While we were distracted by news of politicians partying during lockdown, last month a Bill was passed that changes rights to UK citizenship. Amanda Parker examines how it threatens all our creative lives.
The Nationality and Borders Bill has serious implications, particularly for people of dual nationality. It threatens to put two out of every five ethnically diverse people at risk of losing their citizenship, without notification.
The law that meant UK citizens could lose their dual nationality status was already in place. What’s new is that this bill removes the responsibility to notify the individual, significantly reducing their power to appeal to get it back.
With 12% of the UK’s workforce from a Black, Asian or ethnically diverse background, this bill means 5% of the creative and cultural sector could lose their citizenship without notice. While the government makes reassuring noises that stripping someone of their rights to citizenship is ‘rare’, in the wake of the Windrush scandal, it’s hard for migrants and those of African and Asian diasporas to feel safe.
Threat permeates everyday lives
It’s entirely understandable that people are feeling extremely destabilised by the implications of the Bill. According to The Conversation, citizenship deprivations in the UK have risen significantly recently and no other country has the legal power to make its citizens stateless by depriving them of citizenship.
And if you think that the Bill doesn’t affect you, think again. Research by the New Statesman used 2011 census data to estimate that some 5.6 million people in England and Wales could potentially be affected by the new rule. And that just one in 20 of those are white, while half of British Asians and 39% of black Britons are potentially at risk.
That’s a serious number of people who now experience this threat as a background to their everyday lives. A serious number who may be concerned about how the bill is open to broad interpretation and has the potential to erode refugee and asylum-seeking rights enshrined in the UN Convention.
And more: as it’s not clear what’s considered a ‘serious’ offence, none of us can rest easy that we won’t fall foul of this piece of legislation. The first principle of inclusion surely – in any environment – is a commitment to ensuring that all feel welcome.
“Forever having to watch our backs”
At Inc Arts we’ve spoken with ethnically diverse creatives for whom this bill represents a serious barrier to their creative practice and engagement with the sector. One senior arts leader who prefers to remain anonymous told us how, despite the multiple headaches caused by the Omicron variant and the seasonal demands on the sector, this Bill and its implications dominates their thinking to the near exclusion of anything else.
Lora Krasteva, freelance theatre maker and producer and member of Migrants in Theatre Movement, said the bill was a stark reminder that “some of us will forever have to watch our backs and be careful about what we say and how we behave, making this bill a powerful tool for social control and silencing.
“This has monumental effects on the arts, which should be a safe haven for dissent and speaking truth to power. Alas, we also know the ability of the sector to fulfil this role has been threatened for years, not least by demanding cultural organisations be complicit in the implementation of the hostile environment.”
While the government says enacting the bill is rare and only a last resort, what is definite, and certainly not rare, is the toll this bill will take on mental wellbeing and creative access. These small incremental changes in the law can feel like the carpet is slowly being tugged away, creating stress, fear, and in some cases, the need to leave. As a sector, we should see this as another call to take action to support the ethnically diverse and migrant members of our workforce.
Huge impact on the wellbeing of the sector
To imagine how the bill affects the wellbeing of our industry, we can use the impact of the Hostile Environment policy as an indicator. The Hostile Environment was specifically targeted at people without citizenship – specifically, without leave to remain – to make life in the UK as difficult as possible.
As evidenced in Migrants in Culture’s 2018 report, the Hostile Environment policy had a huge impact on the daily wellbeing of the whole cultural sector. 65% of cultural workers surveyed were thinking daily or weekly about the Hostile Environment and its impact.
The survey also demonstrated that, since the launch of the policy in 2012, migrants and ethnically diverse people from Asian and African diasporas experienced increased discrimination and hardship in the cultural sector. This ranged from emotional stress to having their right to apply for commissioning and funding opportunities questioned.
Preventing further harm
So with the Nationality and Borders Bill, what can we do to support our colleagues and build the infrastructure necessary to prevent additional harm?
The first move is to ensure your organisation has an anti-racism policy that explicitly articulates how you work to create an inclusive and welcoming environment for migrants. If you can acknowledge how this Bill affects those with experience of racism, then you will do everything to animate your anti-racism policy within your creative environment.
Your policy will become a living, active commitment and not just a statement of intent. How this looks will depend on your organisation, but there’s a wealth of fantastic resources out there to help you make your policies come to life.
Our anti-racism toolkit Unlock offers more than 100 actions to support your ethnically diverse workforce and audiences, including some specific to working with and supporting migrant creatives. Migrants in Culture also have a wide selection of resources, such as this advocacy document that sets out definitions of a migrant (of which there is no legal definition in UK law). You can also sign the Fair Immigration Reform Movement Charter that calls for humane immigration and inclusion policies.
You can help alleviate the stress by pointing people to the free emotional support and mental health resources available. At Inc Arts we offer free group therapy across the sector to anyone from the African or Asian diaspora, or who is ethnically diverse. Inc Arts Minds, led by Chanua health, is for anyone with worries about the Bill or any other aspect of their work or life.
Amanda Parker is the Director and Founder of Inc Arts UK.
This article is part of a series from Inc Arts UK, a national collective that champions the creative, economic and contractual rights of the UK’s African diaspora, Asian diaspora and ethnically diverse workforce in the arts and cultural sector.