What is the Nationality and Borders Bill?

City Hearts are dedicated to supporting survivors of slavery and exploitation in their recovery and journey back into society. We believe that consideration must be given to the emotionally vulnerable state of people traumatised by slavery. Putting strict time limits on victims to tell their stories may add to their distress, and could end in people who need support being refused, and those who commit human trafficking crimes getting away with it.

We have supported more than 3,500 people affected by slavery in the UK, and whatever the outcome of the Bill, supporting people traumatised and abused by traffickers, will always be our priority

What is the Nationality and Borders Bill?

The Nationality and Borders Bill is a set of new and amended laws that were introduced to the House of Commons in July 2021, and is currently going through Parliament. If it succeeds it will likely become law in 2022.

It makes changes to the UK immigration system following government concerns around migration across the English Channel, and relates to asylum seekers and refugees, but would also affect victims of modern slavery.

What are the key points of the Bill?

The key points of the Bill address asylum seekers who arrive in the UK illegally, as well as adding tougher rules around providing evidence of persecution. The government hopes that tougher measures on ‘illegal’ migration by refugees to the UK, would encourage more people to go through the legal routes and government-backed resettlement schemes.

How will the Bill affect victims of trafficking and modern slavery?

  • The Bill states that ‘Irregular entrants to the UK would have restricted access to the UK asylum system,’ and that the Home Office would ‘broaden criminal sanctions for offences related to illegal entry.’

This means that many people forced into the UK illegally in order to be exploited, could be criminalised and refused protection due to the method of their arrival, despite it being out of their control.

A clause in the Bill which states victims must declare their status as victims of slavery at the first opportunity,  may also make it more likely that victims of slavery will not approach authorities for help.

  • The Bill states that ‘Measures to support the early identification of potential victims and protect the system from misuse by people with unmeritorious cases would be introduced.’

This means that people claiming to be victims of slavery or trafficking, or people who have been identified as possible victims of exploitation, will only have a short period in which to give evidence of their abuse. Any testimony given at a later date is unlikely to be given weight in an asylum application, or application to be referred into the NRM (National Referral Mechanism- the system which allows survivors of slavery to access support).

This could be challenging for survivors of slavery, as the very nature of the crime means victims will have experienced trauma. Mistrust of authorities, fear of reprisals, and general disorientation at their circumstances, means very few people are likely to reveal the details of their experience at the first opportunity. Not only will this mean victims could be denied support, but an increase in bureaucracy could mean that more victims are unlikely to testify against their abusers, meaning more traffickers could go free.

  • The Bill states that anyone identified as a victim of slavery may have their protection removed if they are deemed ‘a threat to public order’.

This could be interpreted as someone who has committed a crime. However many people trapped in exploitative situations may have been forced to commit crimes, such as selling drugs for county lines gangs, working in cannabis farms, or made to open fake bank accounts.

What are people saying about it?

The Bill has proved controversial, and has been criticised by many human rights organisations, such as The Human Trafficking Foundation, for being too hard on migrants and refugees who enter the country illegally. There are also concerns that placing more responsibility on victims of slavery to provide proof of their abuse, will lead to a reduction in the number of survivors being supported, and an increase in the number of traffickers going free.

The government has responded to critics by saying anyone coming to the UK through legal channels and resettlement schemes will be given indefinite leave to remain on arrival, and will be given more support ‘to thrive in local communities’. They want to discourage people from entering the UK illegally in an effort to cut down on deaths at sea. They say that extra help will be given to people who arrive legally, such as English lessons and with finding work.