport them. It’s the same if they are victims of crime.

This well-founded nervousness heightens their sense of helplessness and vulnerability. They are trapped, and can easily become overwhelmed by frustration, anxiety and depression.

They are often subjected to abuse and exploitation by people motived by racism, prejudice and bigotry. Sadly,they may be exploited by people from their country of origin - and even by other undocumented people who see an opportunity for blackmail.

The commonest form of exploitation is in the workplace where they face lower pay than documented colleagues, unsafe working conditions, dismissal without wages and pressure to work longer hours for little additional money. They have no choice but to work for less pay and cannot raise grievances with their employers because they are frightened of losing their meagre income or being sent back to their home country after spending time, without a time-limit, in a detention centre.

* Take Choudhry: he entered the UK on student visa on 1 January 2005 and completed a computer science diploma in 2007. Two years later he passed some of the exams needed to become an accountant but returned to Pakistan to look after his ailing mother. She died in 2010, after which he came back to UK.
He completed an MBA in 2012 and was allowed to stay until 2015. His subsequent application for indefinite leave to remain was refused.

He is now a visa over-stayer and is undocumented, and is struggling to regularise his status. His chances are not high because he spent a few months out of the country when his mother was ill and he was the only son who could care for her. Since he was unable to maintain the continuity of immigration status, he could not come back to UK within the stipulated period. He lives a hand-to-mouth existence, working through different agents on a low rate of pay. *

The principle of safeguarding decent and fair working conditions for all workers, including domestic and undocumented workers, is well-established in international law. The principle needs to be fully implemented so that undocumented migrants do not face inequity, unfairness and injustice.

 Resources and links

Your options if you're in the UK illegally
Housing rights information for people who are destitute 
Undocumented migrants: maternity rights and benefits
Irregular Migration in the UK
How to improve support and services for destitute migrants 
'Pregnant women without legal status 'too afraid to seek NHS care'