A cross-party report published last week urges the UK and EU to ensure that the citizens' rights protections in the Withdrawal Agreement are fully implemented for UK nationals living across the EU and EU citizens in the UK. All recommendations were agreed upon by the Committee on the Future Relationship with the European Union. Broadly, the Report, to which Seraphus submitted written and oral evidence, underlines the necessity of many long-standing demands of professionals and third-party actors in the field of immigration and EU law.
For UK nationals in the EU, the Report makes three key recommendations. Firstly, it states that UK nationals living abroad need to be made aware of what they need to do to secure their rights. The Report calls on the Government, together with the European Commission and each Member State, to increase monitoring of the processes in each state. It also reiterates that the registration/application processes should be simple and avoid any unnecessary administrative burdens.
Secondly, the report states that deadlines for UK citizens to apply should be extended where necessary. In fact, of the thirteen Member States that have decided to require a new application for UK citizens to remain there legally, seven have already extended the deadline beyond 30 June 2021, which is the standard date for the end of such application schemes. The Committee urges other Member States to consider similarly extending the deadline if it becomes apparent that large numbers of UK nationals have not applied. In general, the Committee recommends countries take a pragmatic approach to delays, such as where Covid-19 causes a reduction in their capacity to manage applications.
Thirdly, the Report reiterates that UK nationals should be actively encouraged to register under the system of their host country. Due to free movement laws in operation over the past decades, many Brits living in countries such as Spain, Greece, France or Portugal are not necessarily registered with the local authority. It is almost impossible to estimate how many UK nationals are unregistered. Encouraging registration now, with the end of the transition period approaching, is vital, as it is often the first step in securing rights protected by the Withdrawal Agreement.
EU nationals in the UK face similar challenges if they want to stay in the UK lawfully. Unsurprisingly, then, the Report mirrors these requests to protect EU nationals in the UK in the same way as UK nationals abroad should be protected. In sheer numbers, the figures of EU citizens needing to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme to remain in Britain is far greater than the number of Brits needing to apply to similar schemes abroad. The concerns for EU citizens’ rights are therefore urgent.
The main issue identified is that although the EU Settlement Scheme has been a significant achievement (with over 4 million applications), it is still unknown how many EU citizens have yet to apply, as there is no clear data on the matter. Following from that, the report expresses concern over the application deadline of 30 June 2021, and what will happen to people who fail to apply before that. The committee urges ministers not to apply an unduly restrictive approach to late applications and to look for reasons to grant status rather than to refuse it.
The report also emphasises the danger for people with pre-settled status not knowing or understanding that they will need to upgrade their status before their pre-settled status expires. It urges the Government to publish guidance for caseworkers on how it will inform citizens with Pre-Settled Status that they are able and required to apply for an upgrade to Settled Status when the time comes.
Another concern highlighted is the danger for vulnerable individuals and groups in the UK. The report is unequivocal in stating that these individuals need more tailored support. Difficulties faced by some EU citizens, for example language or technology barriers, or problems with producing documentary evidence of their residence, are not uncommon. Communication with, and support for, these citizens, either directly from Government or through existing community organisations, must be prioritised as the 30 June 2021 deadline approaches.
There remains a lot of work to be done concerning communication and outreach, and that is why the report also recommends for funding to organisations providing support and advice to EU citizens to be extended beyond the end of this financial year (March 2021) as the government previously promised.
Finally, the Report argues that EU citizens in the UK should be able to apply for a physical document proving their legal residence in the UK. At the moment, EU citizens who successfully apply to the EU Settlement Scheme merely receive a digital confirmation. They have to log in and access their status online every time proof of legal residence is required, for example when opening a bank account, accessing benefits, renting a flat or changing jobs. The report urges the government to reconsider this, as it risks discriminating against EU citizens. This is because from 1 January 2021, identity checks will be performed online instead of through the familiar ID or passport check, only for EU citizens. For non-EU citizens, the same checks will be carried out in a way that is already known and familiar. The Government is urged to set out how it will monitor and review the rollout of these digital checks, parallel to the physical checks for third-party nationals. It also asks the Government for an update on progress establishing the planned Independent Monitoring Authority. This recommendation is especially relevant after last week’s debate in the House of Commons, where the government voted against a proposal to give EU citizens physical proof of status.
The key theme running through the entire report is the need for transparency and clarity. A lot of the recommendations are about outreach, awareness and simplicity of proving status. These are all things the government have been doing, but not enough. EU citizens in the UK as well as UK citizens abroad need to be made aware of what is expected from them, so that the end of the transition period can happen as smoothly as possible.
The EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS), to which all EU/EEA/Swiss citizens living in the UK should apply should they wish to remain in the UK after the end of the transition period on 31 December 2021, confirms the applicant’s right of residence in the UK after Brexit. This aim – to provide EU citizens who live in the UK with status to remain after free movement ceases to apply in the UK – seems simple enough. However, as we have written many times before, the Scheme is not perfect, and has many gaps. Here, we focus on one of those gaps: social security for EEA citizens, an issue which the EUSS does not address, as it fails to confirm explicitly that people who obtain status under the Scheme are protected by the Withdrawal Agreement. Whether someone is protected under the EU Withdrawal Agreement is important, as it determines whether the applicant in question is entitled to social security benefits in the UK.
The relevant framework to understand whether a person is entitled to social security in the UK after Brexit is quite complicated. It requires an understanding not only of UK and the member state’s immigration rules, but also its social security rules, the EU-UK Withdrawal Agreement, the Free Movement Directive and the European Union Social Security Co-ordination Regulations (883/2004).
The 883/2004 coordination Regulations do not establish a single, unified social security system across the EU, but instead provide a reciprocal framework to protect the social security rights of people moving within the European Economic Area (EEA) states (and Switzerland). As such, each member state can choose what sort of benefits-in-kind and cash benefits it funds for nationals from another member state.
The coordination Regulation tells us which country is responsible for paying a person’s benefits, where those benefits can be received and what benefits may be redirected. In short, it simplifies the process of claiming and making benefits, allowing all benefits to be made in one single payment across borders. It provides a mechanism for countries to speak to each other, to resolve who meets the costs and where they will be paid, with an ability to challenge those decisions.
Member States however remain responsible for their own social security systems: it is up to them to decide which benefits are granted, at what rate, as well as define conditions for entitlement. So, a person’s entitlements is dependent on the domestic rules that are in place during their periods of residence in the respective EEA country and the UK.
All benefits referred to in the coordination Regulations are included in the Withdrawal Agreement at Part Two, Title III. This section ensures that if a person is entitled to benefits now, before the end of the transition period, they will maintain the right to those benefits and, if they are entitled to a cash benefit from one country, they will in principle be entitled to receive it even if they decide to live in another country. Title III also covers groups of people, other than those persons meeting the Free Movement Directive, who might also benefit from coordination.
There are four main principles for coordination. The first is the ‘single state principle,’ which sets out that at any one time, a person is covered by the social security system of one single country and is only liable to make contributions in one country – this is what we call the ‘competent state.’ The second is the prohibition of discrimination and guarantee of equal treatment, which sets out that a person has the same rights and obligations as a national of the Member State where they are covered. The third is the idea of ‘aggregation’ which establishes that periods of insurance, employment or residence in other Member States can be taken into account when determining a person’s eligibility for benefits. Finally, the last principle concerns exportability, and explains that a person can receive benefits from one Member State even if they are resident in another Member State.
All the persons who fall within the scope of the provisions set out above get the benefit of the rules and objectives set out in the coordination Regulations, its implementing Regulations and its governing EU treaty provision (Article 48 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union). In other words, the full coordination rules apply and so there is protection for social security, healthcare, and pensions.
There is a saving provision: anyone who does fall within the four categories set out above, but who falls within Article 10 of the Withdrawal Agreement is also covered (as are their family members and survivors) and will remain entitled to social security benefits. Article 10 refers to the categories of persons who continue to have rights of residence under the Withdrawal Agreement. So, if it’s too complex to determine eligibility in one of the categories above, then a person can still remain protected by the coordination rules in the future if they have attained the right of permanent residence in the UK, as long as they retain that right of residence.
Now we come to the EU Settlement Scheme. As we have explained before (for example when assessing EEA applications for naturalisation), settled status does not confirm whether a person falls under these provisions. This can lead to complex coordination in the future. The UK may not be able to determine that a person falls within one of the four categories, and this may lead to disputes with other states also involved in the coordination of rights. So, without a document confirming that they fall within the Withdrawal Agreement, a person with settled status may be excluded from social security coordination provisions under the Withdrawal Agreement, unless they have enough evidence to show prior exercise of EU rights. This is obviously problematic.
Another point to note is that the persons who fall within Article 10 of the Withdrawal Agreement are only covered for so long as they have a right to reside under Article 13 (residence rights) of the Withdrawal Agreement or a right to work in their state of work under Article 24 (rights of workers) or Article 25 (right of self-employed persons) of the Withdrawal Agreement. Again, this risks excluding settled status holders based merely on five years’ presence from social security co-ordination provisions under the Withdrawal Agreement unless they can show the prior exercise of EU rights.
This issue is easy to resolve: applicants who receive settled status and have been beneficiaries of the Withdrawal agreement should simply receive a document to confirm that, which would enable them to claim the benefits they are entitled to without any complications. Unfortunately, the government has previously shown that it is not keen on providing physical status at all – let alone physical proof of entitlement to benefits.
The UK is well-known for its sky-high immigration and visa fees. These fees, which have risen steeply up to 20-25% per year since the early 2000s, are big business for the Home Office. In fact, in 2018, the Home Office made over £500m from immigration fees alone. In addition to immigration and visa fees, individuals may be liable for the immigration health surcharge, which is currently priced at £400 per person per year, but set to rise to £624 this fall. On average, an applicant will have to spend over £2,000 to get leave to remain in the UK (rising to £2,500 in a matter of months with the planned surcharge increase), and that is excluding potential legal fees. In short, living in the UK on an immigrant visa is an expensive ordeal.
Unsurprisingly, not everyone who needs a visa can afford these fees. The courts have ruled that for human rights based applications, charging fees which the applicant cannot afford is unlawful. Thus, if you are facing a bill for visa fees that you cannot afford, and are considering borrowing money in order to be able to extend your stay in the UK, it may be worth considering an application for a fee waiver. Here, we go over how to go about it.
Unfortunately, the fee waiver is only available in limit circumstances. The first limitation is that only applicants with a human rights claim are eligible to apply for a fee waiver, and only where their human rights claim constitutes “a substantive basis of their application.” Examples of applications that fall into this category are applications for leave to remain under the five-year parent route, the ten-year partner, parent or private life route where the applicant claims that refusal of that application would breach their rights under Art. 8 of the ECHR, applications based on other ECHR rights, applications from victims of human trafficking or modern slavery, and some applications for leave to remain under the five-year partner route.
Additionally, applications for indefinite leave to remain are never eligible for fee waivers, no matter the basis on which they are being made (human rights or not), limiting the scope of fee waivers further. Applicants are advised to extend their temporary leave to remain until they can afford the indefinite leave to remain fee independently.
Fees waivers do not necessarily cover all fees. It is possible, for example, for an applicant to pay their own fee but apply for a fee waiver for one or more dependant. It is also possible to ask for a waiver of the Immigration Health Surcharge only, and not the main application fee, if the applicant can only afford one of the two.
If the application in question is eligible for a fee waiver, then applicants for fee waivers will have to show that one of the following applies to them:
- They cannot afford the fee
- They are destitute
- They are at risk of imminent destitution
- Their income is not sufficient to meet a child's particular and additional needs
- They are faced with exceptional financial circumstances
Whether you can or cannot afford the fee is a hard thing to prove, and the Home Office tend to only accept fee waivers based on affordability arguments in exceptional circumstances. Generally, officials are instructed to look at applications very restrictively and their point of departure seems to be that an applicant should be able to afford the fee. As such, they will also consider funds from friends and family, or non-liquid funds, when assessing if an applicant can afford the fee.
Applications are made through an online form. After an applicant submits their fee waiver application, the procedure is quite restrictive as well. If waiver is granted, the applicant will be issued with a Unique Reference Number to be used when applying for leave to remain online. The application for leave to remain must be submitted within ten working days of the date of the decision (careful, not the date that the decision is received, but the day it was made). The person must then make an appointment at a Service and Support Centre within 17 working days. If the applicant fails to make the application within these timescales, they may need to make a new fee waiver application. If their leave has expired in the meantime, they may become an overstayer.
If the waiver application is refused, the status of an applicant will depend on whether the applicant had valid leave at the time of the application. The guidance states that there are no service standards in fee waiver applications, meaning they do not provide a standard timeframe in which an application must be decided. However, caseworkers are urged to make reasonable efforts to decide applications requests promptly, especially those involving a child or an applicant who is street homeless, disabled or otherwise in vulnerable circumstances.
Those who have valid leave at the time of application will be told about the refusal and be given ten working days to submit additional evidence to challenge that decision. If the new evidence submitted satisfies the caseworker that they are in fact eligible for the waiver, their application will be accepted, and they will be given another ten working days to submit the application for leave to remain.
If the new evidence does not satisfy the caseworker that they are eligible for a fee waiver, however, their application will be refused, and they will be given ten working days to submit an application for leave to remain and pay the application fee independently. If they do not do so before their leave expires, they will become overstayers.
So, in summary – fee waiver applications are only made online, which poses its own challenges. It is very important that applications for a fee waiver are made before the expiry of leave, to maximise one’s chances. And finally, the requirements are quite restrictive but it is always worth a try. The fact that fee waivers are available is a good development in and of itself.
If you want to know more about how to apply for a fee waiver please do not hesitate to contact us here or send us a question on WhatsApp.
In their most recent report, the Migration Observatory confirms what many lawyers and people working in the immigration field feared: no matter how much outreach and campaigning the Home Office plans to do, thousands of EU citizens in the UK are still likely to miss the EU Settlement Scheme deadline, which is set on 30 June 2021, and lose their lawful residence. These are not necessarily vulnerable individuals, but often simply people who do not realise that they need to apply to the Scheme. Broadly, the people most at risk of missing the deadline fall into five categories.
Firstly, those who are simply not aware that they need to apply. A perfect example of this are very long-term residents, who might think that they do not need to apply because they have lived here for so long, or EU citizens with permanent residence. In absolute numbers, tens of thousands of EU citizens fall under those categories. We know that at least 145,000 non-Irish EU citizens have been granted permanent residence from 2004 to 2019, who are not (yet) UK citizens. Many of these do now know that their permanent residence is not enough to warrant their continued lawful residence after Brexit.
Similarly, children of EU citizens whose parents do not themselves apply might not realise that their children need to do so, or mistakenly believe that their UK-born children are automatically UK citizens. In absolute numbers, this means a big group of children are at risk, as there are an estimated 689,000 children living in the UK with non-Irish EU citizenship. Other people who may not be aware that they need to apply to the Scheme are people who have been rejected for permanent residency or who were previously ineligible, and who do not realise that the criteria to obtain status under the EUSS have been made less restrictive. Additionally, people with criminal records and people who have been removed in the past might be reluctant to apply due to fear of being refused status or not meeting the suitability requirement), even if they are in fact eligible. In prison specifically, EEA citizens are in theory entitled to apply, but in practice unaware of the scheme or unable to submit their application due to practical difficulties.
The second category comprises of people who already face some kind of social exclusion, or who enjoy reduced independence or autonomy. Again, children are part of this group, specifically children in care and care leavers eligible to apply. According to Home Office estimates, there are around 5,000 children in care and 4,000 care leavers who would be eligible to apply to the EUSS, but some local authorities might not have information about their citizenship and hence do not apply on their behalf. In addition, some children might lack a valid ID and/or might not be able to provide evidence of their residence in the UK before coming into care. Other vulnerable groups include rough sleepers, victims of domestic abuse, victims of modern slavery and migrant Roma communities. According to government statistics, which tend to underestimate population numbers, there are currently at least 4,250 EEA nationals who qualify for homelessness assistance, 101 000 victims of domestic abuse, 1,400 victims of modern slavery and 200,000 Roma people, respectively. The numbers add up quickly.
Thirdly, some people might know about the EU Settlement Scheme, but struggle to navigate the application process. This could be due to practical difficulties such as language barriers, mental health problem or people with cognitive disabilities. It could also be due to technical difficulties, for example low digital literacy, low general literacy, or age. If we do the math again, these categories account for at least 600,000 vulnerable individuals: 244,000 people with language difficulties, 15,000 individuals who say their mental health impacts their daily activities, 42,000 people who have never used the internet before, 300,000 EEA citizens who have no formal qualifications, and 58,000 people aged over 75.
Lastly, people who lack evidence to prove their eligibility will also fail to acquire status, even though they might qualify for it. The biggest groups here are people who lack identity evidence to demonstrate their EEA nationality, of which there are at least 100,000 in England & Wales, and people who lack evidence of their relationship to a qualifying EU citizen. These people cannot simply rely on their residency in the UK to acquire status under the settlement scheme, but also need to prove that their relationship with a qualifying citizen is genuine. The number of people qualifying for status based on their family members is unknown.
Finally, an important group to mention are the people who may have acquired pre-settled status now, but who might now know or forget to upgrade that status to settled status once they have reached the five-year continuous residence requirement.
Need I go on? The report shows that traditionally vulnerable groups, be it people in poverty, social isolation, or living in precarious conditions, are more likely to miss the Scheme deadline than other EEA nationals. People without bank accounts, or leases, or bills in their name. It also shows how enormous that group of people is, and how many people may therefore end up without a status. This is why immigration practitioners call the EU Settlement Scheme a “Windrush Scheme on steroids” in the making. The Scheme is set up to reinforce existing inequalities, and filter out applicants who are perceived as less useful or desirable in British society, as people from challenging backgrounds are most likely to slip through the cracks and end up being in the UK unlawfully through no fault of their own. no matter how much money the government throws at their EU Settlement Scheme outreach campaign, not everyone that needs to know about the Scheme will be made aware of it.
Immigration practitioners have cautioned about this since the Brexit vote; the Migration Observatory report confirms it yet again. Meanwhile, the government knows about it, yet does nothing to ensure change. That should tell any layman enough about the intentions and goals behind the Scheme.
The Brexit transition period is set to end at 11PM on 31 December 2020, after which the UK will officially break with the EU and EU law will no longer apply to UK territories. For the purposes of the EU Settlement Scheme, the government has provided for a “grace period” of six months in which EEA nationals can still apply for status under the EU Settlement Scheme without losing their rights. That grace period will end on 30 June 2021, after which EU citizens in the UK who have not acquired status under the Scheme will become unlawful residents and will be considered “late” applicants.
Draft legislation proposals reveal how the government intends to protect (most) of the people eligible to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme, but who have failed to do so before the end of the transition period. It sets out that during the grace period, economically active EEA nationals and Swiss nationals will automatically remain lawfully in the UK. They will also be protected if they do apply before 30 June 2021, but their application is unresolved when that deadline passes.
For economically inactive individuals such as students and self-sufficient EEA nationals, remaining legally resident will be more complicated. The deadline for application is still 30 June 2021, and until that day, economically self-sufficient people can stay in the UK. However, according to the draft legislation, if economically self-sufficient people have applied by the deadline but are still waiting for their application outcome on 30 June 2021, they risk losing their status and be found illegal residents in the UK for the period between 30 June 2021 and the conclusion of their application. It is also unclear whether during the grace period itself, they are considered lawful residents or merely granted relief from hostile environment policies, but still considered unlawful residents. Having such a period of unlawful stay on your resume can have far-reaching consequences when trying to apply for visas or re-enter the UK from abroad.
In order to avoid this period of unlawful residence, economically inactive applicants are encouraged to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme early. If they cannot do so, for whatever reason, they are advised to take up comprehensive sickness insurance (CSI) before the transition period ends (meaning before 31 December 2020), as holding CSI will protect them from losing their right to reside and become unlawful residents.
However, the cost of CSI is high and often out of reach for students and pensioners, who form a large part of the economically self-sufficient population affected by the proposed legislation. That is why practitioners and third-party actors in the field advocate for the government to drop the CSI requirement, rather than force a group of people to purchase insurance at a time when financial stability is increasingly challenged due to COVID-19.
Christopher Desira, founding solicitor at Seraphus, confirms this. “I just can’t see any reason why those citizens who do not currently reside in accordance with the EEA Regulations could not have been included as covered by the Statutory Instrument [the proposed legislation], for example, by disapplying the CSI requirement. The main purpose of the Statutory Instrument is to provide for a grace period rather than any additional rights relating to free movement and so I cannot understand why the government would exclude a potentially significant number of citizens.”
The number of people affected by this system is, like many other EU Settlement Scheme statistics, unpredictable, and will depend on various factors including the Home Office backlog of pending applications by the deadline of 30 June 2021, the number of outstanding appeals on that same date, the EUSS outreach, and the number of people who are aware of the CSI requirement.
There are other unanswered questions. For example, the issue of travelling. If an EU citizen who has not applied to the Scheme leaves the UK temporarily after the end of the transition period, but before the EUSS deadline, how will they be allowed re-entry to the UK? Presumably, the Home Office will allow EU citizens to be visa free nationals through mutual agreements, like US nationals are now for example, so that these individuals can return to the UK as temporary visitors, and then apply to the EUSS whilst here on their visitor visa. However, these are presumptions – there is no guarantee, or legislative proposal to warrant them. It is impossible to predict how flexible or welcoming the post-transition period rules at the border will be, especially in light of the state of the Brexit negotiations at the moment.
Additionally, for non-EEA family members who rely on derivative rights to apply to the EUSS, all of these issues will be even more complicated. Not only are non-EEA nationals applying based on derivative rights not covered by the proposed legislation, their immigration status is also unclear during the grace period between 1 January 2021 and 30 June 2021.
Although the proposed legislation does not break the law or contradict EU citizen rights guaranteed under the Withdrawal Agreement, immigration professionals and third-party actors have said that it is flawed, as the CSI requirement is largely unknown to the wider population and only complicates EEA nationals’ plight to stay in the country legally.
A study by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) has found that the hostile environment policy, introduced by Therese May in 2012 in an effort to deter irregular migrants from staying to the UK, has fostered racism and discrimination, contributed to pushing many people into destitution, and erroneously affected people with the legal right to live and work in the UK.
The hostile environment’s key objective has always been to make life for those living in the UK without immigration status so difficult that they ultimately decide to leave. In order to achieve this, measures under the hostile environment make it harder for individuals without status to rent a house, find a job, get driving licences or even simply open a bank account, in the hope that by making these basic services harder to access, they would voluntarily leave and irregular migration numbers would decline.
As voluntary returns/departures from the UK have dropped since 2014 (after the hostile environment came into force), the IPPR’s report found that the policy not only fails to meet that goal, but it also has endangered and complicated the lives of migrants in the UK in various ways.
Firstly, for those without immigration status with little to no financial support from the state, finding work is essential to ensuring some financial security and to avoid destitution. By forcing employers to check employees’ “right to work” and criminalising work without immigration status, the hostile environment pushes migrants without a status into the shadow economy and cash-in-hand jobs (especially if they are not allowed to open a bank account). This makes them vulnerable to exploitation and modern slavery if they manage to find work, and destitution if they don’t. The risk of destitution and impoverishment is exacerbated by the restrictions on access to benefits and healthcare. The report specifically mentions malnutrition, cramped and substandard accommodation, and mental ill-health among undocumented migrant families unable to access public funds.
The problems do not stop there. The hostile environment, it turns out, not only impacts its target population, namely individuals without immigration status, but also many individuals with legal immigration status.
As such, the report shows that the policy fosters ethnic and racial bias, as home and work raids are often targeted at specific nationalities on the basis that they are “believed to be removable.” Unsurprisingly, these people are often people of colour and ethnic minority background. Similarly, the right to rent checks have been ruled discriminatory and biased against people of ethnic minority backgrounds, because they make landlords more suspicious of “removable-looking” people, whatever that may mean, and therefore disadvantage tenants of ethnic minority backgrounds who might very well be British nationals or people with leave to remain.
Recently, the hostile environment has been under heavy scrutiny. In March, the Wendy Williams Windrush review was laid before Parliament. The report overtly criticised the workings of the Home Office’s hostile environment, exposing how thousands of legal UK residents were classified as illegal immigrants and denied the right to work, rent property, access healthcare and benefits during the Windrush Scandal. In April, the Court of Appeal affirmed that immigration checks required by landlords to ensure that tenants have the right to rent are discriminatory, but fell short from ruling that the discrimination was severe enough to render it unlawful. The case is currently being appealed.
The IPPR report warns that a significant proportion of EU citizens will miss the EUSS application deadline of 30 June 2021, barring them from accessing benefits and many public services and losing their immigration status altogether. Despite the mounting warnings and criticism, the Home Secretary confirmed in May that EU citizens who fail to apply for status under the EU Settlement Scheme in time will be unlawful residents and fall subject to all hostile environment policies currently in place.
For all these reasons and many more, the report is unequivocal in its condemnation of the policy, stating that “restrictions on access to benefits can force people without immigration status into destitution. There is evidence of malnutrition, cramped and substandard accommodation, and mental ill-health among undocumented migrant families unable to access public funds … The hostile environment does not appear to be working for anyone: for migrants, for the Home Office, or for the wider public.”
Thousands of refugees and migrants were forced to flee the overcrowded Moria refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesvos after multiple fires erupted on Tuesday night. Due to the flammable nature of refugee housing at the camp, the fire spread rapidly and by Wednesday morning, most of the containers and tents as well as other facilities had been burned to the ground.
Charity and activist groups on the grounds have confirmed that returning to Moria is not an option, since the camp was effectively destroyed by the fire. Those who were living in Moria are now left with nothing; already traumatized by their experience traveling to Europe, they have now lost the few belongings they still had, with no idea of where they will end up next.
Greek authorities were quick to accuse migrants of deliberately starting the fire as a reaction to COVID-19 related lockdown measures which had just been implemented after 35 people at the camp tested positive for the virus. But the real culprits are not the refugees living at the camp – it is the EU policies that enabled circumstances under which such a blaze or other catastrophe seemed unavoidable.
There have been concerns about poor conditions and overcrowding at Moria, Europe’s largest refugee camp, for years. In theory, it has the capacity to house about 3000 migrants. In reality, it was sheltering over 25000 people at its busiest time. Since the COVID-19 outbreak, that number was halved to about 12000, of which at least 4000 were children and young adults. A number of young unaccompanied migrants were relocated to other EU member states, including the UK (https://www.seraphus.co.uk/news/files/9ceb468e732f0163c7ddd1f8de1d7596-30.php). Even so, the camp was still housing more than four times the number of people it was designed for in abysmal conditions, with many of them sleeping in self-made tents or even in the open air.
During the COVID-19 outbreak, conditions worsened, as it quickly became clear that social distance and good hygiene are impossible to maintain in the overcrowded camps. Doctors Without Borders accused the Greek government and EU leaders of using the pandemic as an excuse to exert control over migrants and refugees. The Doctors without Borders spokesmen went so far to state that the conditions that allowed for this fire to happen were not accidental, but rather a deliberate policy put in place by the EU to deter migrants from coming to the island, which is located just 10 kilometres from the Turkish coast.
This policy failure goes back to the 2015 migration “crisis,” when Germany emerged as one of the only EU countries taking action on the issue by accepting over one million refugees into Germany instead of looking the other way or fighting with other Member States. After the Moria fire, Germany rose to the occasion again, as Armin Laschet, the governor of a region in western Germany, said he was willing to admit up to 1000 refugees from the camp as part of a wider European resettlement programme that has yet to be developed.
That programme is long overdue. Earlier this year, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen promised a new migration pact proposal "right after Easter." It never materialised, because the same disagreements from 2015 persist and grow deeper as time goes on. Greece, Italy and other Southern countries have long sought a mandatory system to redistribute asylum seekers across the EU (which could help empty overcrowded camps like Moria) while Central and Eastern countries like Hungary and Poland are implacably opposed to such compulsory relocations. Now, the proposal is expected to be presented at the end of September, to be discussed by EU ministers during the fall, and be implemented in 2021. Previous delays have come at a great humanitarian cost – and there is no guarantee that this time, the proposals will fare any better.
Ironically, Brussels now said it would help with the immediate relief effort for the Moria camp. European Council President Charles Michel said his "thoughts go out to all those who have been put in danger" while Commission Vice President Margaritas Schinas is due to travel to Greece on Thursday for an emergency meeting.
These empty words are not enough. The EU may not be responsible for all the conflicts that force people from their homes, but there is no doubt about who is to blame for the 12000 displaced people who are homeless following the fire. The EU, with its lack of coherent policy on migration, is fully responsible for the erosion of key humanitarian protection systems, the heightened border security regime, the criminalisation of rescue ships, and for making life in reception camps unbearable for vulnerable people.
Since July 2020, the Home Office EU Settlement Scheme monthly statistics no longer include breakdowns by nationality, age group, or local authority details. The new reporting style lacks detailed information about EUSS applications overall. This information is now only released with more in-depth analysis as part of the quarterly statistics. At the end of August, the first set of quarterly statistics since this change in reporting style were published, with all the detail analysts had been missing. Here, we break the numbers down for you.
In total, the number of applications received by the end of July surpassed 3.8 million, of which over 3.4 million have been concluded. In July alone, 92,000 applications were received, just below the June figure of 100,800. Of concluded applications, 57% were granted settled status and 41% pre-settled. 76,000 or 2.1% had other outcomes. For July alone these figures were 62,600 (47%) settled status, 52,000 (39%) pre-settled stats and 18,500 (14%) other outcomes.
The trend of rising other outcomes (including refused, invalid, withdrawn and void applications) continued over the last quarter. Notably, the combined amount of refusals in June and July (3,700) account for over 80% of the total amount of refusals since the Scheme’s launch in 2018. Concerning invalid applications, 11,800 applications were found invalid in July and 9,000 in June, thus accounting for 60% of invalid applications so far. Additionally, 4,400 applications were withdrawn in July, the second highest monthly total ever recorded.
This is the first release of statistics that includes reporting on paper applications, of which there have been about 10,000 so far. Paper applications are often some of the most complex applications under the scheme, as they are for example what people without valid ID or relying on derivative instead of direct rights of residence rely on to obtain their status. This could partly explain the steady uptick in refusals and other outcomes; the less straightforward the applications, the more reasons to refuse the Home Office can find.
