London: UK banks will carry out immigration checks on 70 million current accounts from January in the biggest extension of Prime Minister Theresa May’s plans to create a “hostile environment” for illegal immigrants in Britain, the media reported.
The Home Office expects to identify 6,000 visa overstayers, failed asylum seekers and foreign national offenders facing deportation in the first year of the checks, which are to be carried out quarterly, the Guardian reported on Thursday.
The accounts of those identified will be closed down or frozen “to make it harder for them to establish or maintain a settled life in the UK”.
Officials said freezing accounts that hold significant sums “will create a powerful incentive (for those involved) to agree to voluntary departure” so they can secure their money once they have left the country.
Immigration welfare campaigners have slammed the move.
“The government’s own record shows it cannot be trusted even to implement this system properly. Immigration status is very complex, and the Home Office consistently gives out incorrect information and guidance.
“Migrants and ethnic minorities with every right to be here will be affected by the imposition of these new checks,” the Guardian quoted Satbir Singh, Chief Executive, Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, as saying.
Banks were asked to adopt a default position of telling customers to take up the matter with the Home Office if a mistake has been made, even if they provide a passport or biometric residence permit showing they are lawfully present in Britain.
Banks have also been told that there was no requirement on them to contact account holders or require additional documentary evidence as part of the check.
A Barclays spokesperson said the bank was simply complying with the Immigration Act 2016 and the checks impacted all customers regardless of nationality.