Starting in January of 2018, banks are to carry out checks on 70 million bank accounts in an effort to uncover illegal immigrants living in the UK. This will be the biggest extension of plans to create a “hostile environment” for those living in the UK unlawfully.

Banks and building societies are set to carry out the checks for the first time in January 2018 and checks will then be carried out quarterly. Those who are identified will see their bank accounts closed down or frozen. The idea behind this is that freezing assets will provide an incentive for those living in the UK illegally to leave as they will be able to access their money again once they have departed.

The plans have been heavily criticised by immigrant rights groups, including the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants. Satbir Singh, who is chief executive of the council said: “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.”

These new checks are part of the hostile environment directive that came into law by the Immigration Act 2014. This series of measures was intended to make life difficult for those living in the UK without permission so that they would leave voluntarily, or be put off trying to come to the UK in the first place. It included restrictions like the Right to Rent policy, which made landlords and letting agents responsible for checking the immigration status of prospective tenants.

The latest measures are predicted to have an impact on 6,000 individuals who have overstayed a visa or remained in the UK after a failed asylum application. It is also expected to identify foreign nationals facing deportation due to criminal offences. There is concern that some people who are in the UK legally will be caught up in the checks. Banks have been instructed not to deal with people on a case-by-case basis and instead refer those with grievances to the Home Office for further checks.

The Guardian broke this news story after one of their readers spotted a reference to immigration status checks in a recent email from Barclays bank. The changes to their terms and conditions state that there will be “changes to how we check your eligibility to bank with us based on your immigration status”.

If you’re concerned about how these changes might impact you, get in touch with one of our immigration advisors today.