Paper applications concluded under the Chen, Ibrahim & Teixeira and Zambrano routes and as a family member of a British Citizen totalled 2,870, so over a quarter of all paper applications up to June 2020. These were mostly Family member applications (1,530), and Zambrano applications (1,260). Whilst all Family members applications concluded had a settled or pre-settled outcome, 61% of Zambrano applications concluded so far have been refused. More specifically, applications under derivative rights account for only 1.6% (830) of all other outcomes, yet 92% of these (770) were refusals under the Zambrano route.
Zambrano carers are non-EU citizens who are primary carers of a British citizen, and have a right to reside in the UK under EU law, relying on the judgment an EU law case Zambrano. As Luke Piper of campaign group the3million puts it, Zambrano carers are “usually single mothers with small British children fleeing domestic violence”, in other words some of the poorest and most vulnerable applicants under the Scheme. Before the EU Settlement Scheme, Zambrano carers used to qualify for a right to reside under certain circumstances, but had no path to settlement. In theory, under the Scheme, they can now rely on residual rights to apply for pre-settled or settled status. However, the statistics show that in practice, it is much harder for Zambrano carers to obtain status under the EUSS than for other eligible applicants. In fact, crunching the number shows that Zambrano refusals account for 25% of all refusals made to the scheme so far.
Breaking other outcomes down by nationality, three nationalities and non-EEA nationals account for over half of “other outcomes” in the UK: Romanian applicants represent 20% of other outcomes, Polish nationals 17% (8,710), Portuguese nationals 9% (4,820) and non-EEA nationals relying on derivative rights 8% (4,370). Comparing these numbers to the number of applicants from each of these nationalities, puts things into perspective, as it becomes apparent that although Romania account for only 16% of the total number of applicants, Portugal for 9% and Non- EEA nationals only 4%, their percentages of other outcomes are much higher, meaning they are disproportionately represented in other outcomes. Especially non-EEA nationals, who constitute only a fraction of all applicants (4%), but get twice as much refusals (8%), are much less likely to succeed in their application. Polish nationals are the only ones in the top three EEA nationalities that are not disproportionately represented in their share of other outcomes, as they account for 20% of all concluded applications.
Finally, if we zoom in on London, where majority of EUSS applications are made, we can see that the total number of applications up to June were 1,323,200. The applications concluded were 1,236,000, of which 109,200 were concluded since the last quarterly statistics in March. The proportion of other outcomes in London is roughly comparative with the total percentage of concluded applications in the area.
The Home Office has these figures all along, but only showing it publicly now. This leaves certain groups of people with higher refusal percentages with a short period to re-apply or appeal their outcome before the deadline of 30 June 2021 passes.
When the government first outlined its vision for a new, post-Brexit immigration system in December 2018, they clarified that they wanted the system to be modern, efficient and in keeping with the “shift towards digital status in all areas of life”.
The first large-scale project where this “shift” became prominent is the EU Settlement Scheme, the framework under which EU citizens need to apply for status if they want to remain lawfully in the UK after the end of the transition period on 31 December 2020. Under the Scheme, EU citizens do not receive physical proof of their status, having to rely instead on a digital-only status, which they can access via the government website.
Under the hostile environment, introduced by Theresa May in 2012, the government forces service providers like landlords, employers, banks and universities to ask everyone they provide services to prove their status, effectively delegating its border control responsibilities to non-governmental entities. As a consequence, non-British nationals in the UK have to prove that they are legal at every turn. In order to live and survive in the UK as a non-British national, easy access to proof of one’s immigration status is therefore essential.
The Home Office argues that the digital-only status reflects that, as it allows EU citizens to “check their status from anywhere, at any time” from their phone. The government stated that “the EU Settlement Scheme protects the rights of EU citizens in UK law and gives them a secure digital status, which unlike a physical document, cannot be lost, stolen, damaged or tampered with”, selling the digital-only access as advantageous and useful for all parties involved. This reasoning fails to consider many factors which can prevent EU citizens from accessing their status, and therefore, accessing their rights.
Firstly, sharing and evidencing a digital status is hindered by numerous practical obstacles such as lack of IT knowledge, literacy, language barriers, or age differences. At Seraphus, we have encountered many EU citizens, especially elderly or isolated communities, who for example do not have email addresses or phone numbers. Both are necessary not just to apply for (pre)settled status, but also to access and share their status with service providers further down the line. For now, free advice and support is available to help EU citizens who for whatever reason are not secure in their application, apply under the EUSS, but there is no indication that this support will carry through once the deadline for application has passed, and citizens will need assistance to change, update or share their status instead of simply to obtain it.
This will harm many EU citizens once the points-based system come into force in January 2021. Most importantly, EU citizens are highly likely to be discriminated against similarly to how it occurs against third-party nationals today under the “right to rent” rules. In fact, only 3 in 150 landlords said they would be prepared to do these digital checks when renting out a flat, meaning that candidates with physical proof of their status will be prioritised over EU citizens who have go through the hassle of accessing their status online. The risk of being discriminated against increases, as it always does, for more vulnerable segments of the population, including those from isolated, older or BAME communities, women, children, and those with disabilities.
As Christopher Desira wrote, barriers also exist for the third-party requesting access to the status, multiplying the likelihood of discrimination. For example, a private landlord with a basic understanding of English and IT will find challenging to access and understand an EU citizen’s digital status, and therefore prefer to rent their property to someone where that hurdle need not be overcome, i.e. a British national who simply has to show their passport to prove that they have the right to rent in the UK.
Thirdly, the risk of any type of digital-only access scheme is that there can be a system outage at critical times, leaving EU citizens out in the cold when needing to show their status. In addition, digital security is a hot topic. Digital records can be breached, hacked or made unavailable, with not only consequences for the EU citizen who at that moment is unable to prove their status, but also for their privacy in the longer term. How securely is all this digital data stored, what are the contingency measures in case of a breach, and who is the data shared with? The government have answered none of these arguably critically important questions.
Non-EU family members who are eligible under the EUSS do receive a physical, credit-card sized document evidencing their settled or pre-settled status, so it is clear that if the Home Office wanted to, they could give EU citizens the option to request a hard copy document as well. The question remains why they then decided against it after a petition calling for physical documents as proof of (pre)settled status was brought to them in August 2019. Physical proof of immigration status, even on an optional basis, is not only easy implemented, but also an important basic right, especially since the government’s own assessment concluded that digital-only access to status would cause serious issues, and that a physical backup should be retained until the online system is streamlined and perfected to a standard which actually benefits EU citizens instead of hurting them.
If you have any questions regarding absences or the EU settlement scheme, please do not hesitate to contact us here or send us a question on WhatsApp.
Notice: we do not help non-EU / overseas / foreign workers find jobs in the UK. Our service is available only to established national businesses that are looking to hire foreign workers, or for foreign workers with job offers in the UK.
Under the new immigration system, set to come into force on 1 January 2021, freedom of movement for EU/EEA/Swiss ('EU') citizens will end. Just like non-EU nationals, EU citizens who are not settled in the UK will have to apply for working visas if they wish to come work in the UK. Conversely, employers wanting to hire EU workers will have to apply for a migrant sponsor licence, just like they have to do now for third-party nationals.
Being a sponsor does not mean that the employer has to pay for the migrant worker’s visa application. It simply means that as a UK company wanting to hire overseas workers, the Home Office will do a check on the company’s organisation and trustworthiness in dealing with migrant workers, and assess whether the company is able to monitor and follow that their migrant employees comply with their visa conditions.
There are two types of working visas, and similarly, companies can get a licence to hire either type of worker. The first one is the Tier 2 worker visa, tailored towards non-British nationals coming to the UK as skilled workers with permanent, long-term job offers. This post will focus on how to apply for sponsorship to sponsor those Tier 2 workers. The second type is the Tier 5 worker, who comes to the UK temporarily. Good examples are seasonal workers (e.g. in agriculture) or charity workers.
For both types of sponsorship licence, the Home Office announced in February 2020 that “Employers not currently approved by the Home Office to be a sponsor should consider doing so now if they think they will want to sponsor skilled migrants, including from the EU, from early 2021." If you are an employer who intends to hire non-British workers from January 2020 onwards, it is now beyond time to apply for your sponsor licence, especially since the government has announced multiple changes to the sponsorship system which will make it easier for businesses to obtain a licence.
To facilitate the transition from free movement laws to the new points-based system, the government has proposed to lift the “cap” on numbers of migrant workers, meaning there is no longer a limit on how many companies can obtain such a licence every year. The government has also announced that the required skill level for sponsored job role will be reduced from January onwards, and roles requiring a skill level equivalent (roughly) to A-levels will be eligible for sponsorship, instead of the higher requirement of bachelor’s degree that is in place today. This, again, is to smoothen the transition from EU free movement to the stricter migration rules of the points-based system. Additionally, from January onwards, the Resident Labour Market Test (RLMT) will no longer apply, meaning that you will be able to hire foreign workers even if there are suitably qualified resident workers able to fill the role for which you are recruiting. This was previously not the case.
For all of these reasons, now seems like the perfect time to apply for a Tier 2 Sponsor Licence. So how should a business go about the application? Applications are made to a specific Tier 2 Sponsor Licence applications team at the Home Office. The process involves two different steps: an initial online form, and then a file of hard copy supporting documents which are due to be submitted within 5 working days of the online form.
The basic criteria that a company needs to meet to receive a sponsorship licence are numerous. Firstly, the business must be based in the UK. Secondly, the business must be “genuine,” and trading lawfully in the UK, meaning that the business will have to provide details of their organisational and sectoral structure. Supporting documents will need to include, for example, an up to date hierarchy chart detailing any owner, director and board members.
Thirdly, the business must be “honest, dependable and reliable,” a subjective and relatively vague requirement which is usually proven by submitting previous projects, reviews and contracts that show that the company lives up to its promises. Broadly, the supporting documents serve to show the Home Office that the sponsor company is capable of complying with sponsor duties and responsibilities and does not pose a threat to immigration control. The more details the sponsor provides, the better. That is why the business owner will also have to include details about the role(s) they are looking to fill, to ensure that these roles meet the skill, salary and qualification requirements for eligibility for foreign workers.
As such, to hold a Tier 2 Sponsor licence, the applicant organisation must have Human Resources systems in place to ensure that they are able to meet the various sponsor's duties and responsibilities as set out in the guidance. No details are provided as to what such a system entails, but broadly, the company must use this system to ensure accurate monitoring of employees’ immigration status, track and record their work attendance, and keeping copies of relevant documents for each employee.
As reiterated in the guidance, sponsorship is a privilege, not a right. That is why the process is not as straightforward as it could be – the applicant company has to earn the privilege of being a sponsor, and the burden of proof lies on them to demonstrate that they have done so. If you are looking to hire overseas workers, do not hesitate to contact us to help you with your Tier 2 Sponsor Licence application.
If you have any questions regarding absences or the EU settlement scheme, please do not hesitate to contact us here or send us a question on WhatsApp.
For an applicant to the EU Settlement Scheme to receive either pre-settled or settled status, they will have to fulfil three key criteria. Firstly, they will have to prove that they are eligible to apply by evidencing their identity and nationality, and if necessary, their family relationship. Secondly, they will have to answer a few questions about criminality to see whether they are suitable for (pre)settled status. Finally, they will have to confirm and prove a period of continuous residence in the UK. This is the requirement that defines whether the applicant will be granted pre-settled or settled status, the latter obviously being a stronger and more permanent status for the applicant.
To obtain settled status, an applicant has to have been continuously residing in the UK for a five-year period. Applicants who are not currently living in the UK, but are applying based on their historic residency, will have to maintain their eligibility by proving that they have not been outside the UK for a continuous 5 year period immediately after the 5 year qualifying period of residence on which their application is based.
If a person has continuously resided for less than 5 years, they will be on course for pre-settled status. Once they obtain pre-settled status, they will need to continuously reside in the UK to maintain their status and further down the line, to reach the five-year requirement to qualify for settled status.
They can maintain their continuous residence by living in the UK for more than six months out of every twelve-month period. Applicants are permitted one period of absence of more than 6 months (but which does not exceed 12 months) for an important reason such as childbirth, serious illness, study, vocational training, overseas posting, or compulsory military service, without losing their pre-settled status. If the absence is longer, and it is not for an important reason, it will break continuous residence, and they will not be able to apply for settled status.
This might be the way the Home Office decides to deal with COVID-19 related absences – either it’s an important reason and the applicant “uses” their exception for it, or they return to the UK before 11pm on 31 December 2020 so they can re-start a new period of residence in the UK.
But this pre-existing rule is not enough, and does not cover every scenario where absences will affect those under the EUSS.
There are two key dates in relation to the EU Settlement application process: the eligibility deadline and the application deadline. The application deadline is 30 June 2021, but a person has until 31 December 2020 to become a person eligible to apply. This means that for EU citizens, residence in the UK must commence before 11pm on 31 December 2020 in order for them to qualify for status. Similarly, for most family members, the relationship must exist before 11pm on 31 December 2020 for the relationship to be considered under the EUSS.
As a consequence, absences can affect both EU citizens and family members in different ways. For example, imagine a Bulgarian national intends to come to live in the UK and would like to do so under the EUSS. They must move to and commence residence in the UK before 11pm on 31 December 2020 in order to get pre-settled status, which after five years of residence can then be “upgraded” to settled status. If they cannot move before 31 December 2020, then they will have a much more difficulty immigration process to get through in the new 2021 immigration system. This is quite a straightforward scenario – EU citizens know that their time to enjoy free movement and move to the UK is running low.
More pressing will be the ability to establish a family relationship before 11 pm on 31 December 2020. Imagine a French national who is intending to marry a Cameroon national. Imagine the couple have not known each other for very long, so they are not entitled to the status of “durable partners,” but they intend to get married in April 2020. Due to COVID-19, the marriage was delayed; it could not take place either in the UK or Cameroon due to the travel restrictions and social restrictions, most importantly because neither party to the marriage could travel. As a consequence, come the EUSS deadline for eligibility of 31 December 2020, the couple will be unable to establish their relationship existed (in the strict sense of the rules) before 11 pm on 31 December 2020, and as a consequence the Cameroon national will not be able to bring herself within the scope of EUSS status.
The couple will be locked out of the easier EUSS family permit route and will instead need to consider the strict rules for entry as a spouse, which are much more complicated. If the French national has previously obtained settled status under the EUSS, they will be able to sponsor their Cameroon partner under the spouse visa rules. If the French national merely has pre-settled status, however, this will be impossible. They will be separated from each other for a considerable period of time until the French national acquires settled status and then applies to bring their spouse in on a spouse visa.
These types of situations are not just typical for married couples. Unmarried (durable) partners must be in their relationship with their EEA partner before 31 December 2020 as well. To be eligible to apply for (pre-)settled status as a durable partner, the durable partnership must first be assessed as genuine by the Home Office. “Genuineness” is generally hard to prove. In the case of a durable relationship, the Home Office requires durable partners to apply for a document under the EEA Regulations to evidence their relationship. That document must be issued and received before the durable partner can then apply for status under the EUSS, meaning that if you’re an unmarried partner (i.e. durable partner) an application for that document must be made before 31 December 2020. If you’re a dependent relative (other than someone in the ascending lines of the EU citizens, spouse, or civil partner of the EU citizen), again, you must hold a relevant document for which an application must be made before 31 December 2020.
So, if COVID-19 prevents an applicant from being able to travel and/or apply for the necessary documentation in time, then they will be locked out of the EUSS. There are countless scenarios where this could go very wrong. For example, if an EEA national has died due to Covid-19, then their family members who are left behind should be able to apply for pre-settled or settled status. But under the current rules, those family members would only be eligible for status if they lived with the EEA national for at least one year immediately before they passed away. Setting aside the tragedy and trauma of losing a family member without even being able to say goodbye to them, what happens if the family member was unable to return to the UK in time due to travel restrictions, and they could not reach one year of living together? They will be locked out of the EUSS.
Or what if an applicant wants to retain their residence rights after divorcing their EEA partner? In order to do so, the marriage needs to have lasted for at least three years before starting the divorce proceedings, and both partners must have been living in the UK for at least one year before they apply. Again, if COVID-19 prevented the applicant from reaching that one year threshold before 31 December 2020, they will be locked out of the EUSS and it will not be possible for them to retain their rights.
This would simply be unfair. COVID-19 has had an impact on virtually every aspect of society and government. The immigration system is no different. The process of Brexit has been halted, slowed and changed by the virus as well. That is why the Brexit Civil Society Alliance wrote a letter to the Home Secretary asking for exemptions to the rules to deal with any breaks in continuous residency caused by COVID-19, so that no EU citizen is forced out of status through absolutely no fault of their own.
The Home Office replied stating that "continuity of residence by EEA and Swiss citizens applying to the scheme and who may have been stuck overseas as a result of COVID-19 is one of a number of issues the Home Office is working through. We are taking a pragmatic approach to ensure individuals are not penalised for issues arising from the COVID-19 pandemic."
Based on this response and our internal discussions with the Home Office, it doesn’t appear that COVID-19 will kill applications under the EU Settlement Scheme. In fact, the Home Office have confirmed verbally that absences due to Covid-19 will be considered as a serious reason for those who are on course to apply for or have received pre-settled status. This means that one absence of more than six months but not more than twelve for COVID-19 related reasons will not be considered to have broken continuous residence.
Although it is a step in the right direction, this is the only flexible approach the Home Office have referred to, and it fails to cover all of the other possible scenarios where absence will cause other problems.
Home Office policy on absences affecting those under the EUSS is yet to be determined because, they stated, COVID-19 related absences is an issue that affects all immigration categories and not just the EUSS, so they are trying to work out a holistic approach throughout the immigration system. It might be that the Home Office are taking this issue seriously, and it’s therefore taking time to put together a comprehensive, flexible and compassionate policy to deal with it. However, it might also be that part of it was a wait and see approach to see how serious of an issue absences might be for some visa categories.
But a wait and see approach will not suffice. As EU free movement law fully applies during the transition period, the issue of absence has to be assessed under Article 16(3) of the Free Movement Directive in the same way as for mobile EU citizens having their residence in an EU Member State. A longer absence due to the coronavirus/COVID-19 crisis should be treated as force majeure (unforeseeable circumstances that prevent someone from fulfilling a contract) and should not, therefore, be deemed to break continuous lawful residence.
In the meantime, any absences due to Covid-19 must be documented and evidenced, as the Home Office never takes an applicant’s word for truth. If your continuous residence is endangered due to COVID-19, you are going to need to have evidence that the enforced absence is linked to Covid-19 as well as that your return to the UK was completed as soon as it was safe and reasonably possible. The reality is that unless the Home Office decide to declare COVID-19 as an event of force majeure, the burden is going to be on applicants will need to put their case to the Home Office in order to have the best chance that discretion will be exercised in their favour.
If you have any questions regarding absences or the EU settlement scheme, please do not hesitate to contact us here or send us a question on WhatsApp.
The Home Office are continuing to adapt the ways they work during the coronavirus crisis and have provided the following key updates to services for asylum seekers.
UASC SEF and Witness Statement returns
As part of a focus on minors applications, including planning to facilitate the restart of asylum interviews, we have contacted legal representatives in all cases where SEFs and Witness Statements are outstanding in order to request their completion and return at the earliest opportunity. Where there are obstacles to SEF and Witness Statement completion and return, we ask that representatives contact their local asylum office to explain the issues faced, plans for resolution and expected timeline for completion and return.
The Home Office remains committed to working with legal representatives to resolve issues, reduce delays and progress minors claims in accordance with the Immigration Rules.
Resumption of Asylum Substantive Interviews
As you will be aware, substantive asylum interviews were paused on 19 March 2020 due to the impact of Covid-19. More recently, Asylum Operations has been working to enable substantive interviews to restart with safety as our priority for all attendees, initially through the use of videoconferencing. We have now published guidance on the resumption of substantive asylum interviews on Gov.UK. This guidance should be read in conjunction with the Asylum Interviews guidance as normal.
The Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration (ICIBI) is currently putting together a review of the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) to present to the government. As the official lawyers contracted by the European Union (EU) to provide legal and policy advice to the European Delegation in the United Kingdom on the EUSS, Brexit and EU Citizens' Rights, we made a submission to on the progress of the Scheme.
Applying to the EUSS is mandatory for all EU citizens and other EEA/Swiss nationals who wish to continue living in the UK lawfully after the transition period. EU citizens have until 30 June 2021 to apply under the Scheme. If they do not apply in time, they will be unlawful residents in the UK. The Scheme’s strong suits and shortcomings have been discussed many a time. Our data and experience, collected since we started working with the EU delegation in 2018, enables us to map certain problematic patterns within the scheme and the way it operates. In last week’s briefing, we discussed the EUSS process up until the stage of applying to the Scheme, with a focus and communication and outreach that has been done to reach vulnerable EU citizens who need to apply to the Scheme. This week, we look at the next stage, namely what happens after submission of applications.
The government has hailed the EU Settlement Scheme as a great success, with 98% of applicants under the Scheme being granted status, and relatively few applications being refused. These numbers do speak for themselves to some extent. In recent months, however, we have seen a rise in refused and void applications.
Applications can be refused for different reasons, the main ones being that the applicant is not eligible for status under the Scheme, or that they are not suitable for status. The last set of EUSS statistics which included a breakdown of eligibility versus suitability refusals were issued in May 2020. These statistics stated of the 2,300 refusal decisions, 1% are refused on suitability with the remaining 99% refused on eligibility.
This may seem like a small percentage of suitability refusals. However, it only reflects suitability refusals where a valid application has been made to the EUSS. The most vulnerable applicants who are at risk of having their application refused based on suitability grounds are prisoners and immigration detainees. These individuals are severely restricted in their ability to make an application to the EUSS, and lack the adequate legal aid to do so. As a consequence, the likelihood is that they will receive their deportation decision before they are able to lodge an EUSS application. They are then stuck in a vicious circle: the deportation decision prevents them from being granted EUSS status, but they did not know they had to apply before they received the deportation decision.
The effect of this is the same as a refusing an EUSS application on suitability grounds. The Home Office guidance on ‘EEA decisions taken on grounds of public policy’ sets a low bar for the issuing of a deportation decision, meaning that many of these EEA nationals only have to reach that threshold in order to be liable for deportation. Arguably, this is inconsistent with the approach required by the Withdrawal Agreement, which grants EEA citizens more extensive protections. In other words, these EEA citizens are being refused the rights and benefits of their respective Withdrawal Agreements. As things stand now, these cases are not being clearly reported in the statistics. As a consequence, it is difficult to assess whether or not there is a systemic denial of Withdrawal Agreement rights, but the possibility is definitely there.
Regarding refusals on eligibility grounds, which forms the other 99% of refusals, the narrative presented by the Home Office is that caseworkers will only refuse an application if they have made numerous efforts to contact applicants to seek additional information. It is only when these request for additional information are not responded to that the Home Office is ‘forced’ to issue an eligibility refusal. In reality, this presentation is not consistent where the application can be refused because the applicant is applying as either a durable partner, or a dependent relative. Family members and dependent relatives have to send a “mandatory document” proving their relationship with the EEA national as part of the application process. If they fail to do so, these cases are refused quickly once the Home Office has confirmed that the applicant did not submit a relevant document, without necessarily contacting the applicant to request for additional information. In fact, applicants whose application was refused on those grounds of failing to provide a “mandatory document” confirmed that the Home Office made no attempt to contact them to request the relevant document and instead, refused them after a significant delay only informing them about the requirement to hold a relevant document in the refusal decision.
Following from that, it is essential that refusal decisions based on the fact that the applicant has not obtained a relevant document under the EEA Regulations prior to applying into the EUSS are issued before the deadline 31 December 2020. This is necessary because any refusal decision received after this date will prevent the family member from applying for an EEA Regulations relevant document which is mandatory to then succeeding under the EUSS. In essence, if they receive their refusal late, these applicants will be locked out of being granted EUSS status irrespective of whether or not their family situation meets the conditions of the Withdrawal Agreement. This would be denial of status on a procedural basis not on a substantive basis, and should be avoided at all costs.
In addition to a quick processing of these cases, Seraphus recommended that EUSS applicants who require EEA Regulations relevant documents should be entitled to apply for these up to 30 June 2021 based on a relationship that existed by 31 December 2020. This would be consistent with the intentions of the Withdrawal Agreement to ensure that family relationships in existence by 31 December 2020 are protected. By comparison, this approach is no different from requiring EUSS applicants to be resident in the UK before the end of the transition period and then having an additional six months to make the EUSS applications evidencing their eligibility.
When the Scheme was initially rolled out in 2018, there was no process in place to appeal a refused decision, meaning people whose application was refused had no way of challenging this decision. After complaints and campaigns to promote access to justice and a fair trial, the Home Office introduced the right of appeal for the EUSS in January 2020, but only for applications made on or after 31 January 2020. As a consequence, applicants who applied before 31 January 2020 are still unable to appeal their refusals. There does not seem to be any specific logic in denying an appeal right to applicants based on what is essential an arbitrary date for the purpose of the EUSS. Many of the cases refused before the cut-off date were part of the more complex share of applications, and were pending for a significant period of time (6 to 12 months), prior to refusal. Due to the lack of appeal routes, these individuals are forced to re-apply under the Scheme and again, wait for months before finding out the results.
As for invalid applications, there seems to be a communication breakdown between the Home Office and the applicants. Some EEA nationals come to outreach events and ask questions thinking they have valid applications pending but on examination, do not have any type of application outstanding. Applicants who do not have a certificate of application and are not aware of the necessity of this certificate have misunderstood something vital about the EUSS process which will ultimately lead to their application being invalidated. The reasons for this type of misunderstanding are diverse – for example, where applicants think that by scanning their passport or national identity card to the Home Office, they have made an application for status to remain in the UK. They do not realise that there is an additional online application form which must be submitted in order to complete the application process.
After the EUSS deadline has passed, there will be significant numbers of eligible citizens who believed that they had successfully made in EUSS application but instead have had their applications invalidated without their knowledge or understanding of what this meant. It is unclear whether such an excuse will be accepted by the Home Office as “good reason” for a late application, if the applicant in question realise that their initial application was not completed and then wants to reapply after the deadline.
To sum up, applicants and front-line workers need clarity on what reasons will constitute of good reason to apply to the EUSS after the deadline, as it looks like many individuals with previous refusals or with incomplete applications will end up having to apply after the deadline, and it is unknown whether those applications will be accepted. Refusals under the EUSS – whether on eligibility or suitability grounds – need to be communicated more effectively and more quickly. Additionally, the most complex applications such as family member applications, which cannot be made through the app but have to be submitted in paper-form, need to be prioritised as they are more time sensitive.
We will also need to assess whether the Home Office practice generally is in accordance with the Withdrawal Agreement. EU citizens, and their family members, living in the UK before the 31 December 2020 are beneficiaries of the Withdrawal Agreement and restrictions on those benefits, including the above practices, might be unlawful.
The Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration (ICIBI) is currently putting together a review of the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) to present to the government. As the official lawyers contracted by the European Union (EU) to provide legal and policy advice to the European Delegation in the United Kingdom on the EUSS, Brexit and EU Citizens' Rights, we made a submission to on the progress of the Scheme.
Applying to the EUSS is mandatory for all EU citizens and other EEA/Swiss nationals who wish to continue living in the UK lawfully after the transition period. EU citizens have until the 30 June 2021 to apply under the Scheme. If they do not apply on time, they will be unlawful residents in the UK. The Scheme’s strong suits and shortcomings have been discussed many a time. Our data and experience, collected since we started working with the EU delegation in 2018, makes it possible to map certain problematic patterns within the scheme and the way it operates. In the first part of this briefing, we discuss the EUSS process up until the stage of applying to the Scheme. The next stage, regarding outcomes of applications, will be the subject of a separate briefing next week.
The first important step to a successful Scheme such as the EUSS is raising awareness. The individuals concerned, in this case EEA nationals in the UK, need to know and understand what they need to do in order to remain in the UK lawfully. The government has made a significant effort to reach out to EU citizens in the UK and ensure that they apply in time. However, there are multiple caveats to the Home Office marketing and outreach campaigns.
Firstly, it is simply impossible to estimate the number of EU/EEA nationals who are eligible to apply to the Scheme, and therefore impossible to track whether they have done so or not. It is clear from the comparison of EUSS applications with the ONS population data that there is a clear underestimate of the numbers of EU citizens who reside in the UK. This raises issues relating to how many more potential EUSS applicants have not applied and how they will be provided with the information and assistance for they need to be successfully granted status under the EUSS. The Home Office appears to understand that much of the remaining EUSS work will relate to complex cases and vulnerable applicants however, it is not clear to what extent the Home Office intends to provide sufficient resources and support to these applicants.
Although there will be additional funding provided to successful organisations for the period between September 2020 and April 2021, this funding will not be sufficient to assist highly complex cases because the reality is that no funding is enough to reach every single eligible person. Additionally, whether or not there will be any funding for assistance from April 2021 onwards in the build-up to the deadline and the period afterwards, is unknown. What we do know is that applicants will face the additional burden of having to demonstrate they had good reasons for failing to apply to the EUSS if they apply after the deadline, and so funding is direly needed.
Secondly, certain groups of applicants have been neglected from the very beginning. One such group with whom the Home Office has failed to engage is prisoners and immigration detainees. Organisations involved with detainees and the EUSS have consistently raised issues with the Home Office relating to the provision of information, advice and the ability of detained EEA citizens to access the EUSS. Feedback from these organisations shows access to information about the EUSS for those in prison and immigration detention is extremely limited.
In many cases, it appears that EEA citizens are issued with deportation decisions prior to the end of their sentence with little access to immigration advice on whether they can challenge their deportation decision, which would in turn make it possible to make a successful EUSS application. The Home Office states that there is engagement through the Ministry of Justice with respect of EEA citizens in the prison estate however, there is very little detail on what this engagement is in practice, and how it is helping prisoners and immigration detainees understand their legal rights. It seems clear that from a political perspective this is a cohort of potential EUSS applicants who the Home Office would rather not provide any assistance to irrespective of whether they have rights under the Withdrawal Agreement or not. This approach is completely unsatisfactory, and additional efforts to highlight the difficulties that this group and their family members are facing need to be made.
Obviously, the EUSS process does not stop once applicants are informed and applications submitted. Unfortunately, there are many flaws in the way the Home Office deals with certain types of applications once they have been submitted. One such issue is the persisting delay in dealing with complicated applications from often vulnerable individuals. To make matters worse, the government website fails to adequately explain how and why such delays may happen.
