Illegal Migration Bill another example of UK Government's lack of understanding of the island of Ireland, says Farry

The UK is in the process of introducing an Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA), similar to the US ESTA visa waiver, for people who do not need a UK visa. Earlier this month the UK Government announced an ETA exemption for legal residents of Ireland who do not presently need a visa to enter the UK. However, this exemption does not cover third country nationals legally living in Ireland, and also all tourists, from both non-visa and visa requirement countries.

Stephen Farry Immigration

The Illegal Migration Bill, which passed Committee Stage in the House of Commons yesterday, under Clause 2, is set to introduce a new duty on the Home Secretary to detain and remove everyone arriving into the UK irregularly, including those entering Northern Ireland via the land border. 

The far-reaching powers would enable the Home Office to detain people for at least 28 days, restrict access to justice, remove people to a third country and ban them from entering the UK.

Alliance Party MP Stephen Farry tabled an amendment exempting people entering Northern Ireland via the land border from the Bill's new duty to detain and deport anyone entering the UK irregularly. 

Stephen Farry stated:

“There are many reasons to oppose the Government’s so-called Illegal Migration Bill.

"Within that there is a potential serious impact on the freedom of movement on the island of Ireland. Once again, Home Office legislation fails to consider the realities of the Common Travel Area. 

"This particular legislation doesn’t itself change the requirement for some residents of Ireland and tourists to either have an Electronic Travel Authorisation or a visa. But it does dramatically increase the potential legal jeopardy.

It beggars belief that just a few weeks ago, the UK Government announced an ETA exemption for certain residents of Ireland, in recognition of the fluid nature of the land border, yet now radically escalates the consequences facing other residents.

"It is inconceivable that, for example, a Nigerian woman legally resident in Cavan simply for driving through Fermanagh to reach Clones but who comes into contact with the State due to a traffic accident could be detained for 28 days, and then deported not back to her home in Ireland, but to either the country of her nationality, i.e. Nigeria, or a third country such as Rwanda. 

"The detention powers are particularly alarming in Northern Ireland because NI’s immigration detention facility is a short term holding facility, meaning that a person can only be detained in NI for a maximum of seven days. With a new mandatory 28-day detention period, it will not be possible for a person to apply for bail before being moved from Northern Ireland to long term detention facilities in Great Britain. This could mean losing access to their legal and family support. 

Tourists entering Northern Ireland via airports or seaports will have checks and balances to ensure that they comply with immigration requirements, including an ETA. However, with the open border on the island of Ireland there is no routine immigration control, but nonetheless legal jeopardy if legal requirements have not been adhered to.

"Northern Ireland is marketed internationally as part of a single entity: the island of Ireland. That is an outworking of the Good Friday agreement. It is currently intended that those individuals would require an ETA to access the United Kingdom, but I am campaigning for a solution as this presents serious issues for the tourism sector."

"For now, there is the potential for many thousands of tourists to unwittingly come to Northern Ireland without an electronic travel authorisation and risk detention, deportation and a ban on ever coming back to the UK.

"My amendment was not selected for a vote yesterday, but I will continue to lobby the Home Office for a land border exemption. And I hope that colleagues will pursue this further in the House of Lords.”


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