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Executive Summary

This report explores undocumented migrants’ experiences of the COVID pandemic. It focuses on financial security, work, housing and access to healthcare, and highlights how in all these areas, the Government’s Hostile Environment policies have exacerbated the effects of the COVID crisis for undocumented people.

Key Findings

Financial insecurity

Long before the pandemic, the No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) restriction excluded migrants from the public safety net and pushed them into poverty, unsustainable debt, homelessness and unsafe and overcrowded housing. Since the UK’s COVID outbreak, causing rising unemployment and widespread loss of income, this situation has worsened significantly, leaving many destitute, or at risk of destitution.

Precarious employment

The illegal working offence and ‘right to work’ checks force undocumented migrants into precarious, unregulated and low-paid work. As such, they are overrepresented in jobs on the frontline of the crisis, increasing their exposure to COVID. However, they are also unable to access the vast majority of employment protections and rights necessary to keep them safe if they lose work, fall sick, or suffer exploitative treatment at work.

Insecure housing

Policies including the illegal working offence, NRPF and discriminatory ‘right to rent’ checks mean undocumented migrants are more likely to live in unsafe and overcrowded housing, making  them less able to effectively isolate to protect themselves and prevent further transmission. They have also been more likely to face homelessness during the pandemic, further increasing their risk of contracting COVID. 

Barriers to healthcare

NHS charging and data-sharing have created a climate of fear and distrust, deterring undocumented migrants from accessing healthcare. These policies are  dangerous by non-pandemic standards but during a crisis are irresponsible to the extreme, leaving undocumented migrants at heightened risk of COVID and undermining public health efforts and crisis recovery.


Undocumented migrants’ experiences of COVID must be considered in the context of the greater risks and worse outcomes from the virus for black and minority ethnic people 

There is clear evidence that black and brown communities experience higher rates of serious illness, hospitalisation and death from COVID-19. 

In order to tackle race disparities in COVID outcomes and improve public health for all, undocumented migrants must be recognised as a significant minority within the UK’s black and minority ethnic population. 

The Hostile Environment is undermining public health efforts and putting lives at risk 

The Government’s Hostile Environment policies have undermined public health efforts, excluded undocumented migrants from the public safety net and subjected them to the worst COVID outcomes. If the Government is serious about protecting all our communities from COVID and returning to life as ‘normal’, it must put public health before anti-immigrant policies and immediately suspend the Hostile Environment from all areas of public life.

Charities have filled the role of the state

All over the UK, small front-line charities have extended their remit considerably to meet the needs of undocumented people, many of  whom would be left with nothing without this vital support. In some cases, front-line charities have shouldered significant public health and other responsibilities, stepping up to fill the gaps in state provision.


  1. The public COVID inquiry must include the voices and experiences of migrants, including those who are undocumented
  2. End the Hostile Environment
  3. Ensure everyone can rely on the public safety net
  4. Introduce a firewall between the NHS and the Home Office and suspend NHS charging
  5. Introduce a new, simplified route to regularisation based on five years’ residence, with visa application fees at cost price
  6. Make all visa routes affordable
  7. Abolish the offence of illegal working and introduce a work permit system allowing lawful residence based on lawful employment.

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