This is not a new criticism - in response to the previous ICIBI report published in February 2020, the Home Office accepted that the information given relating to processing times needed to be improved. Yet, the information provided on the website is still woefully inadequate, as it merely sets out a list of situations where processing may take more than a month. In addition, if applicants seek to enquire why their case has been delayed, they are not given any useful information by the Settlement Resolution Centre, which is supposed to be their first point of contact if they encounter any issues.
A recent Freedom of Information release gave figures on EUSS applications that were pending for more than three months and those pending for more than six months, revealing that at least 36,000 applications had faced delays of over three months by October 2019. Clearly, the information is available to the Home Office. So why is nothing being done about it? In light of certain cases taking more than six months to be resolved, even up to 12+ months in some cases, the information available to the public remains fundamentally misleading and as a consequence, causes significant anxiety for applicants whose cases face significant delays.
Another reoccurring issue is the Home Office statistical analysis. Firstly, the monthly reports demonstrate that the rate of applications for the EUSS have declined since March 2020. Part of the decline is likely to be attributed to COVID-19. It also seems likely that the high number of applications/grants today means there is a diminishing pool of eligible applicants for the EUSS (though no one can accurately estimate how many citizens are left to apply due to well documented issues with the EUSS/ONS statistics, which is an inherent flaw of the Scheme in itself). As the level of applications has tailed off there is an opportunity for the Home Office to clear the backlog of pending applications and to focus on more complex cases. Yet, the published statistical reports provided by the Home Office show the current backlog of the EUSS is still significant. As of June 2020, it consisted of over 250 000 applications.
For the first time since the introduction of the Scheme, the Home Office intends to produce statistics relating to paper application forms to the EUSS in the next set of quarterly statistics to be released in August 2020. Even if this is finally the case, it seems highly unlikely that the statistics will include any information on the average processing times for the mandatory paper application routes. This is another instance where the Home Office fails the Scheme’s most vulnerable applicants: paper applications are often the most complex, as they include people who do not have ID documents or family members of EEA nationals. In order to increase transparency and help vulnerable individuals, applicants should receive updates at various points in the application process if their application is being delayed. In order to relieve their anxiety, these updates should include meaningful information about why their case is taking a long time to be processed.
Instead of fixing the statistics and giving more information about the progress of the Scheme, EUSS monthly statistics from July 2020 onwards will contain much less information than was previously the case. The reports will no longer contain a breakdown of applications by nationality which has been of vital importance to understanding EUSS application trends.
This will make the work of people in the field – lawyers, statisticians, social workers, government officials, etc. – even more challenging than it has been ever since the Scheme came into existence.
What is immigration detention?
Immigration detention refers to the Home Office practice of detaining foreign nationals for the purposes of immigration control. It is supposed to be the final point before removal.
How does immigration detention in the UK work?
The United Kingdom has one of the largest immigration detention systems in Europe, confining over 30 000 people a year in 10 detention centres or immigration removal centres (IRC). The IRCs are run by private, sub-contracted companies. Since they are managed by different companies, they vary immensely in the way they are managed, as some of them are run by charities and others by private security companies.
The Home Office has the discretionary power to detain a person at any point of their immigration process: upon arrival in the UK; upon presentation to an immigration office within the country; during a check-in with immigration officials; once a decision to remove has been issued; following arrest by a police officer; or after a prison sentence.
Once in immigration detention, there is no upper time limit to how long individuals can be detained.
Is the UK truly the only country in Europe without a time limit on how long people can be detained?
The short answer is yes. All European countries except for the UK have statutory time limits on how long someone can be administratively detained and deprived of their liberty, whereas in the UK, that is not the case. Rather, the rule in the UK is that detention with a view to removal is lawful only if there is a realistic prospect of this occurring within a reasonable period. The reasonable period, however, is not defined.
How does immigration detention work in other European countries?
In most countries, asylum seekers can be detained for a time period ranging from four to six weeks. Some countries, such as Spain and Hungary, allow for an initial detention period of only 72 hours. After those 72 hours, continued detention needs to be investigated and approved by the judiciary. In the Netherlands, the time limit is six weeks for asylum seekers. For non-asylum seekers who are placed in immigration detention centres, a longer period of up to six months may be allowed. Generally, the average length of detention is about 3 months before cases are resolved and people are either removed or released. In France, the law does not differentiate asylum seekers from other detainees; instead, there is a general time limit of 90 days.
In Germany, the rules regarding how long individuals can be detained is tiered. The standard rule is that individuals can be held for up to six weeks whilst deportation is prepared. Deportation and detention pending exit can then be court ordered for up to six months, and if the detainee actively sabotages or hinders deportation, it can be extended to 18 months. This extension is only possible in exceptional cases. In comparison, BiD, a London-based charity which helps people get out of immigration detention in the UK, have at least 4 clients at any given time who have been in immigration detention for over 18 months.
Have there been many changes to immigration detention practices in recent years?
On the continent, there have been many reforms to detention centres in recent years. In Germany, for example, the immigration detention system has undergone major changes since 2014, when the Court of Justice of the EU ruled that using prisons for immigration detention purposes was unlawful.
Contrastingly, in the UK, several hundred individuals are still being held in prisons under immigration powers today. In addition, many of the UK detention centres are ex-prisons refashioned as immigration facilities. Most famously, Morton Hall, of which the government announced its closure this week, used to be a female-only prison complex.
What about countries outside of Europe?
Other common law countries such as Australia and the USA don’t have a statutory time limit either. But considering both those systems have been subject to intense criticisms and increased scrutiny of their human rights abuses, maybe the UK should hold itself to a higher standard.
Last Monday, Home Secretary Priti Patel announced more details on the new points-based immigration system, which is set to come into force under six months from now on 1 January 2021. The new system is designed to compensate for the end of free movement of people with the European Union (EU), a system which allowed EU citizens to work in the UK (and UK citizens in the EU) without having to apply for immigration status.
The 130-page document published by the Home Office last week gives more guidance on how this Points-Based System, which in reality is not new, but a rebranding of the system currently in force, might work.
From the outset, the document states it sets out the main “economic migration” routes for post-Brexit Britain. Indeed, the document solely addresses immigration issues which bring some type of direct economic gain to the UK – from high-skilled workers and investor visas to student and seasonal visas. It does not deal with other (problematic) aspects of the immigration system, be it the insanity of indefinite detention, the abysmal amount of asylum support for asylum seekers during the pandemic, the cruelty of the hostile environment or the many faults of the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS). There is no mention of the stringent family requirements, or extortionate visa fees, except to say that the Immigration Health Surcharge is here to stay. It may be refunded or cancelled for NHS and social care workers, and wider health workers.
As known from previously released guidance, the points-based visa system takes different factors like skills and language into account when awarding visas which allow foreign nationals to work in the UK.
As such, workers need to score 50 points from the general requirements (meaning they need to have a job offer for a job at the “appropriate” skill level from an approved employer). In addition, they need to speak English, and then score an additional 20 points based on the salary level, job type or, alternatively, by possessing a PhD. The general minimum starting salary for a job offer is £25,600, unless it is a job on the shortage occupation list, or if the applicant has a PhD relevant to the job. In those cases, the salary threshold may be lowered to £20,480.
Hoping to live up to their promise to take back control, the government has previously said it hoped Britons would fill a shortfall of around 120,000 workers, equating to 10% of all vacancies. In addition, the cap on the amount of migrant workers allowed to come to the UK is removed to allow employers to recruit more from overseas.
Initiatives like the much-awaited NHS visa, are also supposed to plug one of the main gaps in the labour market. Branded the new “Health and Care visa,” NHS clinical staff applicants will enjoy reduced visa fees and fast-track processes. Despite the name, however, the visa does not actually extend to care workers, as salaries and/or skill-levels for care jobs are often below the required threshold. Considering 17% of care jobs are currently filled by foreign citizens, there would still be a shortfall of at least 7% even if the ambitious Home Office goal of 10% is met. A solution to this shortfall could be to put these carer jobs on the shortage occupation list – but, in Home Office organisational tradition, that list has not been published yet.
So, not only is it unknown which jobs will qualify as shortage occupations, leaving people guessing at which jobs they may apply for and at which rate, but the logic of such a lowered threshold also seems flawed – if these positions are hard to fill, then how would offering lower salaries help attract more applicants?
A similar problem arises when it comes to seasonal (agricultural) workers. Whilst the government has made arrangements for seasonal harvest workers, the cap et on foreign harvesters falls below what the National Farmers’ Union recommended. The updated guidance fails to address this, instead stating that the farming sector will be reassessed at the end of this year after the end of a pilot scheme. In the meantime, crops are left to wither as the looming end of free movement is compounded by pandemic-related border closures, and seasonal harvesters fail to make it in time.
For businesses, the Immigration Skill Charge levied on employers remains unchanged, meaning that in addition to third-party nationals, ‘new’ EU/EEA/Swiss citizens from 1 January 2021 will cost businesses £1,000 per employee, per year. There is a reduced charge of £364 per employee, per year for small or charitable organisations. There will also not be a charge levied on EU citizens with status under the EU Settlement Scheme.
For students, the old ‘Graduate Route’ reopens in summer 2021, allowing students to stay in the UK for two years after their graduation to work or look for work. If they want to stay beyond those two years, they will have to switch into another visa category. The updated guidance focuses on working visas, rather than other options such as spousal or family visas.
As promised, the new guidance focuses on economic migration, wilfully overlooking other, more humane visa routes such as family or asylum. The focus of the guidance is on jobs, economic worth and border security. Yet, even for workers and economic supply chains, it fails to deliver, as it lacks overall detail on who will and won't be able to work in the UK once the points-based system actually takes effect.
Appendix FM of the immigration rules sets out the rules for non-EU citizens who want to come and join previously settled family members in the UK. Those eligible to apply for family visas under Appendix FM are non-EEA nationals related to or in a relationship with either a British citizen, a person settled in the UK with indefinite leave to remain, or a person in the UK with limited leave as a refugee or someone granted humanitarian protection.
The Appendix states that it aims to “strike a balance between the right to respect for private and family life and the legitimate aims of protecting national security, public safety and the economic well-being of the UK; the prevention of disorder and crime; the protection of health or morals; and the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”
In practice, striking the “balance” between what is essentially an inalienable human right under Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights and national or domestic conditions of life has led to strict rules and requirements for applicants trying to join their family.
Basic requirements for eligibility depend on the applicant’s relationship to the family member they are trying to join in the UK, and are often related to age, knowledge of English and self-sufficiency. More complicated, and often problematic, is the Minimum Income Requirement (MIR), which was introduced together with the 2012 hostile environment rules by then Home Secretary Theresa May. Under the Minimum Income requirement, the British or settled family member who wants to reunite with their non-EEA national family member has to prove that they can financially support themselves, the family member, and any dependent children where applicable.
Concretely, the British or settled sponsor needs to show a proof of income of £18,600, with an increase of £3,800 where they are applying with one dependent child, and an extra £2,400 for each additional child after that. This is in addition to the cost of the Home Office visa application process and English Language test fees which applicants have to incur independently, and which are amongst the highest in the world.
Bearing in mind that 40% of workers in the UK do not reach this threshold, the minimum income requirement has often been criticised as unduly harsh on family units. Today, at least 15,000 children are growing up without one of their parents, just because their family doesn't earn enough to meet these strict Home Office income rules.
The Appendix is also the framework under which a British or settled person can bring their spouse or partner into the UK. For partner applications, additional non-financial requirements, which are not required for blood-related family members, can be tricky. Primarily, the requirement to prove that the relationship is “genuine and subsisting” can be hard to fulfil, and often is at the base of reasons given for refused applications.
Granted, Appendix FM makes provision for “exceptional circumstances” under which an applicant may be relieved of the Minimum Income Threshold, or where the Home Office will approach “genuineness” of the relationship with more flexibility. For the MIR, examples include if a strict application of the rules will result in unjustifiably harsh consequences, and thereby render refusal of entry clearance or leave to remain a breach of Article 8. In those scenarios, the Home Office will not only take other income sources such as cash savings into account to see if an applicant can reach the threshold alternatively, but they may also exercise discretion in granting the family visa if the money is not readily available. Unsurprisingly, the threshold to qualify for these “exceptional circumstances” is extremely high, and the execution is at the Home Office’s mercy.
Not only is there no motive – political, economical or humanitarian - that justifies the minimum income threshold, it has also still not been proven that the hostile environment policy works at all. As Reunite Families UK, a charity fighting the unfairness of the minimum income requirement, writes in their open letter to the PM the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the policy’s harmful effects, and the upcoming recession will only make things worse. Write to your MP today to fix this broken system, and reunite families that have been teared up for years for no other reason than purely financial distress.
You can contact us here, call us on 020 8142 8211 or send us a question on WhatsApp if you need help reuniting your family.
In 1949, the Legal Aid and Advice Act introduced the first form of free legal aid schemes for those who found themselves in front of a judge but could not afford a lawyer. Before that, free legal advice was only available through schemes run by volunteer lawyers.
At a basic level, the Legal Aid and Advice Act ensured that people who could not afford legal costs could apply for legal aid and receive money provided by the government to cover those costs. The idea was that a welfare state should safeguard legal protection for everyone, and that lawyers should not be working for free for that to be the case. Initially, aid was almost unlimited, covering about 80% of British people. Unfortunately, this extensive coverage did not last.
In the 1980s, the growing cost of the legal aid budget became a political issue. In 1986, total legal payments had risen to £419m a year. The net cost was a lower, at £342m after contributions were recovered, but still a significant sum. That same year, rising taxpayer concerns over this budgeting led to the first cuts to legal aid entitlements.
As the decades went by, cuts became almost routine by consecutive Tory and Labour governments. When fixed fees replaced hourly fees for legal aid cases, law firms were forced to choose between taking on a high quantity of fixed fee legal aid applications and lowering the time spent on each application, or limiting legal aid work to ensure that each caseworker would actually be able to manage their cases, deliver high-quality advice, and make a proper living. As a consequence, many legal aid providers started avoiding more complicated areas of the law like immigration and asylum, or at the very least limit the types of applications for which they provided legal aid, leaving migrants with less options to get the advice and the representation they so desperately need.
Thus, legal aid became progressively more limited, and eligibility requirements more stringent, until before the 2008 economic crisis, only 29% of people were eligible. In the aftermath of the banking crisis, the coalition government then passed the 2012 Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO), which was supposed to reduce legal aid spending by £350m by 2015. Criminal and family law aid, the former of which at one point accounted for 80% of the legal aid budget, were hit heaviest by the cuts, but funding for immigration cases also crippled, as almost all matters unrelated to asylum were removed from the scope of legal aid. For the very few immigration applications (human trafficking, asylum, domestic violence and immigration detention) that remained within its scope, the pay was cut even further.
Inevitably, these developments caused a wreckage in legal aid practices across the country. Half of all law centres and not-for-profit legal advice centres in England closed down since LASPO made it into law, and more people than ever are forced to represent themselves in court.
Yet again, Britain is failing the most vulnerable members of society. Asylum seekers’ access to justice and immigration law practitioners’ financial viability are dually strained, and a decrease in funding paired with an increase in demand has led us to where we are now: operating within a failing system, on the brink of collapse. The risk of collapse is more acute in some sectors such as family courts, just as conceivable in immigration tribunals. Like many other aspects of the welfare state, the legal aid process has been marketised, commercialised and as a consequence, dehumanised. We should aim to do better.
You can search for legal aid firms using the search tool on the Immigration Law Practitioners' Association here.
Six months after the EUSS was piloted in November 2018, the Migration Observatory published their initial report analysing which EU Citizens were at risk of failing to secure the rights to which they are entitled after Brexit through the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS). As time passed, it became increasingly clear that the EUSS process had many flaws, including the double-counting of applications, inaccurate estimates of the number of EU nationals living in the UK, and the Home Office’s inability to ensure vulnerable communities actually know about and apply to the Scheme. Now, with less than 12 months left before the closure of the Scheme on 30 June 2021, many cracks in the EUSS system still remain. Vulnerable applicants especially, whether at risk of missing the deadline due to their age, language abilities, technological abilities, health issues, home circumstances or something else, are still not applying in as great of a number as they should be.
The lack of outreach to certain vulnerable communities, and the challenge the EUSS in its current form poses to them, is a real problem for many individuals who have been living in the UK for years. One example of such a vulnerable community is the Roma people, of which it is it is estimated that there are at least 200,000 living in the UK, the vast majority in England.
The Roma community is made up of people from different sub-communities, from different countries and nationalities across Europe. They speak different languages and often interact mainly with people from their known, relatively closed network. Combined with a low literacy level within their community, this makes it hard to spread information about external issues like Brexit and the EU Settlement Scheme into their circles.
As such, the Roma Support Group reported that the vast majority of Roma people they interviewed knew about Brexit, but were unaware of specific information on how to apply for immigration status after Brexit. The ones that did know about the EUSS did not acquire that knowledge through the traditional channels of Home Office communication outlets such as adverts, radio, social media, etc. Rather, they get their information from trusted individuals within their community.
Of the Roma people that have already applied to the EUSS, which is only a minority, a significant amount required additional support and time to submit applications; in fact, only 3% of Roma people who have applied to the scheme to date were able to do so completely independently. These extremely low numbers are not surprising when considering that Roma people are less likely to be IT proficient, and more likely to need language support, than other EEA nationals in the UK.
To make matters worse, Roma people’s applications are often amongst the most complex ones. Roma people often encounter difficulties when trying to obtain ID cards, which is one of the requirements when applying under the EUSS. The Roma Support Group reports that Slovak Romas, for example, have difficulties in obtaining passports, especially for their children born in the UK. The waiting times for appointments at the Slovak Embassy is approximately 3 to 4 months, the Embassy operates only in London and due to financial and time restrictions, many Roma are not able to obtain their passports in the UK. Some Slovak Roma have already travelled to Slovakia to apply for passports for their children because that turned out to be easier than obtaining them in the UK.
Even if they do have ID cards, Roma people often have a harder time proving their residency due to their community lifestyle and culture. Examples of complicated applications include Roma rough sleepers and Roma women, who are less likely to be employed, making it harder for them to prove their residency. As a consequence, many of them end up receiving the wrong status. In fact, 15–25% of Roma women and elderly Roma the Roma Support Group engaged with had to apply for pre-settled status despite having lived in the UK for more than 5 years, to avoid the difficulties that they face in providing the documents needed to obtain settled status.
Coram, a legal charity founded in 1981 that works to promote children's rights both in the UK and abroad, states that the Home Office is also failing to recognise a particular gap in applications coming from children in the UK. With more than 900,000 eligible EEA citizen children thought to have been living in the UK in 2017, less than half had been granted status under settlement scheme by 31 March 2020. Of eligible children in the care system, the number of which is estimated at 9000, only about 500 had secured status by that same date.
Many of these children will be British citizens either by birth or through registration, but are not aware that they need to register in order to confirm their citizenship. The children who fail to do so are at risk of losing both their citizenship and their EUSS status after 30 June 2021, warns Coram.
Additionally, Coram highlights the issues that arise form granting vulnerable children pre-settled status, stating that vulnerable children should not be granted short-term forms of immigration status, as these do not offer adequate levels of protection. Short-term immigration status such as pre-settled status not only pose challenges for local authorities seeking to plan for children’s futures, but also very immediate challenges for young people who must undergo a probationary period before being able to settle in the UK. Additionally, children granted pre-settled status may not always understand that they will need to re-apply in order to remain in the UK lawfully. If they fail to do so in time, they are at risk of hundreds of thousands of people falling out of the EU settlement scheme and losing their residency rights.
No child or young person who previously held pre-settled status should fall off their route to settled status in the event that they do not make the settled status application at the right time. To prevent this, Coram asks that the Home Office should at the very least commit to prompting holders of pre-settled status before their status expires and telling them what they need to do to remain lawfully in the UK. Ideally, it would go beyond that and introduce a provision to grant settled status to all looked after children and care leavers who apply to the EU settlement scheme, because grants of pre-settled status are simply not in these children’s best interests.
This is something immigration experts on all sides of the political spectrum have warned for ever since the EU Settlement Scheme was introduced. No matter how much funding the government provides to help vulnerable people apply to the Scheme, it will not reach everyone it needs to, and vulnerable people who fail to apply in time will bear the consequences.
That is why practitioners and third-party organisations campaigned to make the EUSS a declaratory scheme instead of an active application process, in order to ensure that vulnerable groups such as Roma people and children would not be penalised unnecessarily and get the status they are eligible for. These efforts were in vain, as the Home Office reiterated only a few weeks ago that all EU citizens wishing to secure status in the UK will have to apply under the EUSS in its current format in order to remain lawfully resident and not become subject to the hostile environment rules.
EU support groups have since scaled back their recommendations. Coram, for one, have advised that in order to avoid EU children becoming unlawful residents in the UK, the £1012 citizenship fee currently charged to children, which prevents many children from accessing their rights, should be scrapped, vulnerable children to be identified more accurately across the country, and the EUSS deadline should be extended. Disappointingly, the Home Office, on their behalf, has clarified that the government does not plan on extending the deadline, even in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and all the consequences that flow from it. It has not proposed any other clear changes to accommodate children at risk, except clarified that social workers have an explicit duty to apply help children in their care apply under the Scheme.
To avoid a political and moral disaster when it turns out that members of these vulnerable groups have not applied to the Scheme in time, the Home Office will have to give and do more – more outreach, more time, more flexibility, and more humanity.
It is no secret that many couples and immigration practitioners have long been growing frustrated with the requirements to evidence family relationships when applying for a family visa in the UK. Every year, a significant amount of family applications are rejected on the basis of the applicant not providing the adequate documents to evidence relationship requirements.
For Spouse visas, the Home Office guidance states, “an applicant and their partner must provide evidence that they are in a genuine and subsisting relationship.” This is to avoid marriages of convenience or “sham marriages.” But what is a “genuine and subsisting” relationship and worse yet, how does one prove it?
Appendix FM-SE of the immigration rules deals with evidencing all the requirements set out for family visas in the UK. For married couples, it specifies that a marriage certificate is a mandatory requirement to prove the marriage. This is confirmed in the the Home Office guidance on family relationships for partners, divorce and civil partnerships. Unfortunately, neither the Appendix or the guidance specify what evidence is needed to satisfy the “genuine relationship” test.
Since the criterium is vaguely worded, and there is little clear guidance on the subject, it is only logical that applicants often do not realise how much evidence they are expected to present to fulfil the requirement. As a general rule, it is up to the person filling in the application form and, in this case, relying on the existence of a relationship, to prove any assertion made about it. The caseworker who looks at the application will not do their own investigatory work on an applicant’s behalf.
Unsurprisingly, when spouse visa applications get refused, lack of a “genuine and subsisting relationship” is therefore often cited as the reason for refusal. Almost always, the refusal does not mean that the relationship is not genuine, but rather that the applicant failed to give adequate or enough information (in the view of the deciding caseworker) to prove that it was genuine. This is a subjective factor, which depends on the caseworker reading your application. That is why the general advice is to prepare all your immigration applications for the most cynical caseworker on a bad day, to ensure that any caseworker who reads it will view it favorably.
So, what are examples of good evidence? Some of them are obvious – children or stepchildren for which both partners have cared, for example, are an example of strong evidence of a subsisting relationship. If a couple has been living together for a while, the requirement can be relatively easy to fulfil. Joint tenancy agreements, joint bills or mortgage deeds are good examples of proof the Home Office would most likely accept as evidence of the relationship. Any other correspondence, especially from government departments or local government, sent to the applicant at the same address as their partner would also get the applicant brownie points.
Home Office guidance specifies that cultural and external factors must be taken into account when evaluating the genuineness of a relationship. If for cultural or religious reasons, the applicant couple did not live together before they got married, for example, or did not know each other very well, that should not mean that their relationship does not satisfy the requirement.
Thus, if a couple has been living apart for a lengthy period of time, or have never lived together before making the application, the situation might be a bit more complicated, and the evidence needed a bit more creative. Good examples of evidence include joint holiday bookings, visits to each other’s home countries, shared financial responsibilities (e.g. bank accounts, savings, utility bills, membership accounts, …), and plans for the future in the UK (think accommodation, finances, etc.) Witness statements from the couple, their family members or neighbours can also be useful.
As ever, this briefing this is not a substitute for legal advice. Fulfilling the “genuine and subsisting relationship” requirement for the purposes of a UK spouse visa application can be one of the most challenging aspects of the process.
Couples who have received a refusal on such grounds could benefit from legal advice to strengthen their evidence in order to submit a subsequent successful application. If you would like an experienced immigration lawyer to talk about your specific application, you can book our one-off video consultation service here. If you have a question about this service you can contact us here or send us a question on WhatsApp.
COVID-19 makes it difficult, if not impossible to operate a normal immigration system. Travel restrictions make entering or leaving the UK a complex process, implementing ordinary work or income requirements for visas can undermine public health messages, and to make matters worse, the Home Office itself has been heavily impacted by the government-imposed lockdown, as their staffing levels have suffered and their workload is constantly changing. It is therefore not surprising that numerous changes aimed at ensuring that the UK’s immigration and visa systems continues to function properly have been announced in the past few months. Last week, a cross-party Home Affairs Select Committee published its report on the Home Office response to the impact of COVID-19 on the immigration and visa systems.
In the report, the Committee welcomes the government decision to scrap the immigration health surcharge for all NHS and social care workers, calling it “a recognition of the contribution made by the front-line workers fighting COVID-19.” However, it is said not to go far enough. Committee Chair Yvette Cooper MP said: “It is very welcome that the Government has agreed to waive the Immigration Health Surcharge and extend the bereavement scheme for NHS and social care workers. However, most care workers and low-paid NHS support staff are still excluded from receiving the free one-year visa extension granted to clinical staff, and as a result could be facing costs of hundreds or thousands of pounds this summer.
The Committee therefore recommends to open free visa extensions to the same range of employees as they have done for the immigration health surcharge waiver. It also recommends simplifying (and lowering the price tag) of paths to British citizenship and permanent residency to those health and social care workers who risked their lives during the pandemic.
“Excluding the care workers who hold dying residents' hands, the cleaners who scrub the door handles and floors of the COVID-19 wards, or the porters who take patients to intensive care is just wrong. The Government must ensure that all measures of support for NHS and care workers apply to all frontline staff equally, irrespective of grade or job title.”
The Committee also evaluated visa extensions for non-NHS staff. When announcing the Home Office policy change which allowed all visas due to expire before 31 July 2020 to be extended, the Home Secretary said that “nobody will be punished for circumstances outside of their control”. To make good on that promise, the Committee recommends that the Home Office implement automatic, blanket visa extensions instead of making individuals apply for them via email, to ensure that individuals do not overstay their visa unintentionally.
Highlighting a concern which lawyers and immigration experts flagged up immediately after the visa extensions were made public, the report reiterates there is currently no legal basis for any of these extensions. Individuals relying on government policy announcements (which can be changed at any given time and lack legal foundation) need legal reassurance that their extension is lawful and valid and that they can continue to live and work in the UK. The Committee therefore recommends that the Home Office implements a statutory instrument (a form of secondary legislation) to clarify the legal basis of both the extension of leave for all individuals who are unable to leave the country before the expiry of their current visa, and for the automatic extension of leave offered to NHS staff.
Analysing the financial impact of the coronavirus on the visa system as a whole, the report acknowledges the disruption and economic impact of COVID-19, recognising that many individuals have lost their jobs or seen their income significantly reduced through no fault of their own. It is within this context that the Committee recommends adapting visa requirements such as the Minimum Income requirement to take loss of income due to COVID-19 into account when evaluating applications. In order to ensure public health and safety for all, the Government is also urged to lift the No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) conditions, which caused turmoil a few weeks ago when it seemed like the PM was not aware of the policy’s existence. The Committee Chair said the government “needs to make sure that these exceptional Covid-19 circumstances aren't pushing families into desperate hardship because of the NRPF rules which prevent them getting the urgent support they need.”
Last but not least, the Home Affairs Committee evaluated the impact of the coronavirus on the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS), calling upon the Home Office to step up their efforts to identify vulnerable persons who may not have applied to the EUSS yet.
The report shows that COVID-19 has exacerbated the underlying problems of the EUSS. One of those problems is the lack of information on how the Home Office will approach late applications (applications made after the deadline of 30 June 2021.) The Home Affairs Committee recommendations include a clarification of what support will be provided to assist vulnerable individuals in applying, especially for children in care, given that there is a low application rate for that particular group of people. At the minimum, it is said local authorities should increase their work to identify EU children in care who have not yet applied to the scheme, but ideally, more comprehensive measures should be implemented. The Committee therefore recommends that the Home Office grant automatic Settled Status to all children in care and care leavers, without requiring them to explicitly apply.
The Committee also calls on the Home Office to clarify the legal position of those with pre-settled status. During the pandemic, people with pre-settled status have questioned whether they are able to access all public funds, specifically whether they can get benefits, or whether those rights are reserved for people with indefinite leave to remain only.
To sum up, just like many experts in the area, the Committee is willing to cut the Home Office some slack in these unprecedented times. It is appreciated that going through the normal routes to introduce new policies is made complicated by circumstances outside of the government’s control. However, it is in times like these that guidance needs to be clear, unambiguous, and publicly available so that practitioners know the law, visa holders feel secure, and the Home Office act legally to address the issues we face.
Whilst waiting to find out if their asylum claim is accepted, asylum seekers are often stuck in the country where they lodged their claim for months. In the UK, they are not allowed to work during this time, yet they have to provide for themselves. To help alleviate their financial burden, the government provides them with “Asylum Support” which includes housing and a small cash allowance for essential products such as clothing, food, and toiletries.
The government guidance on eligibility and access to this support is clear. To qualify for accommodation, an asylum seeker will have to prove that they have nowhere else to stay. For the cash allowance, they will have to prove that they do not have the means to survive. Applicants should fill in form ASF1, which asks about their financial situation and that of their relatives, await a decision, and then receive the support they qualify for.
In practice, however, the decision-making process is slow, leaving applicants in limbo for weeks if not months before getting the support they need. Housing is scarce, and there is often a waiting list for accommodation. The cash allowance is minimal: asylum seekers are expected to make do with just over £5 a day. To make matters worse, they are often forced to spend a significant part of that sum on public transport, as they have to report once a week to the immigration authorities whilst awaiting the outcome of their application. This makes it very hard for asylum seekers and their families to make ends meet.
