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Assessing the Modern Slavery Impacts of the Nationality and Borders Act: One Year On

The Nationality and Borders Act passed into law in April 2022, with most of its provisions relating to modern slavery coming into effect in January 2023. These include changes to the definition of the 'reasonable grounds' decision within the National Referral Mechanism (NRM, the national system to identify survivors of modern slavery in the UK), the introduction of a procedure to exclude people from modern slavery protections on grounds of public order and bad faith, and an altered entitlement to additional recovery periods. Other changes introduced by NABA include new definitions of 'victims' of modern slavery and human trafficking, the adoption of 'Temporary Permission to Stay' guidance, and amendments to the NRM referral form and prompt sheet.

This report is the result of a project implemented in partnership with the Human Trafficking Foundation and the Anti-Trafficking Monitoring Group. The project was funded by the Modern Slavery and Human Rights Policy and Evidence Centre (Modern Slavery PEC) through its Commissioned Research mechanism. The Modern Slavery and Human Rights Policy and Evidence Centre is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). The views expressed in the summary and the full report are those of the authors and not necessarily of the Modern Slavery PEC or AHRC. The report documents a wide range of detrimental effects of the Act, categorised across impacts on decision-making outcomes, impacts on people with lived experience of modern slavery, and impacts on organisations working in the modern slavery sector.

Key Findings

Impacts on decision-making

  • NABA and the associated changes to the Statutory Guidance have coincided with a significant decrease in the rate of positive decisions within the NRM at the Reasonable Grounds ("RG") stage. This decrease has been particularly sharp in respect to three types of referrals: adult referrals, referrals concerning Albanian nationals, and referrals for which the Immigration Enforcement Competent Authority ("IECA") has been deemed responsible. In parallel, the operationalisation of NABA has caused significant delays in rendering decisions at the RG stage (from a median time of 5-6 days prior to 2023 to as high as 47 days in Q3-23).
  • Research participants resoundingly expressed the belief that the elevated evidentiary requirements introduced in January 2023 had resulted in very significant numbers of persons with lived experience of modern slavery being denied identification and support through the NRM and that these requirements were not an effective way of meeting the stated aims of the policy - namely, to address alleged 'abuse' of the NRM. In addition, they indicated that despite the withdrawal of the 'objective factors' test from the Statutory Guidance in July 2023, decisionmakers continue to deliver negative RG decisions owing to a lack of evidence.
  • Public Order Disqualifications ("POD") have disproportionately affected people whose experience of modern slavery included an element of forced criminality (70% of all POD decisions), as well as Albanian nationals (70% of PODs, despite representing approximately 25% of all NRM referrals), and people originally referred into the NRM by the Home Office Immigration Enforcement (74% of PODs). These trends are cause for serious concern, highlighting a disturbing nexus between gender, nationality, and immigration status when it comes to disqualifying individuals on grounds of public order that closely resembles the profiles most affected by the fall in positive recognition rates within the NRM.

Impacts on people with lived experience of modern slavery

  • The clearest impacts of the operationalised NABA measures have been the exclusion of people with lived experience of modern slavery from the statutory support provided within the NRM mechanism and, for those with a pending asylum claim based on a fear of re-trafficking or exploitation on return, the risk of their application being certified as 'clearly unfounded'.
  • NABA measures have also had lasting impacts on the mental health of people with lived experience of modern slavery - both due to the impact of the measures on the operation of the system, and as a result of the broader discourse that has accompanied the adoption of this legislation.
  • Stakeholders voiced concerns that increasing numbers of individuals would be 'driven underground' by the changes, meaning that they would be absent from the NRM and DtN statistics altogether. This was linked to a reduced ability to successfully prosecute modern slavery cases in the UK.

Impacts on organisations in the modern slavery sector

  • Almost all research participants from the broader sector agreed that the changes have caused considerable uncertainty and confusion in the performance of their duties, especially due to a failure by the Home Office to officially communicate the changes ahead of time, or in some cases even after the changes had come into effect, and due to the lack of meaningful consultation and strategic planning around the changes.
  • The changes introduced by NABA have exacerbated pre-existing issues regarding access to legal advice for people with lived experience of modern slavery on account of the increased of the demand for representation, but also the increased complexity of cases.
  • The combined effects of the NABA changes in terms of increased uncertainty, the added pressure place on organisations' capacity, and the distress caused to service users, were all reported to have taken a major toll on the mental health of staff working in this area.

The report was authored by Dr Noemi Magugliani, John Trajer and Dr Jean-Pierre Gauci.

Read the Report  |  Read the Executive Summary

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