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Taking a closer look at Theresa May and the immigration legacy she leaves behind in the UK

Teresa May will leave office with the obvious legacy of Brexit for which she can hardly be blamed for in the circumstances which preceded it. Linking Brexit and previous immigration policy is however, contentious.


The Tory government’s overall attitude to immigration has also been called into question, particularly with regard to Windrush, which left many long erm UK residents concerned about their status. In many cases their treatment has been disgraceful.


In 2015, Home Secretary Teresa May said that “I want us to work to reduce asylum claims made in Britain.” Despite this, asylum claims went up. The year before May delivered this speech, 32,000 asylum seekers and their dependants claimed asylum in the UK. The figure has grown higher in every year since: 37,000 people applied for asylum in 2018. 


Teresa May claimed in a previous speech there was a need to resettle more refugees. However, she failed to expand the number of resettlement places as Home Secretary or as Prime Minister. Instead, she appeared to prevent child refugees in Calais or in the UK being reunited with their family members.


Theresa May introduced the policy that prevents some refugees from getting British citizenship because of the way they entered the UK. It was also May who introduced an expanded “good character” test for British citizenship applicants, undermining the three/five year residence requirements laid down in Acts of Parliament. Citizenship deprivation is thought to have massively expanded since 2017 under May’s legacy. 


The complexity of immigration law became somewhat contentious under Theresa May. The judiciary has criticised the state of the law. Many people simply cannot understand how the law affects them now. The rules are difficult to understand, due to changes in 2012, to the extent that an experienced immigration lawyer has difficulty to obtain an application for their own spouse.


May’s successor as Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, asked the Law Commission to try and put this right, but it could be likely for it to be a long time before members of the public can hope for more clarification.


The process of applying for a visa is complicated, in many ways due to the privatisation of our immigration system. This privatisation and outsourcing have made things much less straight forward for many.


Theresa May also introduced a cap on skilled migrants. Skilled migrants such as doctors and IT specialists were prevented from coming to the UK, even when they could not be recruited locally.


This has been matched by scrapping the rules allowing graduates of British universities to remain in the UK to work, however this has been significantly reduced via the repeated refusal of the business world and entrepreneurs on technical grounds.




One of Teresa May’s most lasting and possibly damaging legacies may well be forcing EU citizens to apply to the Home Officefor permission to remain in the UK after Brexit, which might leave many people illegal after the deadline.


Full guide to the settled status application process, including screenshots of the app and website and case studies included. 


EU citizens were also forced to complete additional paperwork to qualify for British citizenship from 2015 onwards. The added complexity caused many to be refused and lose the application fee they needed to pay.


Also during Teresa May's time as home secretary, there was an increase in the number of EU citizens detained in the UK, as EU citizens who might have been considered homeless were detained.


There is also what I can only describe as opposition to migrants. First there were the “Go Home” vans, then the “deport first, appeal later” law under which migrants could only appeal against a decision to remove them from the UK after they had been removed, making it harder for them to contest their case. The Supreme Court found that this had been implemented unlawfully.


As regards the English language testing system, the National Audit Office found the Home Office system faulty and lacked the expertise to verify cases.


Under Theresa May’s watch, policies were never based on evidence. They were never really going to “work” on her terms. The public grew increasingly alarmed by immigration as an issue rather than reassured, and the migration target was not met.


What was the point of all this, then? Standing back, it is hard to see it as anything other than hostility to migrants because they were migrants.


Astons is a leading global immigration advisory firm with offices in London, Moscow, Dubai, Cyprus and China and offers residency & citizenship investment solutions in the UK,  EU & the Caribbean. 


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