A number of charities have challenged this allowance in the past, arguing that it is unrealistic to expect anyone to survive on that little money. They argue that asylum support should be more in line with Universal Credit rates, which are more than twice as high as the Asylum Support allowance.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, these charities’ voices were amplified. As prices are rising in general, and all citizens are expected to invest in basic hygiene products such as hand sanitiser, masks and pain killers to avoid the spread of the coronavirus, the economic hardship imposed on asylum seekers has spiralled out of control. That is why on June 8th, the Immigration Minister Chris Philp announced that from June 15th, the stipend or Asylum Support rates would increase - from £37.75 to £39.60 per week, to be precise. Effectively, that amounts to an increase of 26p a day. If that does not sound very ambitious, that’s because it isn’t. If before the pandemic, asylum support rates were already significantly lower than mainstream benefits, the gap has now widened beyond belief, as they are now barely equal to 40% of the allowance people over 25 receive on Universal Credit.
With the prospects of inflation and an economic crisis on the horizon, over 250 organisations, faith groups and community leaders wrote to Home Secretary Priti Patel to ask her to urgently reconsider her decision. They called the proposed changes to the Asylum Support Rates “an insult, not an increase”, and instead requested an increase in line with the recent changes to Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit, which were increased by approximately £20 per week as part of the coronavirus relief measures. As of yet, there has been no response from the Home Office.
When lockdown measures were introduced in March, the Prime Minister stated that the UK “will look after all the most vulnerable in society” including asylum seekers. On 23 May, he stated that, “we will make sure that nobody in this country, let alone asylum seekers, is ill-treated.”. Ensuring that people seeking safety in the UK are able to meet their essential needs and stay safe, and making up to those promises, however, will take more than a 26p increase in funds.
On 14 May 2020 (1), amendments to the Home Office Nationality Policy Naturalisation guidance was indeed re-published. The Nationality Policy Naturalisation guidance is issued to Home Office caseworkers processing naturalisation applications to help them determine if an applicant meets the legal criteria to be naturalised. The guidance is publicly available so that those applying for naturalisation (and those assisting them to apply), can understand how the various criteria will be assessed and what evidence is required with the application to demonstrate the conditions are met.
In spite of what has been implied in certain media reports, the updated guidance does not constitute a change in the legal position for EEA citizens. Rather, it amended the sections relating to “Breaches of immigration law in the qualifying period”(2) and “People who are lawfully resident in the UK”(3) to include references to EEA citizens and their family members(4) who are relying on their grant of settled status (Indefinite Leave to Remain) under the EU settlement scheme (EUSS), to demonstrate that they are settled in the UK(5).
Nationality law requires a person naturalising to have a five-year or three-year lawful qualifying period, working back from the date they apply for naturalisation. The three-year lawful qualifying period is for those who are married to or are in a civil partnership with a British citizen. The five-year lawful qualifying period is for all other applicants. Before the EUSS existed, this lawful qualifying period criteria would normally be satisfied by an EEA citizen by acquiring EU/EEA permanent residency in the UK(6). The EEA citizen could then apply for naturalisation either 12 months after the acquisition of permanent residence or, immediately on obtaining permanent residence if they are married to or in a civil partnership with a British citizen.
The EUSS has changed the situation described above for some EEA citizens who wish to naturalise. This is because rather than applying for EU/EEA permanent residence documents, most EEA citizens with a 5-year residence in the UK now apply directly into the EUSS for settled status(7). However, because the EUSS application does not assess whether the applying EEA citizen was exercising their treaty rights in the UK, being granted settled status is not confirmation that the citizen was resident in the UK lawfully during the qualifying five years relied on.
The grant of settled status only confirms that the EEA citizen has been physically resident in the UK for five years at the point they applied to the EUSS. That is not to say that a citizen granted settled status has not been in the UK lawfully during their five-year qualifying period, only that the EUSS is not designed to assess this particular legal point. In other words, being granted settled status is not reliant on lawful UK residence. As a consequence, when an EEA citizen applies for naturalisation relying on their settled status to demonstrate that they are settled in the UK, the Home Office caseworker cannot tell whether they were lawfully residence in the UK for the period before they were granted EUSS status. Therefore, part of the naturalisation process has to include an assessment as to whether the EEA citizen was lawfully resident (rather than just resident), in the UK for the three or five-year qualifying period that applies to them.
When assessing lawful residence, any period after the citizen was granted settled status (or granted pre-settled status which was then converted into settled status), will be considered lawful because it is leave to remain granted under the 1971 Immigration Act. However, because the EUSS has only been in existence since August 2018 (and open to the whole EEA population since March 2019), any EEA citizen applying for naturalisation at the present time will have to rely on a period of lawful residence that pre-dates their grant of EUSS status. Therefore, what the Home Office caseworker must do according to the new guidance, is assess the period of lawful qualifying residence that pre-dates the grant of EUSS status, through the prism of the exercise of treaty rights. This will be the only way to tell whether the EEA citizen was in the UK lawfully for that period.
Carrying out the assessment in this way means that some EEA citizens who hold settled status will not be able to naturalise as British citizens if their pre-EUSS status was not in accordance with the Free Movement Directive/exercising treaty rights (for example an economically self-sufficient person who did not hold comprehensive sickness insurance). A citizen in this situation will need to wait for either five years or three years from the date that they were first granted EUSS status, in order to meet the lawful qualifying period to naturalise. This is what, as we previously reported, complicates the naturalisation process for EEA nationals.
The guidance does contain a discretion for the caseworker to overlook certain breaches of lawful residence which, which includes a situation where an EEA citizen did not hold comprehensive sickness insurance for example. The wording of the discretion says that the requirement to be lawfully resident will be disapplied where:
"the breach was because the applicant did not meet an additional/implicit condition of stay, rather than illegal entry or overstaying, such as an EEA or Swiss national not having CSI and can provide sufficient evidence to justify discretion being exercised in their favour”(8)
There is no information in the wording of the discretion as to what evidence, or situation will constitute one that justifies discretion being exercised in the applicant’s favour. Therefore, an EEA citizen wishing to naturalise but who may fall foul of the requirement to hold comprehensive sickness insurance, will not know whether or not their application would be successful based on the information provided as to how the discretion should operate. They risk the £1350 naturalisation application fee without any guarantee of a successful outcome(9).
From a practitioner’s perspective, it would be advisable that any applicant in a situation where there is a risk of being refused for not holding comprehensive sickness insurance not to apply for naturalisation (unless they were prepared for the outcome to be unsuccessful). The reason for this stance is that irrespective of the existence of the discretion to overlook the lack of comprehensive sickness insurance, the discretion is so ill-defined as to be meaningless to base legal advice on.
As set out above, there has not been any change to the legal requirements to become a naturalised British citizen, as all applicants for naturalisation irrespective of their nationality must have a five or three-year lawful qualifying period to rely on. However, some of the reporting around this new guidance, including our own, indicates or implies that the Home Office has made it more difficult for EEA citizens wishing to apply for naturalisation. Carrying out these checks in relation to lawful residence by making citizens demonstrate they were exercising treaty rights undoubtably creates an increased evidential burden on EEA citizens apply for naturalisation, particularly for those who have not applied for an EU/EEA permanent residence document in the past. However, the Home Office was always able to request this evidence even before the explicit guidance was published, as the guidance does not create a new legal requirement to be lawfully resident. Instead, it clarifies the way in which case workers should assess lawful residence for EEA citizens applying with settled status. Given that the EUSS opened initially in August 2018 and then to all EEA citizens in March 2019, it is evident that this guidance document could and should have been provided at a much earlier stage. This way EEA citizens would have had clarity on exactly what they are required to evidence when applying to naturalise. The delay in clarifying this need for EEA citizens to evidence that they were lawfully resident in the UK for the period before their EUSS status grant will increase the perception that there has been a change in the law or approach of the Home Office, and that it was only implemented to make life more difficult for EEA citizens wishing to become British after obtaining settled status.
(1) See Home Office document Nationality policy: Naturalisation as a British citizen by discretion Version 5.0
(2) Note that this is different the condition in the Good Character Requirement that requires in the 10 years pre-dating the naturalisation application, the applicant has complied with immigration requirements. The guidance states “Breach of the immigration laws’ for the purpose of the residence requirements refers only to unlawful residence. It does not include contravening immigration law in any other way, but this is considered as part of the good character requirement.” [page 25]
(3) See pages 25 - 31
(4) References to EEA citizen should be read to cover their non-EEA family members
(5) Being a settled resident is a condition which citizens of all nationalities must meet to naturalise and means there must be no time limit on the amount of time they can reside in the UK.
(6) Generally permanent residence is acquired after a five continuous period in the UK where the EEA citizen has been exercising “treaty rights” under the Free Movement Directive or the EU treaties.
(7) Those who qualify for pre-settled status (Limited Leave to Remain) cannot apply for naturalisation as they are not considered settled in the UK, one of the conditions to naturalise.
(8) See Guidance document page 28
(9) £80 would be refunded out of the total fee in the event of an unsuccessful application
On 28 May 2020, China’s legislature approved controversial national security laws to be implemented in Hong Kong. With these new laws, Beijing is trying to discourage and stop the protests against the mainland’s tightening grip on Hong Kong which have been taking place for over a year now.
The new laws have been criticised internationally as anti-democratic. Critics fear that the laws will undermine the city’s autonomy under the “one country, two systems” framework which was created when Britain handed Hong Kong back to China in 1997. Under this system, Hong Kong was returned to the mainland on a number of conditions, including a certain level of autonomy in the region as well as the maintenance of certain defined freedoms that do not exist in mainland China, such as the freedom of expression.
In the ten years leading up to the handover, people from Hong Kong were entitled to apply to register for British National Overseas (BNO) status. Many did, either to retain a connection to the UK, or simply because this was their only way to obtain a passport at that time. For Hong Kong residents, the final deadline to apply for BOC was 1 July 1997, when Hong Kong was handed back to China.
Where a Hong Kong British Dependant Territory Citizen (BDTC), which is what Hong Kong residents were called under British rule, was left stateless due to the handover because they lost their BDTC status and China did not recognise them as Chinese nationals, they automatically received British Overseas Citizenship (BOC) by operation of law, even if they failed to register by the deadline. This means that although there may be relatively few people who actually hold a BNO passport, many more of them received a BOC or BNO status automatically. As such, as of February 2020, there are only about 350,000 holders of BN(O) passports in Hong Kong, but Home Office estimates of the amount of BNOs actually living in Hong Kong lie closer to 3 million. All of them would be eligible for a BNO passport should they request one.
Neither BOC or BNO status include the right of abode, meaning that holders do not have any automatic right to live and work in the UK. BNO and BOC citizens are not considered British citizens; they must comply with all immigration rules the same way that third-party nationals do. The status does not provide the holders with a “home country,” only to legal and consular protection. In light of the new national security laws passed by Beijing, however, the Home Office announced that the government was going to “explore options to allow BN(O)s to apply for leave to stay in the UK, if eligible, for an extendable period of 12 months.” Foreign secretary Dominic Raab explained that the government plans on granting everyone with BNO or BOC status in Hong Kong 12-month extendable periods of leave, providing a clear “path to citizenship” not only for the 350,000 current BNO passport holders in Hong Kong, but including the more than 2.9 million residents eligible to apply for the passport.
The Prime Minister called the opening of this path to citizenship one of the “biggest changes” to the British visa system, as nearly 3 million Hong Kong citizens could be eligible to move to the UK as a consequence of it. He stood by the US, Canada and Australia joint statement that Hong Kong , which “flourished as a bastion of freedom," now needs and deserves protection against an increasingly encroaching Chinese state.
The Prime Minister’s proposal, however, needs to be put into a wider context. Clearly, the government is not solely concerned for the people of Hong Kong. There are other motives for this seemingly radical move. One of them is – unsurprisingly so – financial. If BNO’s apply for a 12-month extendable period of leave, and are then required to extend their status year after year until they reach the usual 10-year threshold of long residency before being able to apply for British citizenship, the cost of those successive applications could be as high as £20,389.40 per person. That is an astronomical potential profit for the Home Office.
Additionally, in light of the new points-based immigration system which the Johnson government is planning to implement in January 2021, a cynic might suggest that the proposal to Hong Kong residents is more of a calculated political move than a human rights initiative. Under the points-based system, it will become much harder for EU citizens, of which the Home Office estimates there are currently about 3.7 million living in the UK, to move and work here. As the PM realises the ramifications of closing the borders to EU workers, his offer to Hong Kong residents could help filling the void that Brexit leaves in the British economy and job market. After all, the people of Hong Kong the PM is appealing to, who were born before 1997, are now in their twenties and older – the prime age to move and work abroad, or who are financially secure and will be able to give the economy a much needed boost.
Maybe the rules could be adapted for Hong Kong nationals to lighten the financial burden, or fast-track applications so that the 10-year threshold does not have to be met. The Foreign Secretary and PM have confirmed that the changes are conditional upon China implementing the newly proposed laws. The details of the plan are still being worked out, and no changes to the Immigration Rules or citizenship legislation have been announced yet. The Chinese government, on their end, have firmly opposed the move by the UK, stating that it is a violation of the 1997 handover agreement that stipulates BNO passport holders do not enjoy UK residency. It remains to be seen how much of an impact the PM’s threat will have on China’s expansionist plans, and to what extent the UK government is willing to press on the issue.
After the death of George Floyd on 25 May 2020 at the hands of a white police officer, protests against police brutality and institutional racism erupted in the US and around the world. The US now finds itself in a period of political unrest and upheaval not unlike after Martin Luther King’s assassination in 1968. In the UK, George Floyd’s death resonated with many, mobilising thousands in London, Manchester and Cardiff to march in solidarity with Black Lives Matter, a movement dedicated to ending violence and systemic racism towards black people.
Highlighting the racism and unfairness engrained in the American justice system is important, but it is easy to judge what happens abroad without looking inward. The reality is that Britain is not innocent when it comes to institutional racism or police brutality – far from.
When it comes to UK immigration, the dissonance between how white (Western) immigrants and immigrants of colour from the Global East and South are treated is painstakingly stark. The culmination of these double standards was the 2018 Windrush Scandal, which erupted after Theresa May introduced the hostile environment rules in 2012. Under the hostile environment, those who lack documents evidencing their lawful residence become subject to the hostile environment checks. They are no longer allowed to work, rent or even open a bank account in the UK.
Many people of colour who came to the UK in the 50s, 60s and 70s from Commonwealth countries were granted indefinite leave to remain in 1971 but when the hostile environment kicked in, thousands of them were not able to prove their status, and as a consequence, were wrongly told that they were in Britain illegally. Hundreds were detained, and some of them deported, despite living and working in the UK legally for decades.
Although Windrush victims are now able to apply for compensation under the Windrush Scheme, the number of applications has been remarkably low, and internal reviews confirmed that the government’s hostile environment immigration policies still have devastating impacts on the lives and families of black citizens in the UK. With the new Points-Based Immigration system, set to come into force in January 2021, that impact is set to worsen. Requirements like visa fees (UK fees are among the highest in the world), income thresholds (the minimum salary under the PBS is set at £25,600) and health surcharges (recent controversy on the NHS surcharge led the government to scrap it for migrant NHS staff) have been found to predominately affect those from the East or South, as they are less likely to be able to meet financial requirements. The new points-based system thus builds on existing discriminatory structures instead of breaking them down. That is not a coincidence.
Don’t be mistaken - Windrush was a direct result of an immigration system set up to discriminate against some but not others. It was not just a profound institutional failure or mistake of government. It was not a mistake at all, but rather simply the hostile environment rules put into practice. The points-based system is a continuation of that. It is institutional racism at its peak, rearing its ugly head yet again, here in the UK.
When the then Prime Minister Theresa May (yes, you read that right - the same person who introduced the hostile environment in the first place) apologized for the catastrophe of Windrush in April 2018, she insisted it was not her government’s intent to disproportionately affect people from Afro-Caribbean backgrounds in the operation of her hostile environment policy. That statement shows exactly what the government fails, or refuses, to understand, namely that racism is much bigger than discrimination with intent, that it encompasses more than active and direct discrimination. It is about institutional neglect of certain parts of the population, certain neighbourhoods, and certain ethnic minorities, creating and feeding into more hardship for those groups compared to their white British counterparts. The public health crisis that we are currently dealing with is only the latest of an endless string of examples.
People of colour are 2.5 times more likely to die of COVID-19 than their white counterparts in the UK. For the black Caribbean and African population, that number goes up to three against one. This is partly because BAME communities are more exposed to the virus, as a third of all working age black Africans and black Carribeans work in key worker roles (that is 50% more than white British people), whilst Indian men are 150% more likely to work in health or social care roles than their white British counterparts. It is also because BAME communities are more economically vulnerable to the current crisis than white ethnic groups, and not enough is done to actively help them bridge that gap.
To make matters worse, people of colour are not only more likely to die of the virus once they get it, but they are also 54% more likely to get fined for violating lockdown rules than the white majority British population. More broadly, in our criminal justice system, Metropolitan Police officers are four times more likely to use force against black people compared with the white population.
It is true that the UK is not a nation of gun ownership like the US. It is true that British police officers do not carry weapons. And it is true that these things play a part in limiting violence and abuse of power. But we cannot trick ourselves into believing we are so much better, and that it could not happen here. The US might be a land of extremes, and the UK a country of covertness, but the foundational institutional challenges we face are the same.
Measures taken to fight the COVID-19 pandemic are causing major societal and governmental upheavals not only in the UK, but everywhere around the globe. Individuals who are applying for a UK visa, and those who already hold one, are naturally concerned about various challenges posed by the pandemic. This post is an attempt at giving you an overview of the most significant ways in which the coronavirus affects immigrants in the UK, up to date as of 1 June 2020. Information changes frequently, so make sure to keep an eye on the government website, but also our twitter page and the freemovement website to stay fully up to date.
If you have any additional questions, feel free to contact us here or book an online legal consultation with us here so that we can help you further.
Visitors and short-term stays
The Home Office has stated that “no individual who is in the UK legally and whose visa expired after 24 January 2020, or is due to expire before 31 July 2020, will be regarded as an overstayer or suffer any detriment in the future if they cannot leave the UK because of travel restrictions related to COVID-19
Which measures have been taken to ensure this in practice?
- If you’re in the UK and your leave expires between 24 January 2020 and 31 July 2020, your visa will be extended to 31 July 2020 if you cannot leave the UK because of travel restrictions or self-isolation related to coronavirus (COVID-19). All you have to do is request an extension (which will be granted automatically) by updating your records with the Coronavirus Immigration Team (CIT) and the extension will be granted. You will be expected to return to your home country as soon as it is safe to do so.
- If your visa was previously was previously extended until 31 May 2020, it will automatically be extended further until 31 July. You do not need to do anything further – this additional extension is automatic.
- If you plan on staying in the UK longer-term, and the visa you are currently on expires before 31 July 2020, you can apply to switch to a long-term UK visa that date. This includes applications where you would usually need to apply for a visa from your home country.
You should apply under these temporary concessions if you are currently stuck in the UK and had leave to remain as a visitor, or under any other short-term category of the rules, which expired after 24 January 2020.
Are Visa Application Centres open?
After 10 weeks of lockdown, some UK Visa Application Centres (VACs) are starting to resume services, where local restrictions allow. However, ongoing global restrictions mean some UKVI services will remain closed. Contact your local VAC to find out the latest status:
- TLS contact if you’re in Europe, Africa and parts of the Middle East
- VFS global for all other countries
How do I schedule an appointment at a VAC?
If you had an appointment scheduled before lockdown measures came into force, you should receive an email from UKVCAS rescheduling your appointment. Due to the volume of appointments that will need to be rescheduled, it may take UKVCAS some time to contact you.
Anyone needing to make a new appointment will need to wait until these become available. People with previously scheduled appointments have priority.
What happens if I cannot get an appointment before my leave expires?
If your online immigration application was submitted when you had leave to remain in the UK, you will continue to be lawfully in the UK whilst waiting for a rescheduled or a new appointment. The same conditions of stay will remain in force.
Can I start working if I have not received a decision on my Tier 2 or Tier 5 application due to coronavirus-related delays in application processing?
If you’ve applied for a Tier 2 or 5 working visa and are waiting for a decision on your application, you can start work before your visa application has been decided if:
- you have been assigned a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS)
- you submitted your application before your current visa expired and you show your sponsor evidence of this
- the job you start is the same as the one listed on your CoS
If your application is eventually rejected as invalid or refused your sponsor will stop sponsoring you and you will then have to stop working for them.
What if I am an NHS worker?
Some frontline health workers and their families will get their visas automatically extended because of coronavirus. There are also changes to the conditions of visas for some frontline health workers. These changes will apply to you if you work for the NHS or independent health and care providers as a:
- biological scientist
- dental practitioner
- health professional
- medical practitioner
- medical radiographer
- occupational therapist
- social worker
- speech and language therapist
- therapy professional
Check with your employer if you’re not sure whether you work in an eligible profession.
Can I volunteer or work with the NHS if I do not have a working visa?
There is no longer a limit on the number of hours you can work or volunteer each week if you are a Tier 4 student, Tier 2 worker with an NHS job as a second job, visiting academic researcher, or a holder of a short-term visa which normally holds working/volunteering restrictions
Access to public funds (and the Furlough Scheme)
The “no recourse to public funds” (NRPF) rule is imposed on people with limited leave to enter or remain in the UK. It prohibits the person holding limited leave to remain from accessing certain defined public funds, such as Universal Credit or benefits. A person who claims public funds despite such a condition is committing a criminal offence. Such an offence may well carry future immigration effects, as any existing leave can be curtailed, and any future application refused as a consequence. Recently, the High Court has ruled that the government must make it easier for migrants to access the welfare system if they are about to become destitute, declaring part of the no access to public funds unlawful.
What does this mean for the Furlough Scheme? Can I get furloughed if I have limited leave to remain?
The Home Office has confirmed that the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme can be used for migrants. They have to meet the same eligibility requirements as other employees.
This is because Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme is not defined as ‘public funds’ in the Immigration Rules (Part 6 ‘Interpretation’). Therefore, migrants who are placed on furlough will not be in breach of their conditions of stay. However, it is important that they do not also claim any benefits which are defined as public funds.
New overseas applicants
Most visa application centres overseas are currently closed. The websites of VFS Global and TLScontact contain further information on specific locations.
Can I come to the UK I I obtained my visa before lockdown measures came into force?
Unlike other EU countries, the UK has not closed its borders – although flights and trains are limited – so you can travel to the UK if you already have a visa or you do not need one.
You should be advised that from 8 June 2020, people travelling to the UK (except from Ireland) will need to provide their journey and contact details by filling in an online form before they travel. After arriving in the UK they will need to self-isolate for 14 days. There will be exemptions for diplomats, transport workers and others.
Can I apply for a new visa?
It depends. UK visa application centres in most countries are closed but they are gradually starting to reopen.
You can still submit an online visa application, which is the first step of the visa process. You can also prepare your application so that it is ready to submit as soon as the visa application centres reopen in your area.
What if I am a Tier 4 student and my course is starting before I receive my visa?
You can start your course or studies before your visa application has been decided if:
- your sponsor is a Tier 4 sponsor
- you have been given a confirmation of acceptance for studies (CAS)
- you submitted your application before your current visa expired and you show your sponsor evidence of this
- the course you start is the same as the one listed on your CAS
- you have a valid Academic Technology Approval Scheme (ATAS) certificate if required
If your application is eventually rejected as invalid or refused you must stop your course or studies.
Before I submit my Home Office application I have to pass an English language test and/or the Life in the UK test but the test centres are closed. What do I do?
Test centres are gradually starting to reopen but it may not be possible to get an appointment before your visa expires.
Even if you cannot get an appointment in time, you should still submit your Home Office application before your visa expires. Do not book your UKVCAS appointment until the English language / Life in the UK test centres have reopened and you have been able to pass the test(s). You may not have met the English language / Life in the UK requirement on the date you applied but if you meet it on the date of your appointment it would be unreasonable for the Home Office to refuse your application in the current circumstances.
Absences from the UK due to COVID-19 and their impact on residency (Indefinite Leave to Remain Applicants, EEA citizens, etc.)
What if you have a long-term UK visa (with a view to get indefinite leave to remain), but you are stuck outside the UK for several months?
If you have a visa which leads to indefinite leave to remain you cannot normally spend more than 180 days outside the UK in any 12-month period during the five-year qualifying period. This rule does not apply to every visa category and the way it works depends on the date when your visa was issued.
The 180-day limit is usually strictly enforced. However, the Home Office considers granting indefinite leave to remain if your absences are over the limit but justified due to serious or compelling reasons. According to the Home Office guidance, serious or compelling reasons will vary but can include serious illness of the applicant or a close relative, a conflict, a natural disaster, for example, volcanic eruption or tsunami.
The Home Office has not confirmed that the coronavirus pandemic qualifies as a serious or compelling reason in this context, but it seems logical that it will.
However, note that this is at the Home Office’s discretion and therefore, if you stay abroad for too long, there is no guarantee that the excess absences will be accepted.
What if I have pre-settled status and I need additional years of residence in order to qualify for settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme?
For EEA citizens wanting to obtain indefinite leave to remain under the EU Settlement Scheme, the same thing applies as for other applicants wanting to obtain indefinite leave to remain via other routes. Normally, if you want to obtain settled status, you cannot spend more than 180 days outside the UK in any 12-month period during the five-year qualifying period. The Home Office has not confirmed that the coronavirus pandemic qualifies as a serious or compelling reason justifying exceptions for this rule in this context, but it seems logical that they will as it will be in accordance with EU law principles.
However, note that this is at the Home Office’s discretion and therefore, if you stay abroad for too long, there is no guarantee that the excess absences will be accepted.
Since the EU Settlement Scheme has fully opened on 30 March 2019, there have already been more than 3.5 million applications from EU, other EEA and Swiss citizens, and their family members. Applying to the scheme is mandatory for all EU citizens and other EEA/Swiss nationals who wish to continue living in the UK lawfully after the transition period. EU citizens have until the 30 June 2021 to apply under the Scheme. If they do not apply on time, they will be unlawful residents in the UK.
Just like every other aspect of life, and every other government service, the EU Settlement Scheme has been heavily affected by the coronavirus-induced lockdown. The (temporary) closures of phone advice lines, local scanning centres, and the inability to send in documents have had a severe impact on the reach and success of the EUSS.
When the UK lockdown measures came into force on 23 March 2020, all face-to-face support services for EUSS applicants were shut down. Visa centres and passport scanning locations closed. The postal route for making applications, which those without biometric passports or access to the mobile scanning application have to use in order to apply, temporarily stopped operating.
Additionally, many national embassies and consulates remain closed except for emergencies. This means that EU nationals who need to request or renew their ID documents in order to apply to the Scheme cannot do so. Even when those consulates reopen, there will be a backlog of applications, putting those who do not have a valid form of ID at an increased risk of missing the EUSS application deadline of 30 June 2021.
EEA nationals currently stranded abroad due to lockdown measures around the globe are also increasingly at risk of falling through the cracks. If an EEA national wants to obtain settled status under the EUSS, they will have to prove five years of continuous residence in the UK. Continuous residency means that they do not have more than six months of absences in any 12-month period. The general rule is that the Home Office allows for one longer absence from the UK for an ‘important reason,’ such as illness, but no pandemic-specific guidance has been given. As travel remains disrupted and discouraged across the globe, EEA nationals looking to apply for settled status in the next five years risk breaking their continuous residency and jeopardizing their future immigration status if the Home Office do not operate a flexible approach to absences. Although, the European Union perspective is that absences as a consequence of the pandemic should be disregarded entirely.
This week, Home Office support services and application routes are slowly but surely starting to reopen. In addition to a range of online, telephone and email support for those who have questions or need help applying, the postal route for making applications has now reopened, meaning that those without biometric passports or access to the scanning app can make their applications and send their ID documents to the Home Office. The ID scanning locations, however, remain closed.
Community groups across the UK have tried to make up for the reduced services, and continue to work with vulnerable EU nationals during the lockdown, but there is no denying that webinars and online assistance are less effective than the real thing. As a consequence, new applications to the EUSS halved in April, bringing them to their lowest since the launch of the Scheme. Yet, the Home Office has confirmed that they do not plan on extending the EUSS deadline, making EU citizens increasingly worried they might lose their ability to secure their right to long-term residence in the UK because of the pandemic.
According to a report published in 2019 the number of self-harm incidents in Colnbrook Immigration Removal Centre (IRC) has tripled since 2016. In 2015, 393 suicide attempts were reported in UK immigration detention centres. That same year, 2957 people in detention were put on suicide watch. In 2018, more than one person a day needed medical treatment for self-harming in detention, with the number of detainees on regular suicide watch still on the rise. Yet, the risk of suicide in detention is barely on the Home Office agenda.
In 2016, the Home Office called upon Stephen Shaw, former Prisons and Probation Ombudsman, to use his expertise and write a review on the welfare of vulnerable persons in detention. As a former government employee himself, he openly criticised some of the most irrational aspects of the Home Office’s policy towards vulnerable detainees.
In his report, Shaw highlighted some of the issues with the UK handling of Foreign National Offenders. These are the people who, once they finish their custodial sentence and are released from prison, often get stuck in detention for the longest periods of time. These are also the people who the Home Office have insisted on keeping in detention during the nine-week long (and counting) COVID-19 pandemic-induced lockdown, even though there has not been a realistic prospect of removal for months as planes were grounded all over the globe.
It is therefore on Foreign National Offenders that the effects of detention often weigh the most. Case in point is Michal Netyks, 35, who jumped from a first-floor window in HMP Altcourse in Liverpool on 7 December 2017. He had been due to be released from prison, having just completed his short criminal sentence. An inquiry found that Mr. Netyks had packed up his belongings and was waiting for his release when he was informed that he would continue to be detained under immigration powers pending possible deportation to Poland. He took his own life that very same day.
The Coroner’s report outlined numerous concerns with this practice, echoed in Shaw’s report. By de facto depriving ex-prisoners of their liberty indefinitely beyond their custodial release date, the Home Office shatters any hope and expectation of rebuilding and rehabilitating after a criminal offence. This is made infinitely worse by not giving prisoners any prior notice that they will be detained upon release from prison. In his review, Shaw wrote that this practice is most detrimental to the detainees’ mental health, fuelling suicidal tendencies and tragedies like Mr. Netyks’. Nevertheless, the Home Office made no changes to its policy; the responsibility for the horrendous consequences of this failure to act rests entirely on the government’s shoulders.
As a response to Shaw’s findings, the Home Office developed a new Adult at Risk policy for people held in detention under immigration powers. This new policy is underpinned by the rule 35 mechanism, which supposedly ensures that potential vulnerable adults are examined by a medical practitioner and that their detention is only maintained when there is absolutely no other option.
But the numbers tell us otherwise. In 2018, an average of two suicide attempts a day happened in UK detention centres. 56% of these attempts were committed by individuals who had a rule 35 report and were recognised vulnerable adults. Clearly, the rule 35 regime is not effective, despite the Home Office’s continued argument that they do everything in their power to flag up potential concerns about detainees’ suicidal tendencies.
Shaw also raised concerns about the concealment and coverups of deaths in detention. Generally, when someone dies in an IRC, the Home Office does not conform to the Ministry of Justice’s practice of publishing data on deaths of immigration detainees who passed away under Home Office supervision. That is why numbers and explanations are elusive, and thus, exacerbations of harm even harder to prevent. In Mr. Netyks’ case, the Coroner’s report found that files had actively been deleted and redacted by senior management, an alarming example of how non-transparent the Home Office is regarding death in detention.
Between 2000 and 2015, at least thirteen people committed suicide in detention. This accounts for 36% of the deaths that happened in detention in that same period of time. The high rate of self-inflicted deaths reflects the high rates of mental despair among immigration detainees caught in a system which is difficult to understand, and seems arbitrary and unfair. To prevent these horrible and inhumane results, it is not a question of improving the management of vulnerable people. Rather, the Home Office should ensure that they are not put in detention in the first please so as to avoid unnecessary and inhumane deaths and trauma.
On 15 May, the Home Office published an update to government nationality policy. The updated policy includes changes to the requirements for EEA nationals who want to become British citizens, and has major ramifications for EU citizens who apply for naturalisation after obtaining settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS).
After Brexit all European residents in the UK, as well as their family members, need to obtain immigration status under the EU Settlement Scheme. This is to ensure that they can continue to enjoy residence rights in the UK under national law instead of EU law when EU law stops being applicable at the end of the transition period. Under the Scheme, an EEA or Swiss citizen or their family members who have a 5 years’ continuous qualifying period of residence in the UK are eligible for settled status (provided they also meet any other relevant eligibility and suitability criteria). Put simply, if the individual can prove that they have been in the UK for five years, they are granted settled status, a status which is supposedly equivalent to indefinite leave to remain. Those with a continuous qualifying period of less than 5 years’ are eligible for pre-settled status.
As a general rule, anyone who wants to naturalise as a British citizen must have lived in the UK for five years (or three years if they are married to a British national). The period of residence must be a lawful period of residence, and only a certain number of absences from the UK are permitted during that period.
The Home Office has long considered EU citizens physically present in the UK without a right of residence under EU law as individuals in breach of UK immigration law. As such, EEA citizens living in the UK without studying, working, or looking for work are not exercising treaty rights and therefore, unlawfully resident. But the EUSS partly abandons that rhetoric, as settled status is granted irrespective of what the individual was doing in the UK for five years, as long as they can prove that they were present in the UK for the required period of time. Immigration lawyers had previously expressed concern on how this would affect naturalisation applications from people who obtained status under the EUSS. The new guidance now confirms their fears, clarifying that when individuals apply for naturalisation, settled status alone might not be enough to fulfil the criteria for citizenship.
The updated guidance states: “However, this grant of settled status (also known as indefinite leave to enter or remain) will not confirm that they were here lawfully under the EEA Regulations during that time, as defined by the British Nationality Act 1981 as this is not a requirement of the EU Settlement Scheme. You may therefore need to request further information from the applicant to demonstrate this. The naturalisation application form (Form AN) asks for information to confirm the applicant was lawfully in the UK for the relevant 3 or 5 year qualifying period.”
An applicant who is applying based on their settled status can still get citizenship, if the caseworkers exercise their discretion when considering the application. EU nationals will have to “provide sufficient evidence to justify discretion being exercised in their favour.”
In other words, the policy update confirms that because settled status-type leave to remain does not directly prove that the applicant’s residence up to the point of getting settled status was in accordance with immigration law, an individual wanting to become a British citizen will have to show that they were, in fact, lawfully resident for the qualifying period when they apply for naturalisation in addition to proving their settled status. This goes against previous Home Office verbal assurances that ‘they’ll be flexible and pragmatic’, that ‘it would be odd to grant settled status and then go on to refuse naturalisation applications because of this’ and that ‘they’ll update the guidance in due course.’
To make matters worse, the policy can be applied retrospectively. There have already been reports of the Home Office reaching out to applicants who previously applied for naturalisation to ask for additional evidence of exercise of treaty rights.
The inevitable conclusion is that EU citizens are less likely to successfully naturalise than others. As always, this will have a disproportionate effect on vulnerable applicants. Getting citizenship is an expensive ordeal: the cost of an application for one adult is £1330, and for a family, can easily ramp up to thousands of pounds. The heightened risk of losing such a significant amount of money and having their application refused will discourage many eligible EU citizens, especially those from disadvantaged economic backgrounds, from applying at all. Additionally, the guidance also applies to family members relying on a qualified family member for their EEA status, who will need to include evidence of the family member’s right to reside. Vulnerable applicants, such as domestic violence victims, may not be able to get the evidence required, and therefore have their application refused.
Instead of changing the rules to reflect the Home Office’s rhetoric of EU citizens as “our partners and friends,” the updated policy poorly clarifies the existing rules, needlessly complicating the application process. Indefinite leave to remain under the EUSS seems “less valid” or tied to different conditions than other forms of indefinite leave to remain, as applicants are left with no other option than to rely on Home Office (arbitrary) discretion to secure their citizenship.
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An eventful day in the immigration world, as the Home Office released a Statement of Changes to the Immigration Rules, as well as their most recent set of EU Settlement Scheme quarterly statistics.
The Statement of Changes to the Immigration rules carries some good news. For one, it confirms that victims of domestic violence for durable partners will be eligible for status under the EUSS. This is in line with other government initiatives to tackle domestic abuse in the UK.
In the same vein, any family member within scope of the EUSS whose family relationship with an EEA citizen breaks down is now eligible for status under the EUSS. Previously, only ex-spouses and ex-civil partners of EEA citizens could apply to retain a right of residence after divorce or breakdown of a relationship.
Additionally, for family members of the people of Northern Ireland, the proposed changes extend the EUSS to dual Irish/British citizens, allowing eligible family members of the people of Northern Ireland to apply for UK immigration status under the Scheme on the same terms as the family members of Irish citizens in the UK. Prior to this change, family members of Northern Irish people could not access the EUSS – under the new rules, they are able to do so on the same basis as those of the Republic of Ireland.
These are welcome changes which broaden the applicability of the EUSS. It comes as no surprise, then, that the government considers the EUSS a great success. Today’s EUSS press release boasts that with over a year until the application deadline, currently set at 30 June 2021, almost 3.5 million applications to the scheme, making it the biggest scheme of its kind in British history. 3.1 million of those applications have been concluded, of which 58% were granted settled status, 41% pre-settled status and 1% had other outcomes. Other outcomes include 640 refused, 23,740 withdrawn or void and 10,030 invalid applications.
Most EUSS applications are made online, and are relatively straightforward. But the online service is not available to everyone. The EUSS sets out that applicants must send in paper applications if they don’t have biometric ID documents, or if they are applying on the basis of a derivative right to reside. The latter includes people who are not EU, EEA or Swiss citizens but are applying under the scheme as the family member of a British citizen they lived with in the EU/EEA/Switzerland, the family member of an EU/EEA/Swiss citizen who has become a British citizen, the primary carer of a British, EU, EEA or Swiss citizen, the child of an EU, EEA or Swiss citizen who used to live and work in the UK in education, or such a child’s primary carer.
Immigration lawyers and front-field workers were looking forward to this release of quarterly statistics, as the Home Office had promised to integrate paper applications into the statistics in March, something they had not previously been able to do.
Despite this promise, there is still no information about the paper routes to be found in the newly released statistics. The reason given for failing to deliver on their promise is the COVID-19 pandemic, as the statistics state that it was the Home Office’s “intention to develop electronic integration of the two systems to provide a more complete account of all applications received for the quarterly publication in May 2020, but due to the impacts of Covid-19, this has not been possible.”
The Home Office have also temporarily stopped accepting ID documents by post, which delays the processing paper applications. Nevertheless, the statistics reaffirm that the deadline to apply to the EUSS will not be extended.
Paper applications are amongst the most complex applications under the EUSS, and often represent the most vulnerable individuals in society. As a consequence of the pandemic, charities and outreach projects which assist vulnerable applicants in their applications are unable to operate. As such, the people most unlikely to apply to the EUSS on time (those without ID), and whose applications are most affected by the pandemic (as they have to submit ID documents), are quite literally being left out in the cold: they cannot currently apply, their applications are excluded from the statistics and there is reduced community assistance available. The Home Office is working hard to overcome obstacles and delays caused by the pandemic, and resume normal operation. It is only logical that they should take the same approach towards applicants dealing with hindrances on their side of the process.
In brief, other, non-EUSS related changes to the Immigration Rules include:
Changes to the new Start Up and Innovator visa categories, tightening the requirements that endorsing bodies have to take into account when giving their endorsement
A change to student visas (Tier 4), whereby all applicants who apply under Appendix W who are sponsored for their studies in the UK by a government or international scholarship agency now have to obtain written consent from the relevant organisation.
The new Global Talent visa has been finetuned, as the Rules merge the old Exceptional Talent visa with this new category, and minor amendments have been made at the request of the endorsing bodies.
Changes to the Representative of an Overseas Business visa category, restricting its scope. Representative of an Overseas Business visa holders are employees of overseas businesses which do not have a presence in the UK, to be sent to establish a branch or wholly owned subsidiary of the overseas business in the UK. The changes include that the overseas business must be active, trading and intending to maintain their principal place of business outside the UK; that applicants must have the skills, experience, knowledge and authority to represent the overseas business in the UK; and that applicants must be senior employees of the overseas business.
Some amendments and clarifications regarding family life, including that if an individual is granted leave as a fiancé(e) or proposed civil partner, this automatically enables the marriage or civil partnership to take place in the UK, as well as clarification for the spent period for applicants under the family rules who have been convicted and sentenced to a period of imprisonment for a period between 12 months to four years is 10 years.
Read the full explanatory note here.
On Monday, a group of 52 asylum seekers and refugees, including 16 unaccompanied minors, flew from Greece to Britain to be reunited with their families in the UK. The transfer had been delayed due to the COVID-19 lockdown.
Under the EU Dublin III Regulation (the Dublin Treaty), family reunifications are facilitated if a close relative is already in the country of destination. As such, section 67 of the Immigration Act 2016 provides that unaccompanied refugee children can lodge an asylum claim to come to the UK from another Dublin State if they have family in the UK to be reunited with. The burden of responsibility for those children lies on the State in which the child has family ties, in this case the UK, and it is up to that State to make arrangements to transfer the child.
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, however, family reunification has been suspended across much of Europe as a natural consequence of closed borders and cancelled flights. After a six-week corona-related delay, a joint effort by the UK and Greek governments allowed a flight with over 50 migrants to go ahead and bring over 50 migrants to the UK from Athens on Monday. The individuals on the flight included people from Somalia, Afghanistan and Syria. Many of them have been living in Greece’s overcrowded refugee camps for months, alone and in problematic sanitary conditions. There are currently 42.000 people on the Greek islands. Amongst these are at least 1500 unaccompanied minors, in addition to another 3500 unaccompanied children who are stranded on the mainland.
The UK and Greece recently committed to a Joint Action plan on migration in which they focus on family reunification, and specifically on the best interests of unaccompanied children in Greece. Monday’s flight can be considered a first direct product of this pact. Although this renewed commitment to family reunification efforts under the Dublin treaty is welcome, the pact comes with significant shortcomings.
On the one hand, the Action Plan is only valid for “as long as the UK remains bound by the Dublin Regulation.” In other words, it will only stay in force until the end of the transition period – which is less than eight months away. Once the transitional period ends, and the Dublin Treaty is no longer binding on the UK, there is no guarantee that unaccompanied minors will still be able to join their family members in the UK. Additionally, the pact only addresses unaccompanied children who qualify for family reunification. It does not satisfactorily deal with the relocation of other unaccompanied children stuck in Greece. In order to protect all children refugees adequately, relocation efforts for unaccompanied children in Greece’s refugee camps who do not have family members or relatives in the UK should be in addition to the UK’s pre-existing legal obligations under Dublin III. There is no mention of that in the Joint Action Plan.
The success of this particular flight was a result of intense advocacy by refugee families in the UK working with charities such as Safe Passage, a campaign group which fights for family reunification and two cross-party members of the House of Lords, Lord Alf Dubs (Labour) and the Earl of Dundee, a Conservative peer with responsibility for child refugees at the Council of Europe. Beth Gardiner-Smith, the CEO of the refugee charity Safe Passage International, said in a news release: “The British and Greek governments have shown real leadership in reuniting these families despite the travel difficulties.”
Let’s hope they keep doing so in the future.
When Brandon Lewis MP stated that EU citizens who miss the EU Settlement Scheme deadline could face deportation, it was a wake-up call for all EU citizens in the UK. The 3 Million, the largest campaign organisation for EU citizens in the UK, and one of many organisations advocating for a declaratory instead of a constitutive scheme, called upon the government to ensure that law-abiding EU citizens living in the UK do not fall subject to the hostile environment as unlawful migrants merely due to a formality such as a missed deadline.
At the time, the Home Office sussed the situation by reiterating that they “are looking for reasons to grant status, not refuse, and EU citizens have until at least December 2020 to apply.” A spokesperson said: “We’ve always been clear that where they have reasonable grounds for missing the deadline, they’ll be given a further opportunity to apply.” Mr. Lewis personally clarified that EU citizens will have enough time to apply, and highlighted that the Home Office will accept late applications.
“It is not true that as a general rule, eligible persons who remain in the UK without registration are here ‘unlawfully’. For most purposes, there ought not to be legal consequences,” said Professor Bernard Ryan of the University of Leicester. Guy Verhofstadt, the EU Brexit spokesman, also reported being told by the Government that there would be no automatic deportation for EU citizens who fail to apply to the Scheme.
Now, the Secretary of State for the Home Department Priti Patel confirmed in writing what grassroot organisations always feared, and Mr. Lewis hinted at in October: that those who fail to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme by the deadline of 30 June 2021 will be unlawfully resident in the UK. If information regarding EU citizens’ rights after Brexit was previously conflicting, the Home Secretary now clarified once and for all that late applicants will be subject to the hostile environment rules during their period of unlawful residence.
Ms. Patel made the remarks in response to a letter from the Home Affairs Committee outlining various concerns regarding EU citizens’ rights in the UK after Brexit. The Home Secretary wrote that “those who have not applied to the EUSS by the deadline will not have lawful status in the UK. This means, for example, they will not be able to evidence a right to work or rent if they seek new employment or a new private rental property during the period in which they have no lawful status.”
In the same breath, Ms. Patel stated that late applications to the EUSS “for good reason” will be accepted as valid. Some examples of good reasons given are children whose parent or guardian do not apply on their behalf, those in abusive or controlling relationships who are prevented from applying or accessing the documents they need to do so, and those who lack the physical or mental capacity to apply. If these examples are an indication of what may constitute “good reason,” the bar seems to be set high and at the Home Office’s discretion.
In other words, people who fail to apply to the EUSS by the deadline will lose the right to rent and work, as well as lose access to most social services and benefits including free NHS treatment. They will be subject to the hostile environment rules until they acquire status under the Scheme, assuming they do successfully apply late, which in itself is a strong assumption to make considering late applicants must meet the “good reason” policy. Even if they do get status, late applicants will face consequences of their interim unlawful residence until years after the facts, not in the least because they will not be able to naturalise as British citizens for a further 10 years.
Last week, the Home Affairs Committee hosted a livestream with Ms. Patel to discuss the Home Office response to the COVID-19 outbreak. The online discussion was meant to offer reassurance at a time of crisis. Concerning EU citizens’ rights, Ms. Patel confirmed that there will not be an extension to the deadline to apply for the EU Settlement Scheme. Except of that reiteration, she did not address many of the concerns which EU citizens in the UK have brought to her attention since the COVID-19 outbreak. Most importantly, she failed to address the effect of breaks in continuous residence due to the coronavirus outbreak, except to say that the government will be “flexible.”
A pattern emerges here, whereby there is a lot of talk about Home Office flexibility and cooperation at the government’s discretion, but very little clarity about what that translates to in practice. The Home Secretary’s letter reiterates the government’s known position on a number of issues without offering clear answers to the questions asked. It provides vague statements instead of hard facts and lacks a legal framework to resolve the pitfalls the Committee flagged up.
These ambiguities and failures on behalf of the Home Office will impact the most vulnerable and marginalised citizens most devastatingly, as they are least likely to apply to the EUSS at all, let alone before the deadline. As per the 3 million, even if the EU Settlement scheme performs as well as the UK's most successful campaign ever - to switch everyone to Digital TV (97% of people signed up by the time analogue TV was disactivated) - over 100,000 EU citizens would still lose their legal status and face the full consequences of the government's hostile environment. Following the Home Secretary’s comments, those 100,000 people will be at the discretionary mercy of the Home Office.
In March, the PM promised that destitute migrants would receive the necessary accommodation and funding during the coronavirus pandemic. Six weeks later, food banks are struggling to meet demands, asylum seekers are moved out of their flats without warning, and local authorities fail to offer guidance on how to offer shelter to rough sleepers during the crisis.
Under Theresa May’s “hostile environment” rules, individuals without immigration status in the UK do not have access to public funds. The hostile environment prevents them from accessing many benefits, ranging from healthcare to housing to public authority assistance of any kind.
In an open letter to the Government, the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) asks the Prime Minister to grant all immigrants who currently do not have status a period of Leave to Remain for the time of the pandemic, to avoid the hostile environment’s detrimental effect on public health. The letter is signed by over 30 organisations and charities who work with asylum seekers, refugees and other individuals with insecure immigration status, including Bail for Immigration Detainees, Women for Refugee Women and many others.
The JRS’ letter asks the PM to “to grant a period of leave to remain, with recourse to public funds and access to the labour market, to all those with insecure immigration status,” stating that “This is a vital step to protect public health during the Covid-19 pandemic. At a time when public health demands that everyone has ready access to housing and healthcare, insecure immigration status acts as a barrier and puts everyone’s health at risk.”
Although the government has made all COVID-19 treatment free of charge irrespective of the patient’s immigration status, many people with precarious status are reluctant to get help. They fear that data-sharing between the NHS and the Home Office, another pillar of the hostile environment policy, will lead to their deportation if they go to the hospital. If they think they might be sick, many migrants prefer staying under the radar so as to avoid the risk of getting into trouble, leading infected people to remain untested and at large.
In order to avoid a crisis of exploitation, destitution and homelessness on top of the coronavirus emergency we are already going through, all migrants should be encouraged to access public funds and especially healthcare.
As charities which normally support vulnerable asylum seekers have been forced to shut down, destitute and vulnerable asylum seekers have been left out in the cold. A #HumaneMigration system including temporary amnesty and leave to remain for migrants who are in the UK during the pandemic is the only viable solution not only to help all the people who are currently slipping through the cracks, but also to limit the spread of the virus in the wider community. Only unprecedented measures can reflect the unprecedented nature of this crisis, and ensure the health and safety of the nation as a whole.
On Wednesday morning, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his fiancée Carrie Symonds welcomed a healthy baby boy to this world. The birth of the PM’s son brings some uplifting news in difficult times, as the PM comes out of a tough personal recovery from coronavirus, whilst facing a daunting national crisis for the weeks and months to come. But the PM might not be out of the woods yet. COVID-19 might impact the Prime Minister on a personal level yet again – not by infection this time, but in relation to his new-born son.
In the UK, there is no central government authority to register births. Instead, this has to be done in the area the child was born. Ever since all local authorities closed down their offices on 23 March, birth registration appointments are no longer carried out. Parents of new-born babies in the UK are therefore unable to register their child as normally required, with potentially unduly harsh consequences.
The general rule is that parents need to register the birth of a child with their local authority within 42 days of birth. If they fail to do so, they risk a fine or some other form of reprimand. Fortunately, this rule has been relaxed due to the coronavirus outbreak: government guidance states that no action will be taken against parents who fail to meet the deadline due to no fault of their own. In addition, parents can exceptionally make claims for child benefits and/or universal credit prior to obtaining official birth certificates.
These are welcome changes, but they are not enough. In order to issue ID cards and travel documents, embassies have to see the birth certificates of children born in the UK. As ID cards are currently not being issued, parents cannot obtain passports or ID cards for their new-borns. In other words, the suspension on issuing birth certificates contributes to citizens ending up without identification and travel documents.
For non-British citizens, these concerns are exacerbated even further. In a global pandemic, emergency situations are not rare occurrences. Yet, because new-borns cannot get IDs under the current circumstances, parents cannot travel abroad in those emergencies unless they leave their new-born child behind.
Not only are all non-British parents unable to travel with their children should they need to do so, they also face additional challenges when applying for immigration status in the UK. EU citizens, specifically, will find that applying to the EU Settlement Scheme without a form of ID is a complicated endeavour.
When asked to clarify on these pressing issues, a Home Office official wrote that his office will evaluate on a “case by case basis” any application where a parent is unable to obtain an identity document for their child from an EU27 embassy due to circumstances beyond their control. Concerning the EU Settlement Scheme, the Home Office employee reiterated that the deadline to apply under the scheme is not before 30 June 2021, and, assuming that local authorities will resume their functions soon enough, parents therefore have plenty of time to apply before then, should they be unable to do now.
The case-by-case evaluation proposed by the Home Office is at their discretion and therefore, does not offer a solution to the structural consequences of suspending birth registrations.
In theory, this chaos affects everyone in the same way. One cannot help but wonder whether the PM will face similar obstacles when registering the birth of his son. Might that prompt the Home Office to find a temporary solution to avoid that more citizens, British and European alike, end up without IDs?
Since 2008, an average of 26.4 million people per year have been forcibly displaced by weather-related hazards. This is the equivalent of one person being displaced per second every day. The UN Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) and the Norwegian Refugee Council identify natural disasters as the number one cause for the international displacement of people. Many of those displaced find refuge within their own region or country. In fact, almost two-thirds (61%) of all new internal displacement in 2018 was triggered by natural disasters such as floods, windstorms, earthquakes or droughts. Others, however, are forced to go abroad and seek refuge in a foreign country.
Migrants fleeing their home country for environmental reasons are informally called “climate refugees.” They broadly fall into two groups: on the one hand, those fleeing immediate natural disasters such as storms, droughts or earthquakes, and on the other hand, those fleeing climate impacts that deteriorate over time, like rising ocean levels and desert expansion. With climate change, the number of both types of climate refugees is set to rise for years to come. The response to this global challenge of displacement has thus far been limited, and protection remains lacking.
Traditional asylum law is based on the 1951 Geneva Convention, which grants a right to asylum to people who “have a well-founded fear of being persecuted because of their race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, and are unable or unwilling to seek protection from their home countries.” Although the Convention is a living document and it is possible to push the boundaries of these definitions, shoehorning climate refugees into it has proven to be a challenging undertaking. The 1951 definition of a refugee is hard to apply to those who are forced to flee their home due to environmental disasters; climate change does not fall under “persecution,” nor are any of the grounds for persecution compatible with haphazard natural catastrophes.
Environmental migration can take many forms. Sometimes it is forced, sometimes voluntary, often somewhere in a grey zone in between. The very notion of climate refugees seems to challenge the boundaries of asylum law as we know it. It blurs the line between economic and political migrants, a dichotomy which lies at the core of the 1951 Convention. Moreover, instead of focusing cross-border movement as the Geneva Convention does, climate change displacement forces us to consider internal displacement, as the majority of today’s climate refugees are displaced within the borders of their own country. As such, the 1951 definition of a refugee is clearly not applicable to those who are forced to flee their home due to environmental disasters; climate change does not fall under “persecution,” nor are any of the grounds for persecution compatible with haphazard natural catastrophes.
The European Parliament has recognised that the “protection gap” for climate refugees is a problem. In his 2015 State of the Union speech, then European Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, said: 'Climate change is one of the root causes of a new migration phenomenon. Climate refugees will become a new challenge – if we do not act swiftly'. Five years later, there is still no formal legal definition of who exactly qualifies as a climate refugee, nor any formal protection under existing international law.
Laws are slow to adapt to the reality of increasingly frequent and accelerated natural disasters, but there has been some progress. In January, a landmark decision by the United Nations Human Rights Committee found it unlawful to force climate refugees to return to their home countries. While a UN Committee judgment is not formally binding on countries, it points to legal obligations that countries have under international law, and individual countries have to consider it within their own legal systems.
The ruling is the first of its kind to explicitly find that governments must take into account climate-related human rights violations when they consider deporting asylum seekers. Although on a personal level, the man at the centre of the case, Mr. Teitiota, was not considered at imminent risk of death upon deportation, and therefore lost his case, the ruling did open the door to a more concrete legal framework for climate refugees.
Nature does not stop for anyone; as climate emergencies become more frequent, many more cases like Mr. Teitiota’s will be brought to courts all over the globe. Needless to say, it is beyond time to integrate environmental and climatic factors into migration management laws and policies nationally and internationally, in order to prepare for the waves of climate migration to come.
The "Right to Rent" scheme was introduced as part of the hostile environment rules aimed at restraining illegal immigrants from entering and living in the UK, and came into force in 2016. The policy requires landlords to check the immigration status of prospective tenants. If they fail to do so, and end up renting out property to undocumented migrants, they can be charged unlimited fines or even a prison sentence.
The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), a London-based charity, is challenging the lawfulness of this policy in court. Last year, the High Court ruled the scheme unlawful, racially discriminatory, and in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Government appealed this decision, and on Wednesday, the Court of Appeal allowed the Secretary of State's challenge, finding that although the Right to Rent scheme does lead to discrimination against those who do not hold British passports and those who do not have traditionally ethnically-British attributes, it is an indirect consequence of the scheme’s otherwise legitimate goal to control and curb immigration, and therefore, the policy itself is not unlawful.
Lord Justice Hickinbottom stated: “The discrimination is entirely coincidental, in that the measure does not unlawfully discriminate against the target group but only collaterally because, in implementing the Scheme, as a result of the checks required by the Scheme and the possible sanctions for letting to irregular immigrants, landlords engage in direct discrimination on grounds of nationality; and section 33 and the Discrimination Code of Practice clearly recognise and seek to address that discrimination by landlords."
In short, the Court of Appeal agreed that the Right to Rent scheme causes discrimination but did not rule that that discrimination amounted to a human rights violation, because it is indirect, and only “some landlords” may participate in it. The court leaves it to the government to decide whether the racial discrimination is “greater than envisaged”.
To advocates and immigration lawyers, it is clear that whatever was envisaged, any amount of racial discrimination is unacceptable. The Home Office’s own research has shown that 25% of landlords would not be willing to rent to anyone without a British passport, whilst the Residential Landlords Association found that more than half of landlords were less likely to rent to those with limited time to remain in the UK. Effectively, the Right to Rent scheme turns landlords into border patrol, as they are forced to evaluate who does and does not have the right to be in the country. Needless to say, landlords are not properly trained or qualified to do so.
Chai Patel, the JCWI’s legal policy director, said that, “At a time when our lives depend on our ability to stay at home safely, ethnic minorities and foreign nationals are being forced by the government to face discrimination in finding a safe place for them and their families to live.” The JCWI has said that they are planning to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court. In the meantime, however, the policy is still in place, and the people affected by it remain at risk.
You can support JCWI's work by donating here.
In the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) statistics produced by the Home Office on a monthly and quarterly basis, refusals are contained within the statistics for what is known as “other outcomes”. This means that refusals constitute EUSS decisions that do not result in either a grant of indefinite leave to remain (settled status), or limited leave to remain (pre-settled status). It is important to understand the other outcomes that can occur under the EUSS as this will dictate what action, an applicant should take. The types of outcomes that can occur are the following:
- Invalid Application
- Withdrawn or Void outcome
- Refusal to grant EUSS status
- Grant of pre-settled status not settled status (note this is not recorded as another outcome in the Home Office EUSS statistics. It is not recorded as a decision at all as the HO only reports grants of status)
The most recent set of Home Office statistics, which cover the lifetime of the EUSS to the end of March 2020, state (to the nearest 100) there have been 10,000 invalid applications, 23,900 void or withdrawn outcomes, and 600 refusals. These “other outcomes” have been expanded on below with an explanation of why a person would receive this outcome and what, if anything, they can do about it if they disagree with the outcome.
For someone who wishes to be granted status under the EU settlement scheme, the first hurdle to jump is to have your application considered as valid. Appendix EU of the Immigration Rules tells what you must to do to make a valid application:
EU9. A valid application has been made under this Appendix where: (a) It has been made using the required application process; (b) The required proof of identity and nationality has been provided, where the application is made within the UK; (c) The required proof of entitlement to apply from outside the UK has been provided, where the application is made outside the UK; and (d) The required biometrics have been provided.
The required application process means either using the online application form unless you are applying in a category that requires a mandatory paper application form (applications involving derivative rights, ‘Surinder Singh’ and ‘Lounes’ cases or, where the applicant has no valid ID document), or you have convinced the Home Office that you should be allowed to a use a paper application form because you are not able to use, or do not have access to the IT needed to complete the online form. You will not be able to apply to the EUSS via any other route.
The required proof of identity and nationality means having a valid passport or ID card if you are an EEA/Swiss citizen. If you are a non-EEA/Swiss family member applicant, it means using a valid passport, a valid biometric resident card issued under the EEA Regulations or, a valid biometric resident permit in an immigration category. There is a caveat to providing a valid document in this list which, is the Home Office can allow alternative evidence of identity and nationality due to circumstances beyond the applicants control or, because of compelling practical or compassionate reasons. The required biometrics means a photograph of the applicant for all applications and in the case of non-EEA/Swiss applicants, fingerprints unless they hold a valid biometric residence card issued under the EEA Regulations or under Appendix EU (for applicants holding pre-settled status and making a settled status application).
Failure to complete these steps means that your EUSS application will not be validated. In other words, there is no consideration as to whether you are entitled to be granted EUSS status (consideration of your eligibility or suitability for status), because you never reach this stage of the process. The way to know that you have completed the validation process is that you receive a certificate of application from the Home Office; this is a PDF or physical letter (in cases where a paper form is submitted), that confirms a valid application has been made. Unless you have received this letter, you have not made a valid application and therefore will not receive a decision on whether you are eligible for a grant of EUSS status. It is therefore extremely important that you receive the certificate of application and if you do not, you should investigate with the Settlement Resolution Centre, what part of the validation process remains outstanding. An application that is not validated will eventually be declared invalid and removed from the Home Office system. If this situation arises then generally the only thing to do will be to reapply to the EUSS rectifying the reason why the application was declared invalid.
Withdrawn or Void applications
An applicant can choose to withdraw their application themselves by notifying the Home Office through the Settlement Resolution Centre. For a valid application, the request to withdraw can be made anytime between the submission date and before a decision is made. A request to withdraw is made either using the online Settlement Resolution Centre contact form or by writing to the Home Office in Liverpool. It should be noted that the Home Office is not obliged to withdraw an application if there is reason to believe that it would be refused were it to be fully processed.
A void outcome is where a British citizen, or a person who is exempted from immigration control, attempts obtain immigration status under the EUSS. As these two categories of persons cannot hold immigration status, their attempt to obtain status through the application process is considered void. For British citizens this is an uncontroversial outcome, however, it is not always a straightforward assessment as to whether someone is immigration exempt (there is separate Home Office guidance on who is considered exempt). Exemption from immigration control is based on a person’s circumstances and will generally be temporary. This means that once a person is not exempt from immigration control, they will require immigration status if they wish to remain residing in the UK lawfully. The Home Office has answered when questioned on this point that, for a person who is eligible for status under the EUSS, but for the fact they are presently exempt from immigration control, they will be able to apply to the EUSS in the future – and crucially beyond the 30 June 2021 deadline – at the point when their circumstances change and they are no longer exempt.
The EUSS statistics define a refusal outcome where a valid application results in no grant of immigration status. Appendix EU provides two reasons to refuse an application, firstly on a suitability basis (that a person’s character or conduct makes them unsuitable to be granted status), or, secondly on an eligibility basis (that they have failed to demonstrate that they are eligible for a grant of status). Within the latter category, you can break down the failure to demonstrate eligibility in two:
- failure to show UK residence eligibly and / or;
- failure for a non-EEA/Swiss applicant to show eligibility through a qualifying family relationship (either in the present or in the past)
(a) Eligibility refusals and the burden of proof
It is important to remember that in a constitutive application system, it is incumbent on the applicant not just to be eligible based on their circumstances but, to be able prove with evidence that they are eligible for a grant of status. This means, in most cases something that is claimed by an applicant which goes to the heart of their eligibility under the EUSS, must be proved by the evidence they provide. For example, evidence that the applicant is a UK resident before the end of the transition period (such as a utility bill or bank statement) or, proof that a non-EEA/Swiss family member is related to an EEA/Swiss citizen or qualifying British citizen (a marriage certificate for example). For those applying under the dependent relative and durable partner family relationships, the applicant must apply with a document that has been issued under the EEA (European Economic Area) Regulations otherwise the application will automatically be refused on eligibility grounds.
The burden of proof in civil cases is “the balance of probabilities” which means that the evidence shows that something claimed is more probable than not to be true (in other words more than 50/50 to be true). The Home Office has stated that in respect of the eligibility refusals that begun from February 2020 onwards, multiple attempts (sometimes more than 20), were made to contact applicants and request the evidence from them that would show that they eligible for a grant of status. In other words, it was the applicants’ failures to provide evidence in spite of these requests that meant that the burden of proof had not been met with the refusal decision following. Without understanding more about the grounds that the refusal decisions were made, it is impossible to know whether the outcomes were correct or not. These cases do though show the importance of ensuring contact information given to the Home Office in the application is correct and from the Home Office side, ensuring that every effort is made to contact applicants when issues arise.
After the end of the grace period for EUSS applications (currently the grace period ends on 30 June 2021), there will start to be eligibility refusals where a holder of pre-settled status, cannot prove that they have been continually resident in the UK for the 5 years normally required to be granted settled status. There are some questions that remain about this situation however, the working assumption is that after the end of the grace period, an EUSS applicant who holds pre-settled status cannot be granted a second period of pre-settled status. This means that a pre-settled status holder has to be able to prove their eligibility for settled status otherwise, they will be refused status outright.
(b) Refusals based on suitability
Before February 2020, there had been seven refusals of EUSS status because the applicants failed the suitability assessment required under Appendix EU. The Home Office states the suitability criteria is generally met where the applicant has demonstrated in their application:
- they are not subject to a deportation order/decision or an exclusion order/decision
- they have not breached the relevant thresholds for serious or persistent criminality
- they have not submitted false or misleading information or documentation in their application
Since the Home Office began refusing applications on eligibility grounds, the statistics provide a percentage of which applications are refused on suitability and which are refused on eligibility. The balance in the March 2020 statistics report says, “of the total refusals, 98% were refused on eligibility grounds and 2% were refused on suitability grounds”. Although the 600 refusals are a figure rounded to the nearest 100, 2% refused on suitability grounds equates to approximately 12 suitability refusals with the remainder being made on eligibility grounds.
(c) Paper application refusals
The March EUSS statics included for a statement on EUSS applications made using a paper form:
“Applications made using a paper form are captured and processed using a separate caseworking system once they have been received. At present, paper-based applications are not included in the published statistics. This means that the total number of applications received, grants of status, and other outcomes (refusals, withdrawn or void, or invalid cases) are not fully captured in the report. The Home Office is currently developing electronic integration of the two systems with information on paper applications due to be included in the next detailed quarterly EUSS statistics release in May 2020”
As the mandatory paper application process is generally reserved for more complex EUSS categories (the categories are set out above), it would be a reasonable assumption that the quarterly EUSS statistics will contain more refusal decisions based on eligibility grounds.
(d) Challenging a refusal decision
There are a number of ways in which to challenge EUSS refusal decisions, which option is available and most advisable will depend on the date of application and whether the refusal is based on suitability or eligibility. Generally, for a suitability refusal the only way to challenge the outcome will be to appeal to the Immigration Tribunal. The reason for this is because a deportation or exclusion decision results in a mandatory refusal of EUSS status and so, this decision must be overturned first in order for the applicant to be granted EUSS status. Repeated attempts to make fresh applications to the EUSS whilst a deportation or exclusion is in place will simply result in repeated refusals on suitability grounds.
With a refusal on eligibility grounds, there are three possible avenues of redress:
i) Appeal to the Immigration Tribunal (for applications made after 31 January 2020)
ii) Apply for Administrative Review of the refusal decision
iii) Make a fresh EUSS application (as long as this is done before 30 June 2021)
Which approach is best to take will be down to the individual circumstances of the applicant (noting that an Immigration Appeal is only available for recent applications). The Home Office decision will set out in writing the reason(s) why the applicant has failed to meet the eligibility requirements and it may require a lawyer’s input as to the best way to address the decision. For example, if the refusal was based on a lack of evidence and new evidence has since become available, it may be best to lodge a fresh application with the new evidence. If however, there is no new evidence available, it may be that the best approach will be to appeal to the Immigration Tribunal so an Immigration Judge can decide whether the balance of probabilities has been satisfied, based on what evidence was submitted to the Home Office. For refusal decisions where the applicant needs to argue that Appendix EU is in breach of the EU/UK Withdrawal Agreement, the only really option is likely to be an appeal to the Immigration Tribunal which has power to look outside of the wording of Appendix EU to determine if a person’s rights under the Withdrawal Agreement have been infringed. By comparison, an Administrative Review (or a fresh application), only looks at whether the decision was correct based on the wording of the Immigration Rules and accompanying caseworker guidance.
Pre-settled status not settled status
What is not included in the Home Office statistics is the outcome where an applicant believes that they should be granted settled status but instead, receive pre-settled status. The only reason this outcome can occur is where the Home Office says that there is not enough evidence to demonstrate that a person has resided in the UK for 5 years or more (unless they are applying in the category of “ceased activity” or as a child under 21 years linked to a sponsoring parent). A reason why these cases are not recorded as a refusal in the statistics is because an application to the EUSS is for either available immigration status, not specifically for pre-settled status or settled status.
Therefore, a grant of pre-settled status rather than settled status does not constitute a refusal in the mind of the Home Office. Someone who receives the incorrect status would probably argue that the HO recording they have been granted pre-settled status, rather than acknowledging the refusal of settled status to reach the pre-settled status outcome, is a question of semantics. There is no way to know how many people have experienced this outcome, as the EUSS application process only relatively recently started to ask applicants if they have resided in the UK for more than 5 years at the point when they apply. For those who feel that they should have received settled status instead of pre-settled status, refer to the section on challenging a refusal decision relating to eligibility refusals as the same methods of redress equally apply to this outcome.
Whilst we remain in the transition period, and even once we move into the grace period, for most other outcomes under the EUSS (suitability refusals being the exception), most applicants who need to do so – remembering that void outcomes do not need or cannot have, EUSS status - will be able to “have another go” with the EUSS. By this we mean, even an applicant with an outright refusal on eligibility grounds can submit a fresh application if they have the evidence to overcome the refusal ground. That is not to say that any refusal can be overcome as there will be cases where eligibility evidence cannot be obtained; for those who receive a refusal it is important to seek legal advice from a firm such as ours to understand the basis of the refusal and the best way to approach any challenge. For those whose applications are invalidated, it is extremely important that they make a valid application before the deadline to apply to ensure their lawful residence in the UK. The concern is, of the 10,000 invalid applications, how many applicants do not realise that their application was invalidated and think that they have successfully applied and received EUSS status? And finally, for those who have lived here for 5 years or more and feel they wrong were granted pre-settled status rather than settled status, we would encourage you to apply again to show that you are entitled to settled status; it is a superior immigration status and does impact on other important rights.
As the UK prepares to end free movement, EU citizens already living in the UK have to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) if they want to maintain their residency rights. Whoever fails to apply by the deadline (currently set at 30 June 2021), loses their legal status in the UK, and becomes an unlawful or irregular migrant. The government has therefore invested significant efforts into creating a Scheme that is inclusive and easy to use for all applicants.
However, as we have argued before, no system is perfect, and there are significant challenges for certain groups of people who need to apply under the EUSS. The Migrant Observatory published a report confirming many lawyers and advocates worries for EU citizens’ rights. We take a look at their findings.
A key question to understand the Settlement Scheme is how many eligible people have already applied, and how many are left to apply. But the exact number of people currently living in the UK and eligible to apply to the EUSS is unknown, and estimates of the number of EU citizens living in the UK have significant limitations. Unlike in other European countries, there is no registration system or population register in the UK, and as such, the government does not know which UK residents are EU citizens. EU citizens will thus need to come forward of their own accord under the EUSS, as there is no way to track them. Additionally, the number of successful applications under the Scheme does not reflect the number of current UK residents, as some people may get their status and then leave the UK, and some applications are counted twice. It does not help that the Office of National Statistics measures the number of EU citizens living in the UK differently from how the Home Office assesses the applications and grants under the EUSS.
Equally hard to interpret is the data on whether applicants are being granted the right status, i.e. are receiving settled status when they have been living in the UK for more than 5 years, and pre-settled status if they have been in the UK for less than 5 years. If this is not the case, and people who in theory are entitled to settled status receive pre-settled status because they do not have enough evidence of living in the UK for the whole required five-year period, their future rights might be in danger. If we don’t know whether people are receiving the right status now, we will not be able to determine whether people with pre-settled status later manage to upgrade their status to settled status. The process of upgrading from pre-settled status to settled status could bring many complications.
Firstly, individuals do not always understand their immigration status. As such, applicants who receive pre-settled status may not understand that that status is temporary, and that they need to apply separately to obtain settled status further down the line. Secondly, unlike the initial EUSS application, there will not be a single deadline for people to upgrade to settled status. Instead, there will be many different deadlines depending on when the person made their initial application. This complicates the public communication around the need to apply. Thirdly, and maybe most importantly, the evidence required for settled status is more extensive than for pre-settled status. As such, the report highlights that applicants who are not covered by the automated checks and lack the necessary paperwork to prove their residence can currently receive pre-settled status with just one piece of evidence, such as a single invoice issued in the past six months; however, once the main EUSS deadlines have passed, applicants will need a full five years of evidence retrospectively to qualify for settled status.
The report also highlights the lack of data on applicants’ experience of the scheme. To encourage EU citizens to apply, the government has developed an application process that is designed to be easy to use, launched an advertising campaign and grants to community organisations to support vulnerable EU citizens. However, this is not enough, as we still do not have detailed information on waiting times, reasons for pending applications, administrative review procedures, or reasons for not granting status.
In order to understand the EUSS statistics better, as well as understand its shortcomings, and improve it in the future, The Migration Observatory states that data collection needs to change. The focus should shift from successful applications to the people who have not yet applied, and on how to reach them so that they can acquire the right status. Finally, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, future challenges to the EUSS are unavoidable, as the outbreak disrupts EUSS assistance services, hinders data collection, and causes increased absences from the UK which may well impede EU citizens from reaching the EUSS residence requirements. There are many gaps in the evidence base about the EU Settlement Scheme, and unfortunately, the consequences of those failings will not become clear until many months or years from now. This is the unfortunate consequence of choosing a constitutive system over a declaratory one.
Every day, at 8PM, millions of people across the country clap for our healthcare workers, an initiative which has been encouraged by the government. Meanwhile, as coronavirus numbers soar to almost a thousand deaths a day in the UK, the Home Office published updated guidance for employers on navigating working visas once the new points-based immigration system comes into force on 1 January 2021. Whilst encouraging signs of solidarity, the government is thus detailing the ins and outs of an immigration system which will likely stop many of the people we clap for from coming to work in the UK once it becomes law.
The new guidance lays out that all workers will have to be sufficiently qualified (at the minimum, they must have A-level equivalence) and speak sufficient English in order to get a visa. Highly skilled workers are the only ones who can come to the UK without a job offer. In order to do so, they need to get an endorsement from a relevant competent body in order to obtain a Global Talent Visa.
Any other individual who wants to come work in the UK will need to have a job offer from an approved sponsor. To become an approved sponsor, employers who want to recruit migrant workers will need to take active steps. They will have to check that their business is eligible, and choose which type of workers they are looking to hire: skilled workers with long-term job offers, or temporary workers. Employers will then have to put in place a framework within their business to deal with the sponsorship process, apply online and pay an application fee ranging from £536 to £1,476, depending on the type of business. The whole process usually takes about 8 weeks. Once they become an approved sponsor, they can recruit people without UK residency to fill their job openings.
If an individual, then, receives a job offer from an approved sponsor, they will need to meet a minimum income threshold on top of the language and skill requirements. The general minimum salary threshold is set at £25,600. For some jobs, the threshold may be higher, if the Home Office estimates that it is a higher paid occupation.
If an individual does not meet the income threshold, they may still be eligible for a visa if they can demonstrate that they have a job offer in a specific shortage occupation or a PhD relevant to the job. For these occupations, the income threshold is lowered to £20,480. The list of shortage occupations, which includes doctors and nurses, is published by the Migrant Advisory Committee.
Concerning lower-skilled workers, the guidance explicitly reiterates that “there will NOT be an immigration route specifically for those who do not meet the skills or salary threshold for the skilled worker route.” The skill level for different jobs can be found in Appendix J of the Immigration Rules.
Considering that the average health care worker in the UK makes £19,080 a year, the timing of this publication seems peculiar to say the least. As our Director suggests, how does it make sense for the Home Office state that care workers, nurses, hospital porters, cleaners, logistics personnel, postal workers, etc. will not be able to apply for visa under the new immigration system in the midst of the Covid-19 crisis? It is hard to imagine that the Home Office has a valid reason for needlessly doubling down on an immigration policy which fails to take care of the workers who, in times of crisis, put everything at risk to take care of us.
Over 3.6million Syrian refugees made Turkey their home since civil war tore their country apart in the 2010s. Polls show that most of the Turkish population want them to leave. On February 28th, President Erdogan announced that his government would heed that request, and Turkey would no longer stop refugees from crossing over to Greece.
Mr. Erdogan’s promise of free passage to Europe led tens of thousands of migrants to leave Turkey and resume their journey to Europe. What the President failed to mention was that on the European side of state lines, borders would remain closed.
The current political impasse originates from the 2015 refugee crisis, when over 1 million migrants entered Europe from Turkey. In an attempt to stop the influx, the EU struck a deal with Mr. Erdogan. As part of that deal, the EU gave Turkey over 6.0 billion euros in aid. In exchange, Turkey promised to keep the refugees inside their borders and prevent them from migrating to Europe through Greece. When Turkey ran out of aid last year, Mr. Erdogan requested more funding to keep up his end of the bargain, but the two parties failed to reach an agreement.
In response to the arrival of so many people, Greece doubled down on their border security. The government sent riot police, armoured vehicles and 1000 soldiers to the Turkish border, and suspended the right to apply for asylum for a month. Greek authorities as well as rogue actors detained, assaulted, robbed, and stripped asylum seekers and migrants, and then forced them back to Turkey. Tens of thousands of people now find themselves in limbo between borders.
Greece, like all EU countries, is bound by the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. The Charter recognises the right to seek asylum and guarantees protection from forcible return of anyone at real risk of persecution or other serious harm. Greece’s suspension of the right to claim asylum, in combination with their appalling treatment of migrants on the border, is a gross violation of human rights.
Yet this violation has received very little scrutiny. As the spread of COVID-19 pushed the images of men being shot, children being hit, and faces behind barbed wire to the back of the news cycle, these breaches of the 1951 UN refugee convention and EU law went unnoticed. Instead, Ursula von der Leyen, head of the European Commission, announced the distribution of a £609 million aid package to help and support Greece’s border infrastructure. She called Greece “our European shield”, and praised the country for its tough response, as it has helped avoid another “crisis” like the one in 2015.
Instead of taking collective responsibility, the EU, yet again, has shown lack of leadership on the issue of migration at an astronomical human cost. The only solution to this endless plight remains unchanged from 2015: meaningful change to EU asylum policy allowing for coordinated resettlement and shared responsibility for all EU member states. The UK should be leading the charge, accepting a number for resettlement and providing for safe routes to claim asylum in the UK. Instead, in the midst of a global health crisis, the violence and human suffering at the border persist. We should fight to end it and create an immigration which actually reflects the European discourse of enlightenment and human rights in practice, rather than the dysfunctional and divisive system that is in place now.
The UK is one of many countries that has implemented lockdown measures to deal with the coronavirus outbreak. These measures include strict travel restrictions, and in over 50 countries around the world, they go as far as a complete aerial lockdown.
Immigration detention is only lawful if there is a prospect of imminent removal. With borders closing worldwide and flights suspended, that prospect is non-existent. That is why Detention Action, an NGO which fights for immigration detainees’ rights in the UK, issued judicial review proceedings on 18 March 2020. The proceedings challenged the lawfulness of continued detention, in particular of persons with medical conditions placing them at increased risk from COVID-19.
In response, the Home Office has committed to reviewing all detainees’ case files to release as many people as possible, as quickly as possible, unless they pose a grave danger to the public. When the government began their case-by-case review, one case of COVID-19 had already been confirmed in Yarl’s Wood IRC, two cases had been reported in Brook House, and symptoms were recorded in most other removal centres.
Under the current circumstances, detention centres are at risk of becoming hotbeds of coronavirus spreading, as both detainees and staff are constantly in close contact with each other and amongst themselves. In efforts to prevent the virus from spreading within the centres, some facilities have isolated detainees and barred them from leaving their rooms, effectively turning their bedroom into a prison cell.
Nevertheless, Detention Action lost their case in the High Court, and the Home Office still refuses to systematically release all individuals currently held in detention, putting all individuals involved in this system at continued risk of ill health.
Government action, however, shows awareness that keeping detainees locked up could come back to bite them. Since Detention Action launched their claim, the Home Office released over 350 people held under immigration powers. The courts are also playing their part, as a solicitor from Bail for Immigration Detainees (BiD), a London-based charity, reported that ever since the travel restrictions and lockdown were enforced, 13 of his clients were granted bail and no applications were refused.
This is good news, but it is not enough. People currently held under immigration powers still need to go through the process of applying for bail if they are to be released, a process which has been made significantly more complicated by the pandemic itself.
On 20 March 2020, visits to immigration detention centres were indefinitely suspended as part of measures to contain the virus. This does not only have devastating implications for detainees on a personal level, as they can no longer see their loved ones. It also means that lawyers can no longer visit their clients in immigration removal centres.
Meanwhile, the Tribunal has started holding hearings remotely, but it seems that the courts do not lean itself to the online sphere easily, and their infrastructure is not ready to make the transition. This failure of court proceedings weakens detainees’ access to justice even further, as bail hearings are frustrated by the practicalities of online hearings.
This situation is not sustainable. After calls from Strasbourg and the Council of Europe to release immigration detainees in the face of this crisis, it is time to release everyone currently held under immigration powers, close detention centres and ensure that every individual receives the necessary care and support they need and deserve during these unprecedented times.
Just a month ago, when the government introduced its new points-based immigration system, a lot of workers in the health, food production, and transport industries were considered unskilled workers, and unwelcome in post-Brexit Britain.
The basics of the proposed points-based system are clear. If a worker does not have a secondary school diploma, does not speak English, or their salary falls below £25,600, the door to the UK is closed for them. As it turns out, a lot of these “low-skilled” workers are now considered essential in the fight to manage, control and survive the coronavirus crisis. In the current circumstances, they have been put under additional strain.
The trend to bulk buy has put staff in supermarkets and grocery stores under significant pressure, with one employee writing that him and his co-workers have been working long days on their feet, anticipating the next few weeks to be “a nightmare,” and advising against panic buying. There is no reason to bulk buy: there are no food shortages anywhere in Europe, and supermarkets are staying open throughout nation-wide lockdowns as they are part of a (small) group of essential businesses which are exempt from the new rules.
But this may soon change. Agricultural workers from eastern Europe usually fill the majority of jobs on farms. The combination of Brexit caps on seasonal workers with strict coronavirus travel restrictions has slowed recruitment in agriculture, and the EU labour force is simply not coming through. UK farmers find themselves in a crisis and could face a shortage of 80,000 labourers this summer if the Government fails to intervene. These spots as fruit pickers need to be filled by British workers or fruit and vegetables will be left unpicked, and stocks could be put in danger.
Jobs now classified as “key workers” include NHS staff, social workers, the police and military, and those working in food distribution, energy, utilities and transportation. In other words, the people sustaining essential businesses are, by extent, deemed essential workers, as they help feed and care for a country in standstill.
Only a few weeks ago, Johnson’s government described these people and the jobs they filled as “low skilled”, stating that the government “intends to create a high wage, high-skill, high productivity economy.” If anything, the COVID-19 pandemic highlights the stark dissonance between this government’s policy on who is key in keeping the economy running and the truth on who is actually keeping the country together. It proves that “low-skilled” labour does not equate low-value labour. Recognising these workers as “key” or “essential” is a step towards recognising that they form the backbone of our society and without them, British civilisation would have already collapsed. The question remains whether this will be reflected in immigration policy when all of this blows over, and the pandemic finally dies down.
The EU Settlement Scheme statistics for Feb 2020 is out:
It includes 300 refusals. We’re told by the Home Office that the increase is mainly due to refusals for eligibility, not in criminality.
The two core reasons, the HO say, for the jump in refusals include:
1. Failing to provide eligibility evidence, either at the application stage or in reply to requests from the Settlement Resolution Centre
2. The non-EEA/Swiss family member failing to evidence their relationship to the EEA/Swiss national. This is could include failing to provide a marriage certificate through to not possessing the relevant document as a dependent relative.
In either scenario the HO say that they:
- have made every attempt to obtain the necessary evidence before refusing the application,
- decisions to refuse were not taken lightly, and
- ensured decisions were made at the appropriate decision making level
The number of refusals remain a significantly low number in comparison to the number of applications. And that many refusals were because of a drop in communications between both parties.
But it does raise the question if everyone who was contacted chose not to reply to request for further information or found it too complex to do so, and without access to the necessary support, they simply gave up. The HO were not able to give us this kind of granular data.
The HO assures applicants that they will pursue any necessary missing information or documentation. Or, if refused, encourages reapplications before the deadline.
A recent inspection report by the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration advises that there should be ‘clearer messaging' about the consequences of not responding within the time-frame indicated’. We hope that this message will become clearer in time.
These statistics will cause concern and there remain a lot of questions, but we should not panic. Yet.
The HO should contact all applicants for further information to resolve issues before it reaches the decision stage. We hope they take into account the Covid-19 advice gap.
These are times of uncertainty and while the primary concern is for public health, without further assurances from the UK Government, the vulnerability of being subject to immigration control can compound other worries during any crisis. The large-scale postponement, suspension and cancellation of social activity, including working and studying commitments, poses some important questions about satisfying the conditions of student visas.
UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) requires all Tier 4 institutions (schools, colleges, higher education facilities and universities) to keep a record of sponsored Tier 4 students including their attendance levels. This is required in order to meet their sponsor duties towards the UKVI when sponsoring students to study with them.
There are consequences to students who are absent from studies or cannot complete their studies before their Tier 4 visa expires. If a student misses 10 consecutive expected points of contact, without the Tier 4 institution’s authorisation, the guidance normally requires them to withdraw their sponsorship of the student. If their sponsorship is withdrawn from the student, the student will have no longer be able to continue their studies in the UK.
What about absences due to Covid-19?
The current circumstances being exceptional, specific government guidance that addresses Covid-19, last updated on 27 February 2020 and since overshadowed by other announcements, has been issued (last updated on the 27th February) gives us some parameters to work with:
‘Some Tier 4 students or Tier 2/5 employees may be prevented from attending their studies or employment due to illness, the need to serve a period of quarantine or the inability to travel due to travel restrictions caused by coronavirus’.
This covers students who are taken ill by Covid-19, with absences authorised by the institution, as well as those whose movements have been restricted due to the threat. It goes on to say:
‘The Home Office recognises the current situation is exceptional and will not take any compliance action against students or employees who are unable to attend their studies/work due to the coronavirus outbreak, or against sponsors which authorise absences and continue to sponsor students or employees despite absences for this reason. The Home Office will keep this under review, especially if the length of absences mean a potential repeat of period of studies become necessary’.
This means Tier 4 institutions do not need to report students who are absent due to Covid-19, as long as those absences are authorised by them. This also means the institution should not withdraw their sponsorship of the student.
In light of the guidance and given that the situation is developing and changing constantly, it is advisable that students keep a record of any emails or letters sent by their institution, which confirm (in writing) the latest advice on, or authorisation of attendances, while Covid-19 is posing health and logistical issues to life in the UK.
What about institution closures or online studying?
The above guidance would apply if a Tier 4 institution decides to close completely or partially. This will be fine for short-term absences due to closures. Some Tier 4 institutions are deciding to close premises and transfer all teaching online – in these cases, they need to ensure they are confident the students are ‘attending’ online sessions in order to maintain their UKVI duties.
However, if the absences become so long that the student is unable to complete their studies before their visa expires then the institution will have no choice but to cancel their sponsorship. No one should be in this situation yet and we expect - given that this appears to be a long term situation - the above government Covid-19 guidance to be updated to inform us how they intend to deal with longer term absences.
We will update you when the government’s Covid-19 guidance is updated.
Post-Brexit, all EU, EEA and Swiss citizens (‘EU citizens’) and their non-EEA family members living in the UK are required to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme (‘EUSS’) in order to continue living legally in the UK after 30 June 2021. People who are currently living abroad, but who have previously lived in the UK for five years, may also apply be eligible for settled status.
The status of EU citizens in the UK who fail to apply to the EUSS before the deadline is currently uncertain. As such, an estimate of the number of people who need to apply would be helpful to ensure that the affected population have properly secured their rights before the deadline, so that no one is left in limbo. This is easier said than done as there is no centralised record of the number of EU citizens living in the UK, so will we ever know the true number?
The Home Office has been regularly releasing statistics on the number of applications the EUSS has received. The latest figures for January 2020 showed that:
- A total of 3.1 million applications were received by 31 January 2020
- 2.7 million applications were concluded by 31 January 2020, of which 58% were granted settled status and 41% were granted pre-settled status
- 351,800 applications were received in January 2020
At first glance, the task of estimating the number of people who still need to apply to the EUSS seems a simple exercise in comparing the number of EU citizens living in the UK to the number of applications the Home Office has received. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), an estimated 3.4 million EU citizens are resident in the UK.
However, the ONS has recently released a note explaining the pitfalls of applying their population estimate to the EUSS application data, advising that the two sets of data should not be directly compared.
Importantly, estimates of EU citizens living in the UK do not include eligible non-EU family members, nor does the estimate include eligible citizens who are not currently resident in the UK. The ONS statistic is also based on data from the Annual Population Survey, which does not survey people living in communal establishments such as care homes, hostels and halls of residence, people who are absent from a household for more than six months, or people studying in the UK on a shorter-term basis. The exclusion of these people suggests that the actual number of people eligible under the EUSS will be larger than the ONS estimate. Therefore, relying on the ONS estimate risks underestimating the number of people affected.
Conversely, there are people who are included in ONS population estimate who do not need to apply for the EUSS, which further complicates the numbers, for example, people with indefinite leave to enter or remain in the UK and people exempt from immigration control such as foreign diplomats. The ONS estimate is also intention-blind; there are EU citizens who are currently resident in the UK for a range of reasons, and some of them may not intend to settle here on a permanent basis, so will never apply under the EUSS.
Moreover the statistics are gathered using different methodologies. Home Office statistics count the actual number of applications made. Some of these applications will have been made by people living outside the UK, and other people will have made more than one application, for instance if they were initially granted pre-settled status and have applied again for settled status. The ONS statistic is an estimate based on a sample survey, so is inevitably more uncertain.
The inaccuracy of comparing these figures can be shown by the fact that the Home Office has already received 156,600 applications from Bulgarian citizens, whereas the ONS estimates only 109,000 Bulgarians are currently resident in the UK. This cannot be taken to mean that every Bulgarian in the UK has already applied to the EUSS.
These difficulties point to the caution needed when estimating the number of people eligible to apply for the EUSS. The number of applications received cannot be accurately compared to estimates of resident EU nationals to calculate the number of people who should apply under the EUSS. Ultimately, the true numbers of eligible citizens may never be known and the EUSS will be with us for many years after the deadline.
On 1 February 2020, João Vale de Almeida, a Portuguese diplomat, took office in the role that was created for him. There had never been an EU ambassador to the UK, because there was no need for one. After Brexit Day, this all changed. The EU has delegations in all countries that are not members of the bloc, such as Turkey and Canada; the UK is no (longer) different. As such, Vale de Almeida now sits in his rebranded West London office, which used to be the home of the EU Representation in the UK.
Until last year, he was EU ambassador to the United Nations in New York, in addition to having served as ambassador to the United States between 2010 and 2015. During his time in Washington, he helped launch trade talks between the EU and the US, and gained significant recognition for his achievements as a skillful and experienced diplomat.
Similarly to Boris Johnson, Vale de Almeida started his career as a journalist. It comes as no surprise, then, that he and Mr. Johnson have known each other since before they both moved to politics, when Mr. Johnson was a journalist for the Daily Telegraph. His link with the PM is another reason why it is him, and not anyone else, who has been put in charge of the monumental task as ambassador: to ensure the withdrawal agreement runs smoothly, and both parties hold up their end of the bargain.
The UK is to set up an independent monitoring authority to oversee EU citizens’ rights by 1 January 2021, the day the transitional period after Brexit ends. It will monitor an array of issues, including the EU Settlement Scheme, social welfare and employment rights. Vale de Almeida’s office will be complementing this service. He acknowledged that it is Brussels’ and the UK’s joint responsibility to ensure that all EU citizens obtain status under the Settlement Scheme (EUSS), and plans to increase the outreach tools in order to reach “deeper into the British society” to ensure everyone knows their rights.
At Seraphus, we have first-hand experience with these groups of vulnerable people, as we have been delivering workshops and information sessions about the EUSS to EU citizens across the country since the Home Office rolled out the Scheme in 2019. Christopher Desira, Seraphus’ director and founding solicitor, explains: “There are so many barriers for people to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme. It could be language, or education. It could be physical or mental health issues, dependency issues, street homelessness, living in precarious residence accommodation, or a combination of a number of those.
For example, we gave a workshop to an East Timorese community in Northern Ireland. These are East Timorese citizens who have acquired Portuguese nationality. Many of them do not speak English, or at least not very well. They do not get the connection between Brexit and their free movements rights ending; they just know now that their Portuguese passport means they can live and work anywhere in the UK. They don’t know or understand that Brexit affects that. They were lucky that someone in their community who made an effort to bring all these people together in a room, invite us to attend, and function as an interpreter. He is a real community champion. If it was not for that person, that community would have no knowledge of the scheme whatsoever.”
Needless to say, the more issues an individual has, the harder it is to reach them and the harder it will be to ensure those people apply without any legal assistance. This is where many external organisations, ranging from charities such as the3million or Settled, to law firms such as Seraphus, come in to reach more people in meaningful ways. Vale de Almeida has said he will specifically help vulnerable EU nationals, such as Roma people, the elderly, prisoners, or people with little knowledge of English, to stay in Britain. We hope to make good on his promise.
In Adrian Berry’s excellent blogpost, the author and barrister helpfully summarises the ways in which people automatically become British citizens. The complexity of this area of law means that some people may believe they are British when they actually aren’t, and others may already be British citizens without knowing it, especially since one can be a British citizen without having a British passport - a passport doesn’t give you nationality, it is only evidence of nationality.
The law in this area is particularly pertinent for those who may need to apply for the EU Settlement Scheme, but do not realise they need to do so because they mistakenly believe they are British citizens. These individuals must still apply to the EUSS before the deadline, which is the 31 December 2020. So how can you find out if you’re British, or if you need to apply?
You are automatically a British citizen if you were born in the UK or in British overseas territories to a British citizen parent or a parent with indefinite leave to remain. This means that even if you were born in the UK to parents who are EU nationals, you are not automatically a British citizen unless one of your parents had indefinite leave to remain at the time of your birth. Indefinite leave to remain means being ordinarily resident in the UK (i.e. not a visitor) and having no time restrictions on the permission to be in the UK. EU citizens can automatically acquire such a permanent residence status after five years of residence if they are working, self-employed or self-sufficient/student with comprehensive health insurance.
The parent could be either your mother or father. Prior to 2006, parents had to be married before fathers could pass on their British citizenship, so if you were born before 2006 to a British father you may have to register for citizenship. The parent passing on their citizenship could also be your adoptive parent if you were adopted in the UK or a Hague Convention country.
Those born in a foreign country can be British citizens by descent if they have a British citizen parent. However, this is only the case for one generation: British citizens by descent (those born outside the UK) cannot pass citizenship on automatically to children born outside the UK and British overseas territories. So, if you and your British parent were born outside the UK, you may not be a British citizen unless you have been registered.
Other people automatically became British citizens on 1 January 1983 if they were previously Citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies with a right of abode in the UK, because this is when the British Nationality Act 1981 came into force. Similarly, some people in British overseas territories were automatically made British Citizens through the British Overseas Territories Act 2002.
British nationality comes in different forms so people without British Citizenship could still have British nationality. For example, British Protected Persons are British nationals who have connections to former British colonial possessions. British Protected Persons can be found in now independent countries such as Kenya, Uganda, Zambia and Malawi. People who were born pre-1949 in India or Pakistan but who did not become an Indian or Pakistani citizen after independence will have retained their British Subject status. Alternatively, under the British Nationality Act 1981, people acquire nationality if they were born Stateless and would remain stateless unless given British nationality.
Even if you don’t automatically possess British nationality, you could still acquire it if you register or apply for naturalisation.
If you’re European and unsure whether you hold British nationality, it is worth checking soon. You need to check so, if necessary, you can apply for the EUSS scheme before the deadline on the 31 December 2020, and ensure you remain in the UK legally after Brexit.
The United Kingdom (UK) left the European Union (EU) on 31 January 2020. Since then, the government has been rolling out changes to the immigration system, adapting it to a world without free movement to and from Europe. Today, the government finally revealed its plan for post-Brexit economic migration in Britain. At its core is the idea of “taking back control,” a slogan which won the 2016 Brexit referendum, implemented through the end of free movement, a new visa system for EU and third-party nationals alike and a focus on “skilled migrants” to reduce overall immigration.
Under the current immigration rules, EU citizens do not need a visa to work and live in the UK because they benefit from freedom of movement. Those from outside the EU have to meet certain requirements such as English language skills, sponsorship by a company and a salary threshold in order to apply for a visa. There is a cap of 21,000 on the number of visas awarded per year.
Following the new plan, freedom of movement with the EU will end, and EU nationals will be subject to the same exact rules as non-EU nationals. As such, people coming to the UK from any country in the world for the purpose of work or study, other than some short-term business visitors and short-term students, will have to obtain a visa for which they will pay a fee. In addition, employers will have to pay an Immigration Skills surcharge on their migrant employees, and migrants from in and outside of the EU will have to pay an Immigration Health Surcharge. The only group unaffected by the new rules are Irish nationals, which the government states will be able to enter and exit the UK the same way they always have.
… to an Australian points-based system?
Freedom of movement will be replaced by with what the government calls a points-based system, supposedly modelled after the Australian immigration system which allows economic migrants to settle if they can demonstrate that they have a blend of skills and qualifications adding up to enough points. The selling point of a true points-based system is its flexibility, as it allows migrants to mix and match from a list of characteristics to reach the necessary threshold, and then settle in the host country without having to meet any mandatory requirements, such as an employment sponsorship as one needs in the US for example.
The government proposals released today, however, fail to offer that flexibility and probably explains the complete absence of the term ‘Australia-style’ system. The plan requires all economic migrants wanting to come to the UK to fulfil three essential requirements, which are worth 50 points all together. In addition to that, individuals will have to score another 20 points based on their salary expectations to reach 70 points overall, and be eligible to apply for a visa. The minimum salary threshold to reach 70 points automatically is set at £25,600. If the applicant earns less than that required minimum salary threshold, but no less than £20,480, they may still be able to reach 70 points by demonstrating that they have a job offer in a specific shortage occupation such as nursing, or that they have a PhD relevant to the job. The policy paper specifically states that there will be no regional concessions to different parts of the UK, nor will there be a dedicated route for self-employed people.
The three essential requirements are knowledge of the English language, a job offer from an approved sponsor, and a job at the appropriate skill level. These mandatory requirements differentiate the system from its Australian counterpart, and therefore, the plan is not a true points-based system. Especially the job offer requirement flies in the face of the Australian analogy, where every year, the largest percentage of new economic permanent resident visas are awarded to individuals without a job offer, but who make up for it with other skills or abilities from the list.
For highly-skilled workers, the government laid out its extended Global Talent visa route on the day Britain left the EU. Through this scheme, the most highly skilled, who can achieve the required level of points, will be able to enter the UK without a job offer if they are endorsed by a relevant and competent body. For now, this forms the only exception to the job offer requirement, although the policy plan promises to roll out a broader unsponsored route within the points-based system to run alongside the employer-led system in the future.
The appropriate skill level under the points-based system is set at the equivalent to A-levels. Anyone who does not meet that level will not be able to apply, as it is one of the mandatory requirements. Additionally, the plan explicitly states that there will be no general low-skilled or temporary work route ‘…shifting the focus of [the UK] economy away from a reliance on cheap labour from Europe…’, leaving immense labour shortages in specific industries. The list of low-skilled workers industries includes waiters, waitresses, elementary agriculture workers and fishery workers. The report unhelpfully states ‘Employers will need to adjust.’
Special arrangements are put in place for certain sectors such as scientists, graduates, NHS workers, to fill the gap, but these arrangements are unlikely to resolve the immense labour shortage created. The cap for the agricultural sector, for example, is increasing to 10,000 places per year for seasonal workers who harvest the fields, but remains far below the National Farmers’ Union’s (NFU) demands for 70,000 temporary visas in 2021. Nothing is mentioned of other groups likely to get caught up in the low-skilled workers group such as care home workers, waiters, cleaners or domestic workers. This drew immediate criticism from people in the sector, as the hospitality sector, for instance, famously relies on an EU national workforce, with Pret A Manger reporting that only one in 50 job applicants was a British national in 2018.
The newly released plan indicates a major overhaul in the UK’s approach to economic migration. It does not, however, affect students, family migration, or asylum law. Notably, none of these changes will take effect immediately. The transitional period, in which EU nationals are still free to exercise their free movement rights in the same way they were when the UK was still a part of the EU, is set to end on 31 December 2020. On 1 January 2021, then, is when the proposed changes will come into force. Even then, they will not take effect retroactively. As such, they will not affect the millions of EU citizens already living in the UK, and the job market is not going to change overnight. They will, however, change the composition of who comes and stays in the UK in the future. But for the 2016 Brexit voters, that future may be too far away to offer satisfaction.
The World Health Organisation defines Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) as ‘all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.’ FGM is an intrusive and extremely painful procedure which stains a girl’s entire life, and is linked with severe long-term consequences including cysts, infections and complications in childbirth.
A 2016 government report states that FGM is child abuse. It promises not to tolerate this practice in the UK, and expresses a commitment to taking concerted action to prevent and ultimately end FGM.
As such, the government has taken active steps to combat it. In the UK, agencies have been set up and legislation passed to fight the practice aggressively. FGM has been a criminal offense in Britain since 1985, and new legislation in 2003 introduced a jail term of up to 14 years for British citizens carrying out FGM abroad, even in countries where it is legal to do so. Beyond British borders, the government pledged to invest £50m in grassroots organisations working to stop the practice across Africa, where it is most prevalent. As it stands, there are over 30 countries where young girls are still routinely subject to FGM. That begs the questions: what happens to girls who escape the practice in their home country and seek refuge elsewhere? Does the commitment to prevent and end FGM extend to them?
In order to qualify for refugee status in the UK, an asylum seeker must show a fear of persecution in their home country. Claims made based on fear of FGM have to fit into this legal terminology in order to succeed. Three basic elements must be proven for the claim to be successful. Firstly, the asylum seeker must have a well-founded fear of persecution. Secondly, the individual must be subject to the persecution for reason of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion. Lastly, the asylum seeker must prove that they cannot be adequately protected against the persecution in their country of origin. These three elements are worth discussing each in turn.
FGM has been classed as a form of torture and inhumane or degrading treatment, and as a violation of the human rights as well as health and bodily integrity of women and girls. It violates numerous human rights statutes such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), as well as the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) which asks to ‘protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse.’ As such, FGM constitutes persecution in the legal sense of the word.
Considering the second element, FGM can be claimed under a couple of these umbrellas. Since it is a practice that affects only women and these women experience discrimination in their countries of origin, they can be considered to belong to the particular social group “women.” FGM is a form of violence against women and girls which is in itself both a cause and consequence of gender inequality, and therefore targets a particular social group, namely a particular gender. Opposition to FGM can also be considered a religious or political opinion. Either argument can satisfy the second element of an asylum claim.
Lastly, the claimant must prove that they cannot accurately be protected against persecution in their home country by for example relocating or seeking protection from the local authorities. This is where it usually goes wrong. The Home Office, focused on meeting net migration targets, often claims that contrary to the evidence, the risk of FGM in such cases is low because the mother can single-handedly protect her daughter from familial, religious or community pressure to undergo FGM; or that, just because the mother has been cut, it does not necessarily follow that her daughter will be cut; or that the state can protect the girl from FGM. As a consequence, asylum is often refused, even though it is widely documented that, when considering the risk of FGM, the most important factors are whether the girl’s family has a history of practising FGM, whether it is known to be practised in her community or country of origin, and whether laws to facilitate protection against are actually enforced in that particular country (hint – they often are not.)
If a girl has already been subjected to FGM when she claims asylum, the claim will usually also be refused. The physical and psychological trauma of having been through the mutilation does not, under current law, form a sufficient basis for an asylum claim, since the claimant is not at risk of FGM in the future. As such, unless there is a reasonable degree of likelihood that the procedure might be redone after the birth of a baby, or that FGM might be performed on the claimant’s daughters, someone who has previously been cut will not be granted asylum on that basis alone.
Even when a FGM claim succeed, that only guarantees status for the person directly at risk. More often than not, these claimants are children on the cusp of puberty. Since parents cannot be dependants on their daughter’s asylum claim, the Home Office has to evaluate whether accompanying parents qualify for refugee status on the basis of a well-founded fear of persecution in their own right. This may be either as a member of a particular social group, that group being the accompanying parents of a daughter at risk of FGM, or for other reasons in the country of return. If this is not the case, the parents may be granted discretionary leave, but, predictably, this is entirely at the Home Office’s discretion, effectively bringing these children at risk of separation from their parents if they want to avoid mutilation back home.
This exemplifies the duplicity of the government’s public commitment to ending FGM with real support for victims. On the one hand, the rhetoric against FGM is strong and unequivocal. In the UK, as well as for British citizens abroad, the practice is criminalised and heavily punishable. On the other hand, women and girls at risk of mutilation abroad are deported. As Charlotte Proudman, a Goldsmiths chambers barrister and academic specialised in FGM cases said last year, if the government was genuinely committed to protecting women and girls from FGM, it would be concerned with them being cut at home as well as overseas.
The government published their third set of quarterly statistics on the progress of the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) today. It states that as of 31 December 2019, over 2.7 million applications were received, of which over 2.4 million have been concluded. The Home Office processes about 20,000 applications per day. Of the concluded applications, 58% of applicants were granted settled status, 41% were granted pre-settled status and 1% had other outcomes, including withdrawn or void applications. To date, six applications have been refused on suitability grounds.
Whilst the statistics may seem favourable from the Home Office’s perspective, they are not as rosy as they seem. In our last post on EUSS statistics we highlighted some of the issues with the Scheme, including double applications, inaccurate estimates of the number of EU nationals living in the UK, and the Home Office’s ability to ensure vulnerable communities apply to the Scheme. In the latest set of statistics, published on 6 February 2020, these issues are mentioned, but not resolved.
The report explicitly recognises double applications as a concern. It states:
“The data in this report account for the number of applications to the system, including individuals making applications on more than one occasion. An individual who has been granted pre-settled status can make a new application at a later stage to apply for settled status. As these are separate applications with separate outcomes, they are counted separately in the statistics.”
In the upcoming months after Brexit, the number of applicants wanting to convert their pre-settled status to settled status, and thus applying to the EUSS for the second time, will keep rising. As such, the significance of the total number of applicants mentioned in the Home Office statistics will only lessen, until the numbers published mean nothing at all.
The report also reminds readers that the EUSS statistics refer specifically to applications made to the EU Settlement Scheme, and therefore cannot be compared with estimates of the resident population of EU/EEA nationals in the UK. This is because figures include non-EEA family members as well as eligible EEA citizens not currently resident in the UK.
Additionally, it states that support is available for those EU citizens in the UK who do not have the access, skills or confidence to apply independently. Clearly, that additional support is insufficient, since the number of applicants from the age group of 65 or older remains low, at 2% of the total number of applications.
No solution is offered to resolve these issues. On the contrary: after explicitly conceding all of the above, the Home Office boasted that the EU Settlement Scheme has reached “a new milestone.” Home Secretary Priti Patel said she is “delighted that there have already been more than 3 million applications to the hugely successful EU Settlement Scheme,” even though the statistical report shows that this number is misleading.
From a legal point of view, there is also a likely misrepresentation in the statistics regarding refused applications. Appendix EU to the Immigration Rules, which lays out the EUSS in law, states that applications are automatically refused when the individual who applies is subject to a deportation order due to their criminal record. Additionally, applications may be refused if the Secretary of state believes that the decision to refuse is conducive to the public good, even when there is no deportation order against the individual.
In light of this, six refused applications may not seem like a lot, but it is becoming apparent that this number might be manipulated, as the more difficult cases are left at the bottom of the pile. Additionally, we have seen proof that under certain circumstances, previously granted status may be revoked or invalidated. One EEA national, who was convicted to six months imprisonment for a battery offence, was detained upon completion of his custodial sentence irrespective of him having obtained settled status under the EUSS. His status is set to be revoked because of his failure to disclose previous offences which he committed in the Netherlands years before moving to the UK, even though they may not be serious enough offences to justify a refusal of status in the first place. We know for a fact that there is ministerial involvement in this case, following the Home Secretary’s decision to authorise the enforcement and removal action in this and five other test cases. This case has been ongoing for nearly five months, during which the individual remains held in detention. In the meantime, the Home Office try to justify his removal based on a failure to disclose, rather than based on his danger to the public – so much for hailing the simplicity, fairness and flexibility of the scheme.
Moreover, more refusals for non-EEA nationals with EEA national spouses/partners are expected. Non-EEA nationals can apply for a family permit under the EUSS based on a genuine and subsisting relationship with an EEA national who has status in the UK. Christopher Desira, Seraphus’ founding solicitor, confirms that decisions on such applications are currently abnormally delayed:
“I know of some EEA nationals with Non-EEA national spouses/partners who previously applied for residence cards but were refused based on the belief that the relationship is one of convenience. They since applied to the EUSS scheme. The Home Office know of the previous refusals so are likely to refuse again but they are currently not making any decisions for reasons I can only guess are political. Refusing EUSS status for serious offending is one thing, but refusing because they don’t trust a relationship is another.
Decisions should not be put on hold for long periods of time, whether they end up being refused or not; they should be issued so individuals know where they stand, challenge the decision where necessary, and move on with their lives.”
On 29 March 2017, the United Kingdom notified the European Council of its intention to leave the European Union, in accordance with Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union. After almost three years of delay, powerplay and disarray, the day has finally come. Yesterday, the European Parliament officially approved the Withdrawal Agreement. Emotional but sober images of Remain MEPs singing Auld Lang Syne as MEPs signed the Agreement. At 23:00 tonight the British Union flag will be removed from the European institutions in Brussels, and the EU flag lowered from City Hall in London. The UK will officially no longer be a part of the European Union. In anticipation of this, steps have been taken to prepare the country for a complete upheaval of the legal and political framework in the UK.
In an act of defiance, the Scottish government narrowly won a vote to keep the EU flag flying over the Edinburgh parliament building after Brexit. Because, as Fiona Hyslop, cabinet secretary for culture, tourism and external affairs, stated, “at times of uncertainty and disruption, symbols matter.”
And symbols do matter. They do not, however, define what will happen to EU citizens living in the UK in practice – not in the short term. What will change, here and now, for EU citizens coming to the UK and the other way around? Obviously, a lot. Today the government published a Statement of changes to the Immigration Rules, officialising the first immediate change in the law of the UK in practice.
It introduces a new visa category called “Global Talent.” This will replace the existing Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) category. The Global Talent visa is branded as a new type of visa for talented and promising individuals in the fields of science, digital technology, arts and culture wanting to work and research in the UK.
The process to receive this visa is not dissimilar from the old Exceptional Talent route: Global Talent applicants must hold an endorsement from an organisation engaged by the Home office to develop sector-specific criteria, just like before. The main difference is that the new Global Talent category will not be subject to a cap on the number of applicants, whereas the ole Exceptional Talent category was capped at 2000 places per year. The removal of the cap is supposed to ensure that migrants who can meet the qualifying criteria will be able to secure entry to the UK. Applicants will be able to choose how much leave, in whole years, up to a maximum of 5 years they wish to be granted in a single application, and pay their immigration health surcharge accordingly.
The new category will take effect on 20 February 2020 – real and tangible changes to many other areas of the law will follow until the end of the transition period in June 2021. Incremental change as well as major overhauls will transform the UK after Brexit, including Scotland, and no flag waving above Holyrood will change that.
Earlier this month, it was reported that EU citizens face a “teachers tax” of £4,345 over 5 years if they want to come teach in the UK after Brexit. Although not factually incorrect, this statement does not reflect the law – or the reality – of teachers working in the UK.
There is no such thing as a “teachers’ tax.” There is simply an immigration system already in place which in consequence of the Brexit vote will apply to anyone who does not fall under the umbrella of exemptions to that system. In other words, after Brexit, EU citizens will fall under the same immigration regime as third party (non-EU) nationals. Curbing immigration by ending free movement in this way was one of the Leave-campaign’s main selling points, and largely how they won the 2016 referendum.
Effectively, the end of free movement means that everyone, including EU nationals, will need to apply for a visa if they want to enter and live in the UK post-Brexit. The Johnson government has drawn up a plan of what this would look like. Needless to say, under this plan, getting a visa costs money. The Tier 2 visa, which is the working visa for which teachers would have to apply if the rules stay as they are now, costs £1220 if it is a permit for longer than 3 years. In addition to that, the government has stated that any non-British nationals will be liable to pay a yearly NHS immigration surcharge, which all non-EU migrants already pay today. The price of the immigration surcharge is set to go up to £800 a year. If you add up 5 years’ worth of immigration surcharge with the visa fees, it will cost at least £4,345 to live and work in the UK for five years after Brexit, explaining the figure that The Independent alludes to.
Some groups of special workers will have different requirements. The main group of workers with guaranteed special status is NHS workers. The Tory manifesto promises to alleviate the burden of immigration for EU workers with NHS job offers by offering cheaper visa fees and fast-track entry. It is their attempt to ensure that the NHS survives Brexit, labour shortages are filled and employment targets met. It is not unimaginable that if the government recognises a labour shortage and reliance on Europe for the NHS, it may do so for other fields and professions as well.
In short, unless the government implements a special exemption for teachers, which may be a good idea considering the labour shortage in the teaching profession, then yes, they too, like any non-British nationals in the UK, will have to pay for immigration services and the cost of these applications is not to be underestimated. But it is not a tax on teachers, as the Independent article seems to imply. Rather, it is simply the price tag which comes attached to the UK immigration system, which, after Brexit, will apply to EU and non-EU nationals alike.
Once the UK leaves the EU on 31 January, the Withdrawal Agreement, negotiated by Boris Johnson based on Theresa May’s earlier version, will come into force. The Agreement specifically states that the transition period, which is 11 months long and during which a permanent deal is supposed to be negotiated, can only be extended once, putting an end to the cycle of delays and fresh extensions which have dominated the Brexit process since the referendum in 2016. It also states that once the UK leaves, Article 50 can no longer be revoked, meaning that the only way to become a part of the EU will be to re-apply and start the process from scratch. This is set to happen on the 31 January, only two weeks from now – Brexit is real, unavoidable and rapidly approaching.
As that knowledge seeps through to the broader public, the European Parliament passed a resolution last week expressing the Members of the European Parliament’s (MEP) collective wariness for the future of EU citizens in Britain, as well as British citizens in EU member states.
The European Parliament has all EU citizens’ best interests at heart, as the resolution says, both “before and after the UK leaves the EU.” The complications begin when looking at who that phrase affects in the first place: EU citizens living in the EU27 and EU citizens living in the UK are the obvious ones, but what about the 1.2 million Brits living in other EU countries? What about the people of Northern Ireland, who are all entitled to Irish and by extent, EU citizenship, under the Good Friday agreement? This is where the water gets muddled. The British government has also not clarified whether the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS), their all-hailed solution for EU citizens in the UK to retain their rights, applies to citizens of Northern Ireland who have not sought UK citizenship under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.
The resolution expressed apprehension regarding the high proportion of applicants who have only been accorded pre-settled status under the Scheme; these people are at risk of losing their status before they qualify for settled status, or may not re-apply to get that settled status when the time comes. The resolution therefore urges the UK to reconsider their approach and opt for a declaratory scheme instead, an approach which our Managing Director previously endorsed.
It then goes on to state its “grave concern” at conflicting announcement made in relation to EU citizens in the UK who fail to meet the deadline for EUSS applications, and the treatment of late applications under the Scheme. Last year, UK Home Office minister Brandon Lewis suggested that people who had not applied to formalise their status by the cut-off date of 30 June 2021 could “theoretically” be deported.
Other concerns highlighted include the lack of physical documentation proving EU citizens right under the EUSS, and the potential discrimination that can flow from it. It recommends providing EU citizens with some type of physical evidence of their legal right to be in the UK by the end of the transition period to avoid this. Unfortunately, as our Managing Director explains in The Independent, this discrimination is already occurring. The resolution also mentions the UK’s plans for an Independent Monitoring Authority (IMA) which under the withdrawal deal is meant to monitor arrangements, questioning how fully independent of a watchdog this authority will really be. These concerns resonate with immigration lawyers and other professionals in the sector; no real details of how the IMA will operate have been released, and until the Ministry of Justice provides more details as to the construction and powers of the IMA, it is something that will need to be closely scrutinised as the situation develops and more details are released.
The EU’s approach to the post-Brexit transition seems to be one of cooperation and collaboration, but it is not without its limits. The Parliament therefore stated that the level of free movement granted to EU citizens after Brexit will be a factor in deciding the “degree of future cooperation in other areas.” As Ursula von Leyen, president of the European Commission, said in her speech at the London School of Economics (LSE) last week, the last few years have been difficult and divisive. What people need, and what they want, is certainty about their lives and their future, and certainty about the future of their loved ones. It is of paramount importance that in the next round of transitional negotiations, the British government lives up to those expectations.
Just shy of 2.6 million applications for status under the EU Settlement Scheme have been received since its launch in January 2019. That is what the latest set of statistics published by the Home Office, state.
October 2019 saw the highest number of applications per month since the EU Settlement Scheme was introduced: over half a million applications were submitted, with a looming possibility of Brexit day pushing people to action. The slightly overwhelming flow of applications has led to a backlog in processing times: more than 20% of applications were still being considered a month after having been received.
As more people apply, the strengths and weaknesses of the Scheme are becoming increasingly apparent.
Preliminarily, statistical estimates are unlikely to be accurate because it is simply not known how many EU nationals live in the UK. Free movement law has allowed EEA nationals to enter and leave the country without it being recorded for decades. As such, any estimates as to how many people should apply are only just that – estimates, which are hard to back up with hard evidence.
The Office of National Statistics (ONS) have attempted to do some work on this, but as the Scheme solidifies and application numbers increase, we can see that their published estimates are plainly wrong. Kuba Jablonowski, a Political Geography lecturer and researcher at Exeter University, dug into the numbers.
One major drawback of the ONS statistics is that some applications under the Scheme are counted towards the total number of applications despite coming from applicants who already have status under the Scheme. These are people who were granted or refused status, and then, for whatever reason, re-apply. The Home Office has confirmed that it counts repeat applications under the EU Settlement Scheme as new applications:
“It’s right that every application is counted because each application has a separate outcome. However, our initial analysis of internal figures suggest that repeat applications currently represent less than 0.5% of applications.”
0.5% out of 2.6 million applications may not sound that significant, but it means that thousands of cases are counted twice, distorting the statistics. Additionally, if the Home Office continues to use the same statistical methods, the discrepancy between the real number of applicants and the published numbers will only increase as many applicants who were initially granted pre-settled status will have to apply again to receive settled status, thus all becoming “double applicants.” Moreover, those who get a status in the crown dependencies, and also get a status under the Home Office scheme, are counted in the Home Office numbers. In reality, these should be ignored for the purposes of calculating the number of missing applicants.
Another red flag is the low number of applicants from the age group 65 or older. According to the statistics, only 2% of the total applications come from people aged over 65, although they make up a higher percentage of the EEA population in the UK. Reasons for this include the technology barrier, as well as the limited reach of government marketing and campaigning of the Scheme to secluded and isolated communities.
The discrepancy between expected/estimated applications and true applications is confirmed in the monthly statistics from October 2019. Following the ONS estimates, by October 2019, 132-148% of Portuguese nationals, 105-121% of Bulgarians, 93-102% of Italians, 90-101% of Spaniards and 92-99% of Romanians applied under the Scheme. Based on these numbers, more people from these countries have applied than the ONS even estimate are in the country – and there is another year of the transitional period to go, in which more applications are anticipated.
Clearly, there is little oversight on how well the Settlement Scheme is taking off. We do not know how many people have applied today – let alone how many people are supposed to apply by the cut-off date of 31 December 2020. Either the estimated number of EU nationals in the UK is inaccurate, or the double applications under the scheme have troubled the numbers – or both.
Last week’s general election means the Conservative Party now has a clear majority in government to fulfil the many promises they made in their manifesto, including major overhauls to immigration policy. Not only did Boris Johnson vow to get Brexit done by the New Year, but his party also plans to put EU nationals on the same level as third party nationals once free movement law ends. This in and of itself is a radical approach to immigration law, and will have major consequences for EU citizens in the UK.
After Brexit, once EU nationals are levelled with third party nationals, the conservatives want to introduce what they call a points-based immigration system, which they proclaim to base on the Australian visa system. The plan, broadly, is to introduce three visa categories after Brexit, for which anyone who moves to the UK will have to apply, and which replace existing categories.
The first is the “Exceptional Talent/Contribution” category, and includes the entrepreneur and investor visa. These visas are geared towards “highly educated migrants who have received world-leading awards or otherwise demonstrated exceptional talent, sponsored entrepreneurs setting up a new business or investors.” These people will not require a job offer and will receive fast-track entry to the UK. This category is not dissimilar from the current Tier 1 visa category, albeit with some minor changes.
The second category is for skilled workers, and to some extent, is a rebrand of the current Tier 2 category. The vast majority of these visas would require a job offer, in line with how work visas are allocated to third party nationals now. The skilled workers category is the only way for workers who meet the criteria of the points-based system and have a confirmed job offer to get limited leave to remain. It will effectively require all non-British nationals to prove that they have a job offer as well as reach the amount of points required under the points-based system. Needless to say, implementing this will constitute the most significant change compared to free movement law, which is currently in force, as it requires EU national to comply with visa requirements. This will have a massive impact on fields such as hospitality, where EU nationals make up more than half of the workforce, and the NHS. The Conservative party propose to make up for that potential labour shortage by introducing fast-track entry and reduced fees for certain special types of work, such as a NHS specific visa.
The general idea behind a points-based system is that people are scored on their personal attributes such as language skills, education, age and work experience. If their score hits the minimum required, they can acquire a visa. Crucially, there is no one fixed way to score enough points; a plethora of work experience can make up for older age and excellent language skills might make up for lack of formal education. As long as an individual’s different attributes add up to enough points, they will be granted a visa. The key point about points-based systems is not that they are inherently liberal or progressive; whether it is a liberal system will depend on how points are awarded. Rather, the key feature is their flexibility and the ability to get enough points by making any combination of characteristics. That is how the Australian points-based system works.
Contrastingly, the UK immigration system today is based on mandatory requirements. This is a system where applicants need to tick all the boxes in order to be granted a visa. For example, an applicant will need to prove his language skills, have a certain amount in savings, show that they have a job offer AND show that they will be making a minimum salary. If the individual lacks one of those requirements the visa will be refused, that is how simple it is.
The issues with the Tories’ proposals is that they want the best of both worlds. They want to introduce point-based characteristics, but keep the mandatory requirement of a job offer, combining mandatory requirements with points-based elements. Essentially, they want a points-based system where, after making the points-based selection, they can cherry pick who is granted a visa and who is not. As such, although they like to call it a points-based system, it not really points-based, and it is certainly not as simple or easy to navigate as portrayed by the Party.
The third category is the “sector-specific rules-based” category, which will be made up of specific temporary schemes such as for low-skilled labour, youth mobility or short-term visits. These visas will be time-limited and will not provide a path to settlement. They are how the government will attempt to match the demand for workers in specific sectors with enough visas to supply that demand. Supposedly, these visas will replace the free movement of labour with state planning. Deciding which markets need workers will be outsourced from the Home Office to the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC). This means that the MAC would react to gaps in the economy, flag them up, and the government will then create a temporary visa category to fill the gap. These will be revised on an ongoing basis based on expert advice from the MAC. In other words, the temporary visas will be reactionary in nature. They will be time-limited and will not provide a path to settlement. If this sounds difficult, that’s because it is. The economy adapts to reality more quickly than the law, and new policy takes months, if not years, to come into force. By the time a new visa category actually opens, the gap in the job market it was trying to fill may well have been resolved by market forces.
As an attentive reader may notice, the only migrants mentioned in the Conservative policy proposals are economic immigrants. The manifesto does not mention changes to other areas of the current immigration regime. It retains the status quo of Theresa May’s controversial hostile environment policies, fails to tackle legal aid cuts, and does not propose any change to the clear human rights violation of indefinite detention, for example. Additionally, the manifesto indicates an attack on judicial review. Since the removal and erosion of appeal rights in the 2014 Immigration Act, judicial review is now often the only recourse to justice for many people who have been wronged by the immigration system. Reforming judicial review, and limiting its scope, removes another layer of checks and balances on Home Office powers, suggesting that not only labour rights, but also human rights, are set to be qualified and watered down after Brexit and once this government starts rolling out policy.
A year has gone by since the Stansted 15 were convicted of terrorism offences for blocking the take-off of an immigration removal charter flight at Stansted airport. Where are they now, what has happened since, and how has the law changed?
On 28 March 2017, a group of nine men and six women cut a hole in the perimeter fence of Stansted Airport, and used lock-on devices to secure themselves around a Titan Airways Boeing 767 chartered by the Home Office to remove 60 undocumented immigrants to Nigeria, Ghana and Sierra Leone.
Initially, the Stansted 15 were charged with aggravated trespass, but four months later these charges were upped to “endangering safety at aerodromes”, a serious terrorism-related charge which can lead to a life sentence. As a consequence, on 10 December 2018, the 15 were convicted under this rarely used anti-terrorism legislation and faced a potential sentence of life in prison.
The verdict was criticized by many human rights organisations, including Amnesty International, as it was seen as a blow to non-violent human rights activism. It was said that by charging peaceful public dissenters with such heavy crimes, the prosecution effectively threatened the future of peaceful protests as well as the legitimacy of public dissent in the UK.
The 15 were protesting Theresa May’s hostile environment policy, introduced in 2013. The idea behind that policy is that by making life for undocumented individuals difficult in the UK, they will leave the country or report to the relevant authorities, allowing the Home Office to curb and control immigration more effectively. Amongst other things, the hostile environment policy requires immigration checks to be carried out before anyone can open a new bank account, be issued with a driving licence, rent a flat, or access routine health treatment. The judgment against the 15 seemed to reflect the government’s hostile approach to immigration generally
One of the people who had a seat booked on the mass deportation flight which the Stansted 15 managed to stop, said:
“Migration and deportation targets suck humanity from a system whose currency is the lives of people who happen to be born outside the UK. Such is the determination to look “tough” on the issue that people are rounded up in the night and put on to brutal, secretive and barely legal charter flights. Most take off away from the public eye – 60 human beings shackled and violently restrained on each flight, with barely a thought about the life they are dragged away from, nor the one they face upon arrival.”
After months in detention and years facing the hostile environment, he won his appeal, which he was only able to attend thanks to his flight being cancelled. He has now regularised his status in the UK, enabling him to live with his partner and three young children.
The Stansted 15 were sentenced in February 2019. The sentencing judge accepted they were motivated by “genuine reasons,” and as a consequence, all 15 avoided immediate prison sentences, with three set to be given suspended sentences and 12 set to be given community service. A year after their conviction, it is worth reflecting upon the state of the laws they were protesting against, and the cause for which they were willing to take such serious risks.
Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats have vouched to end the hostile environment, stating that making landlords and banks perform immigration checks instead of investing in the immigration system is an inhumane and ineffective way of policing migration. Dianne Abbott, Labour MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, has argued that mass deportation on chartered planes is a brutal way of responding to the current immigration panic, as it allows people to be bundled out of the country when they have not yet exhausted all their avenues of appeal and without due process. This was no different on the aircraft which the Stansted 15 managed to stop: today, at least two of the 60 passengers who were to be forcibly deported that day live legally in the UK. At least nine other claims remain outstanding.
The Stansted 15 stated that although they consider saving these 11 people’s lives a partial victory, there is still a long way to go. In the meantime, they have appealed their conviction, and are waiting for it to be listed in the coming months, as they refuse to accept their guilty verdict. One of 15, Benjamin Stoke, states,
“We were charged with endangering life, but we took the actions at Stansted to try to protect life.”
When New Labour came to power in 1997, just 3% of the public cited immigration as a key issue. By the time of the EU referendum in 2016, that figure was 48%. As a consequence, migration has become a key issue in political campaigns on all sides of the spectrum. For years, MPs have relied on strong rhetoric about migration in setting ambitious goals for “net migration”, installing the hostile environment and finally, in their approach to Brexit. In reality, harsh numerical targets have often not been met, and promises have failed to materialise. As evidenced by the three major party manifestos before the election of 12 December, immigration remains a hot topic. We take a look at the manifestos of the Liberal Democrats, Labour and the ruling Conservative party, and what they intend to do about an immigration system that desperately needs reform to help you make an informed decision.
One major issue on which the three parties have outlined a clear and very different strategy is Brexit. The Liberal Democrats, staunch Remainers from the very beginning, still promise that if they are elected, they will revoke Article 50, end Brexit and save freedom of movement for EEA nationals. The Labour Party backs a second referendum, promising that if they win, they will negotiate a new deal within three months, and present it to the people alongside an option to remain in the Union within six months – this time, as a legally binding referendum. The Tories remain committed to Brexit no matter what it may cost and promise to deliver it by January, based on Boris Johnson’s deal.
In a post-Brexit Britain, the Conservative Party Manifesto sets out that the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) will remain as it is, and that in the future EU nationals will be treated exactly the same as other foreign nationals. As such, people coming into the country from the EU will only be able to access unemployment, housing, and child benefits after five years, in the way non-EEA migrants currently do. They will also have to pay an NHS health surcharge to access public health services, the price of which the Tories promise to increase to reflect the full cost of use. The only care that will still be free under a Tory government is emergency care for those in need.
Labour, on the other hand, have a different approach. They propose to end the uncertainty of the EUSS by making it a declaratory scheme instead of an application process. A declaratory scheme would essentially establish that the rights one has now are carried through with them for their lifetime. Residents can then obtain physical evidence of their lawful lifetime residence right by asking for it. Lobbying groups such as the 3 million have endorsed such a declaratory scheme, arguing it ends the uncertainty of the EUSS, shields against the hostile environment policies, as well as guarantees favourable treatment of UK citizens living abroad in return.
The Liberal Democrats, then, have no proposals in place for if Brexit goes ahead. Their view is that they will do anything to stop it from happening; even if they do not win the election, the party says they will back a second referendum and campaign to remain.
On immigration policy, both Labour and the Liberal Democrats promise to end the hostile environment, decriminalise illegal working, and end indefinite detention. The Liberal Democrats openly advocate for a 28-day-time limit on detention, and for any decision to detain an individual for longer than 72 hours to be approved by the courts. This position was recommended to Parliament by the Joint Committee on Human Rights in their 16th report of the 2017-2019 session. Additionally, the LibDems want to close seven out of nine detention centres currently open in the UK, whereas Labour promises to close two of them, and to use the immediate savings towards a fund of £20 million to support the survivors of modern slavery, human trafficking and domestic violence.
All parties promise support for victims of the Windrush scandal, with the Conservative party offering to build a memorial for the Windrush generation. In the same symbolistic vein, the Tories have moved away from their rhetoric of “reducing net migration” although their manifesto still states that they will “keep the numbers down.” They propose to do this by instating a points-based system not unlike the one in Australia. The points-based system would be based on three pillars: education, English language skills, and criminality. The Tories promises to make decisions on who comes to this country on the basis of the skills they have and the contribution they can make to the country – not where they come from. The visa system, under the points-based system, would be rebooted, with many old visa routes being brought back to life, such as the post-study visa extension, the NHS visa, and the new start-up visa. The Tories also promise entry and exit checks, emphasising that the British people will be able to take back control of their borders.
The Liberal Democrats propose the most radical reforms to the immigration system as a whole. Not only do they promise to break down existing barriers as well as add new routes to permanent status - they also propose to remove the exemption of the Data Protection Act for immigration as well as separate enforcement and border control from decision-making. The former measure protects data privacy by establishing a firewall to prevent public agencies from sharing personal information with the Home Office for the purposes of immigration enforcement. The latter would prevent perverse factors from playing a role in decision-making by taking policymaking out of the Home Office altogether. Instead, the Liberal Democrats want to establish a new arms-length, non-political agency to take over processing applications, thus increasing the separation of power. As such, they would move policymaking on work permits and student visas out of the Home Office and into the Departments for Business and Education respectively. They would also move asylum policymaking from the Home Office to the Department for International Development and establish a dedicated unit to improve the speed and quality of decision-making. This may seem like a welcome development for those who have said that the Home Office needs to change its approach to asylum from the ground up, but the Institute of Government report was equivocal about the benefits of such separation. It could trouble accountability by splitting up decision-making, and case management where individuals and families don’t fit neatly into one category could be difficult. And finally, the Liberal Democrats, like Labour, will seek to reduce the fee for registering a child as a British citizen from £1,012 to the cost of administration – something that we’ve advocated for ourselves.
Labour, then, says the Tories have required landlords, teachers and medical staff to work as unpaid immigration officers when they created a hostile environment, instead of setting up an effective border control. A Labour government will therefore review the border controls to make them more effective. They also promise to scrap the 2014 Immigration Act passed by the then-Conservative government, restore legal aid cuts, and end the deportation of family members of people entitled to be here and end the minimum income requirements which separate families. They focus on cooperation with Europe and especially France to resume rescue missions in the Mediterranean and end the horrific camps and homelessness which the current immigration regime has led to. Similarly to the Liberal Democrats, Labour will allow asylum seekers to work whilst awaiting a decision on their status, and decriminalise illegal working.
All three parties claim to be advocating for humane, fair and compassionate immigration regimes. It is now up to the voters to show whose programme is most convincing.
Christopher Desira is Seraphus’ director and founding solicitor. He has over 15 years of experience in immigration law. Since 2018, his team has been special advisors on Brexit to the European Commission Representation in the UK. In that position, his team gives free non-political information sessions on EU citizens’ rights in the UK in the context of Brexit.
So, you give workshops to advise on the EU Settlement Scheme. What happens at those workshops exactly, what is your goal there?
It’s a two-pronged aim, really. On the one hand, we want to communicate the scheme and the need to apply by the deadline, and then secondly, we try to give everyone the tools they need to make the applications themselves.
We try to explain the EU Settlement Scheme as in simple terms so that EU citizens and their family members can make applications under the scheme themselves without the assistance of a lawyer. The seminars are very practical-based – we tell them how to apply, what questions come up, how to answer those questions, what the pitfalls are and what evidence they need to provide.
What happens if people don’t apply by the deadline?
If someone does not apply before the deadline, on New Year’s Day 2021, under the current rules, they will be unlawful residents in the UK. That has immense implications: if you’re unlawfully resident, that means all of the hostile environment policies which are in place in the UK will apply to you.
The hostile environment mechanisms are built to make life in the UK as difficult as possible, forcing you to leave the country. Your employer will have the right to terminate your employment, your landlord could terminate your tenancy agreement, you can no longer use your driver’s licence, etc. If someone does not apply before the deadline, that is exactly what will happen to them: they will be unlawfully resident, and all of those mechanisms will start hitting them.
Brandon Lewis, a Home Office Minister, got into a lot of trouble about a month ago when he he told a German newspaper that EU citizens who fail to apply to the settlement scheme will be deported. But in reality, what he was saying was true, and this is part of the challenges that we face. The Home Office communication campaigns are good. They are becoming warmer and friendlier, sending out messages to EU citizens saying that the UK wants – and needs – them to stay. What the Home Office communication campaigns fail to do, however, is stress the importance of applying before the deadline. They don’t stress that if one doesn’t apply before the deadline, they will be unlawfully resident in the UK, and the Home Office have the right to ask them to leave. Those messages might start appearing nearer to the deadline, but it might be a little too late for some.
Who do you think bears responsibility for people failing to apply because they don’t have the knowledge and why?
There is a lot of people out there that are doing a lot of good work to try and make sure that we reach everyone we need to reach but the ultimate responsibility is with the Home Office.
Although they are doing a lot of good work on communications, it is likely not going to be enough. I worry that the communications may be used against late applicants later. So that for example, if someone applies late and their reason is that they did not know about the scheme, the Home Office can say: “We did all of this work to let you know, so that is not a good enough reason to apply late.”
In any case, whatever the Home Office does and whatever all these other organisations such as charities or the European Commission do, there will always be groups that don’t apply, no matter how much communications work has been done. The UK government has an obligation to those people as well. They need to make sure that 100% of people who need to apply under the scheme effectively do so. The Home Office can change current rules to ensure no one fall unlawfully resident on New Years Day 2021, and they may well do so, but if that doesn't happen those who apply late will be doing so while unlawfully residing here.
Which type of audience usually shows up to the workshops?
It depends who is organising the workshops and who they are advertised to; it varies immensely. We have done workshops set up by the advice sector who want to help their local community, for example. Those would be advertised to the whole European community there, so anyone can turn up. Sometimes it is more specific, for example if it is a Polish charity, it is catered towards polish citizens. Or if it is a consulate or embassy which organises the workshop, then it is only citizens from that specific country who turn up. And then there are also community champions. A community champion is someone within a community that is not a legal entity or part of a charity, who wants to help their community on their own initiative because they know their community needs help.
Each community necessitates different types of sessions and poses different challenges. The Home Office communications campaigns work for a lot of people, but there is going to be just as many people that will require their own community to help, and if there is no one within their community who is going to point that out, then they are going to miss out on the knowledge they need to apply under the scheme.
What are some of those challenges? What do you think is the biggest barrier for people to apply?
There is a long list. It could be language, or education. It could be physical or mental health issues, dependency issues, street homelessness, living in precarious residence accommodation, or a combination of a number of those. More broadly, it could be people living in religious or close-knit communities, like the Roma community for example. People with criminal convictions, however minor or serious, would also be less eager to apply because they would be worried about the impact of those offences on the outcome of their application.
It really is a long list.
Yes, and to make matters worse, usually someone who has some kind of vulnerability has more than one vulnerable characteristic. For example, someone who has dependency issues may also be street homeless. Needless to say, the more issues an individual has, the harder it is to reach them and the harder it will be to ensure those people apply without any legal assistance.
Another category of people I’m worried about is those who simply don’t apply on principle. I have met many people who have said they don’t want to apply to the settlement scheme. They think: “Why should I, I have been here for 40 years, what are they going to do? I’m 72 years old, are they really going to put me on a plane? Are they really going to send me home?” Well, unfortunately, the answer to that is yes, that is exactly what they will do, or at least they can if they want to under the current rules. However old you are, however young you are, if you don’t have a status and you’re unlawfully resident on New Year’s Day 2021.
Is the Home Office making an effort to address these issues?
To be fair to them, they have listened to advice on the fact that technology is going to be a barrier and they have tried to find ways to resolve that. For example, there is a service called assisted digital service, where people can get practical assistance with filling in the forms. They are listening where they can and want to.
Many local authorities are taking the initiative themselves with so-called “one stop shops” where people can turn up and use a computer if they cannot access one, and where staff will help them engage with the technical barriers as well. But it’s just not going to be enough; there will still be many people who will not or cannot apply unless they have someone holding their hands for the whole process, someone applying for them.
What do you think is the one thing which should be done differently in relation to the Settlement Scheme?
Part 2 of the withdrawal agreement discusses EU citizens’ rights. It outlines two ways of sorting out people’s residency rights. On the one hand, it discusses how to implement an application scheme to grant rights and how simple such a scheme should be. If a country does not want to implement that type of scheme, then it discusses an alternative system of declaring rights. The reason why there are two different mechanisms in the withdrawal agreement is because this is not just an issue in the UK– it’s a problem in the EU more broadly, as each member state will need to decide what they are going to do with British citizens living abroad.
So, in summary, each EU member states has two options. The first is to implement an application process, which means that at some point in the future, anyone that does not apply and gets granted a status will be unlawfully resident, at which point in time their residency rights end. That is the model the UK has adopted.
Alternatively, countries can introduce a declaratory scheme. A declaratory scheme essentially establishes that the rights one has now will be carried through with them for their lifetime. Residents can then obtain physical evidence of their lawful lifetime residence right by asking for it. This is kind of how EU law works: as long as you are doing the right things, you acquire EU rights, and these rights continue with you as long as you continue to do the right things. Applying this to the UK, as long as one would have lived in the UK by a specific date, they would continue to be lawful residents in the UK. That means someone could never be unlawfully resident as long as they lived in the UK before a certain cut-off date. All they need to do is show up and say they lived in the UK since before 31 December 2020, confirm some information, and the government would give them a piece of paper, no questions ask.
The settlement scheme should be a declaratory scheme instead of what it is now. I think that is the only way we can protect everyone, including the most vulnerable to exclusion, through this process.
Summary: Children’s rights are not for the Home Office to block, and no child should be prevented from securing British citizenship to which they are entitled by law. On Tuesday November 26th, the first day of a court case challenging the lawfulness of the Home Office fee of £1,012 for a child to register as a British citizen, Amnesty International will be protesting outside the Royal Courts of Justice to visually demonstrate significant support for the children affected by this government profiteering. Show your support and join them.
The Secretary of State, on his British citizenship application form guide, outlines the importance of British citizenship to an individual:
“Citizenship is a ‘significant life event’. Apart from allowing a child to apply for a British citizen passport, British citizenship gives them the opportunity to participate more fully in the life of their local community as they grow up.”
The British Nationality Act 1981 ensures that children who grow up in the United Kingdom (either UK-born or not), who feel just as British as their British-born friends, have rights to register as British citizens. Failure to register means one is excluded not only in the present, for example because they are not allowed to go on certain school trips, but will also continue to be marginalised in the future, when it comes to obtaining all the perks which come with British citizenship, including the right to remain, the right to vote in all elections, access to public funds, health services, and other social benefits.
Registration is fundamentally different from naturalisation, which is the process adult migrants need to go through in order to acquire citizenship. The essential difference is the role of the Home Office when processing the applications. In naturalisation cases, that role is to decide, at the Home Office’s discretion and balancing all relevant factors, whether the applicant should be made a British citizen. Contrastingly, in registration cases, it is simply to recognise a pre-existing right to citizenship laid out in statute.
Academic researchers have estimated there to be around 120,000 children in the UK without British citizenship, around 65,000 of whom were born in the UK. However, many of these children do not register for citizenship, not because they are not eligible, but simply because they cannot afford to. Since 2007, the Home Office have started charging applicants more than the administrative cost of processing the application, aggravating the situation. The Home Office states that the fee, currently priced at £1,012 is made up of two parts: £372 for the administrative cost of processing registration, and £640 as a profit element to finance the immigration system. In other words, the Home Office is profiting off children who are merely claiming what is rightfully theirs, and they are making twice as much profit as the actual cost price.
In practice, the Home Office fee hinders children in exercising their rights under the 1981 Act. This sort of exclusionary policy not only jeopardises a child’s start in life; it also undermines their future. Ultimately, if a child is unable to pay the £1012 fee today, that may well be the reason why that same child cannot afford to go to university eight years from now, because they cannot get a student loan. In addition, their children won't be recognised as British either, even if they are the second or third generation in their family born and brought up in the UK.
This outrageously discriminatory Home Office policy needs to stop. Children’s rights are not for the Home Office to block because of finances, and no child should be prevented from securing their British citizenship. In order to allow children to exercise the rights which were conferred upon them by Parliament, the Home Office fee should be reduced; the profit element of the fee should be removed altogether. In addition, for people from disadvantaged backgrounds, public funds should be made available to cover the fee in full. Children should not have to raise funds to pay for their registration rights, particularly where these rights are by entitlement. That is why the Project for the Registration of Children as British Citizens (PRCBC), a London-based charity which fights for British citizenship rights of children born in the UK to migrant parent(s), is challenging the lawfulness of the Home Office fee in court.
PRCBC’s case is centred on challenging the Home Office’s flawed, quid pro quo argument on which they rely to justify the elevated fee. The basic premise of their approach is that those who are profiting from the immigration system, should also be paying for it. However, since these children are merely asking for recognisance of their entitlement, their applications for registration fall outside of immigration law and policy. Registering as a British citizen is not a benefit the Home Office grants these children. Rather, it is a recognition of a right these children already have by law. Therefore, they are not profiting from the system, and it is only natural that they should not be made to pay for it.
British citizenship, especially for children and young adults, is about much more than just getting the right documents. It is about identity, integration, a sense of belonging, and about confirmation that the UK is their home. It is about having the same rights, feeling part of their peer group and much more. That is why on Tuesday 26 November, the second day of the PRCBC proceedings, Amnesty will be protesting outside the Royal Courts of Justice to visually demonstrate significant support for PRCBC and for the children affected by this government profiteering.
Show your support and join them.
On 11 September 2019, the UK government announced an extension of the post-study visa rules. International students who complete their degree at a recognised institution will be able to stay in the UK for two years after graduation, increasing their chances of finding long-term employment upon completion of their studies.
The current immigration policy gives students just four months to find work after graduating. As the country is preparing itself for a fall in recruitment from the EU for education and employment alike when freedom of movement ends after Brexit, the announcement was greeted with enthusiasm by both the education sector, which only benefits from attracting more international students who pay higher tuition fees, and the business sector alike.
Grace Kuperman, a US national, graduated with a First-Class Politics BA from a Russel Group university. She is now writing her dissertation for her MSc in Security Studies at University College London.
“For certain sectors, such as British politics, I understand to an extent to why British employees are preferred, but I have studied here for almost four years now and I feel as though certain fields in the UK are missing out on valuable potential employees due to visa restrictions.”
The pressure of the current rules on international students in the UK should not be underestimated. One recent graduate, Tracy Jawad, moved back to Beirut, Lebanon in October 2019 when her student visa expired. She studied Politics at Queen Mary University of London.
“I think that a lot of people from the same background as me just jumped into masters to avoid having to leave the country. I decided not to do that because I wanted to get some work experience first, and because a masters degree is a substantial investment.
I was applying for graduate jobs from October 2018 onwards. It was an extremely difficult and unfair process; often job descriptions did not specify that they would only accept UK, EU, or even Commonwealth citizens. Only when I got rejected, after having gone through the whole application process, would I find out. Even then, I was the one who had to reach out and ask for feedback as to why I didn’t get the job, and companies would then respond my application was side-lined because an international student is less employable than a home or EU applicant.”
The Home Office publicises the reforms to the rules as an answer to the problem Tracy outlines: a new way of attracting young international talent. Home Secretary Priti Patel championed the extended post-study visa as a “new way for talented international students, whether in science and maths or technology and engineering, to study in the UK and then gain valuable work experience as they go on to build successful careers.” However, there are multiple caveats.
The Home Secretary’s enthusiastic announcement fails to mention that the two-year extension is not a “new route” into graduate success. It is simply a revocation of the current policy, which was controversially put in place by Theresa May in 2012 as part of the hostile environment policy against illegal immigrants in the UK, and which has been contested ever since.
Tracy: “If there is such a hostile environment against international students, then UK universities should not be allowed to use us as poster boys, or as alluring marketing ploys. All you ever hear about Queen Mary is how diverse it is, but ultimately, as one of those people bringing diversity to the university, I have not benefitted from Queen Mary’s international community; I’m back in Beirut now.”
The new policy will not apply retroactively; only students graduating in 2021 and thereafter will be able to access the scheme. This puts current students at a competitive disadvantage with future students.
MM, who wishes to remain anonymous, moved to London from Egypt to study Business Management at undergraduate level and is now reading a MSc in International Marketing at King’s College London, explains:
“I don’t think I got a fair shot at finding a job in the UK, definitely not. Due to the preference for EU and UK graduates, job offers clearly state that they do not sponsor an international working visa or permit. Because of this, I didn’t even apply for jobs within the UK, as I felt like there was no point. Instead I embarked on a masters degree to have more specific qualifications within my industry, and hopefully that will increase my employability.”
“I’m happy my younger sister might have better chances at finding a career within the UK should she choose to study here, but for me, it is too little, too late.”
Tracy, who will be eligible for the two-year extension should she start her masters next academic year, says:
“When I heard of the post-study visa extension, I was mostly really happy for myself, that I did not immediately started my masters upon graduation. Thanks to my decision to move back and rethink my options, I will now have two years after my masters degree. That is such a relief, because finding a graduate job is not something that can be done in 4 months.”
“For the UK more broadly, more people are now going to want to study there because the new rules show a willingness to invest rather than just make money out of international students. Plus, although there will still be a cost to hiring an international graduate, it will be easier for students to find companies which are more likely to take on that financial burden.”
However, even given extra time, international graduates in certain sectors will still be disadvantaged. Grace attests to this: “Fields that are flooded with large multi-national corporations, like finance, can afford to hire international students. For me, who is interested in international organisations and politics, it is much harder. NGO’s are famously short on funding and prefer British applicants above all else.”
Tracy confirms: “STEM majors are more likely to get jobs in the UK than humanities majors. When I spoke to other Lebanese people who were applying to jobs at the same time as me, but with Engineering or Computer Science degrees, they were clearly more likely to at least get interviews. It requires funds to sponsor foreign students and unfortunately, humanities organisations do not have as much money as STEM companies. That is not how it should be.”
As the new rules apply to all non-British students, they will bring EU students to a level playing field with international students. This would not only boost the economy, but also avoid a brain drain to countries whose rules are more relaxed, and let their graduates stay for longer periods of time post-graduation. At least that’s the idea. In practice, EU students will face many challenges: tuition fees, already elevated for international students, will probably rise further for those from the EU, until they are equal to international levels. Meanwhile, EU funding and the future of Erasmus after Brexit are all up in the air.
It is unfair to make international students pay almost twice as much in tuition fees, without any guarantee of a job afterwards, or at the very least the time to look for one. From that perspective, the post-study visa extension is more like a bare minimum than “a transforming new way for talented international students to build successful careers in the UK,” as it has been described by Ms. Patel. Instead of slightly improving international students’ perks at the cost of dragging EU student benefits down, the government’s aim should be to increase all graduate opportunities. University graduates benefit the UK just as much as the other way around. That should be enough of a reason to end the marketisation of education once and for all, and although a two-year extension may seem like a step in the right direction on the face of it, it is not the end of the road for international or EU students.
The second quarterly UK Home Office statistics on the EU Settlement Scheme scheme has been published.
According to the Home Office it 'complements high-level monthly statistical releases on the progress, taking an in-depth look at the number of applications and their outcomes, covering the period between the launch of the beta scheme to the end of Q3 2019 (28/08/18-30/09/19).'
One thing that stands out is the low number of applicants from the age group 65 or older. According to the statistics only 2% of the total applications came from people aged 65 or older.
The Home Office say that the share of applications from this age group matches their estimates for age distribution of EU citizens in the UK. Indeed @ons predicts a share of 2% to 3% for elderly EU citizens.
But some embassies/consulates which register their citizens record a higher percentage of residents aged 65 or older, with reports in the region of 5-6%. This suggests that take up of the scheme by this age group is currently low.
Anecdotally, this reflects my experience meeting those aged 65 or over living across the UK through the course of the last 2 years. While many can and have applied, a majority of whom I have met would be unable to get through the system unaided.
I was in Kettering on 28/09/19 meeting a community of Italian residents aged 65 or older. The majority would not have been able to apply unaided despite efforts to verbally walk them through the process. Most did not have mobile numbers, nearly all did not have email address.
Instead of a presentation and Q&A we gave up our Saturday to submit applications on their behalf. We registered over 30 residents, all of whom were on course to obtain settled status but would have been unable to do so without this assistance.
Not withstanding the grant funding, the various communication campaigns and the free services we do have out there, I am still concerned that many 65 or older residents will struggle to apply before the deadline and access their status after the deadline.