European border control agency to appear before the Court of Justice of the EU for illegal pushbacks by Charlotte Rubin

A Syrian family has brought legal action against Frontex, the European Union (EU) organisation charged with management and control of the Union’s external borders, for beach of their fundamental human rights. This is the first time that such a claim is brought to the Court of Justice of the European Union.

The family, which includes four children aged between one and seven years old, arrived in Greece from Syria in October 2016. Upon arrival, they were denied the right to have their asylum claim processed and promptly put on a flight to Turkey, their last non-EU country of passage. The flight was managed by Frontex, and was supervised by Frontex employees. On the flight, which was supervised by Frontex employees, the young children were separated from their parents and forced to sit next to escort guards. Five years later, the family lives in Northern Iraq, as building a life in Turkey was not sustainable.

Informal cross-border expulsions such as this are known as “pushbacks.” Pushbacks are illegal under international and EU law. They are in breach of the 1951 Refugee Convention, and of Art.14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that “everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.” In addition, pushbacks breach the absolute prohibition on non-refoulement, a basic tenet of international law which prohibits sending people back to a country where there is a risk of prosecution or inhumane and degrading treatment.

The right to asylum is enshrined in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, yet since the 2015 influx of Syrian refugees, there have been countless reports of EU member failing to comply, and EU organisations unofficially condoning the practice. Most recently, Croatia, Greece and Romania were called out for such practices, as it was revealed that over 2,000 migrants lost their lives after systemic pushbacks.

The family has now brought action for damages against Frontex for the breach of their human rights and the breach of the children’s rights which, they claim, occurred when they were separated from their parents on the flight from Greece to Turkey. The lawsuit is part of a wider campaign, “Not on Our Border Watch,” which fights to hold the European Union accountable for its controversial migration policies. Not On Our Border Watch aims to demand a change in the current asylum and border system, of which Frontex is one of the core pillars.

The lawsuit, brought by Dutch firm Prakken d’Oliveira, therefore explicitly targets Frontex, stating that “it is no longer acceptable that Frontex, equipped with an ever wider mandate and a bigger budget, deems itself above the law. It is time that Frontex respects fundamental rights and the rule of law.”

Statement of Changes to the Immigration Rules brings good news by Charlotte Rubin

The Home Office's published its latest Statement of Changes to the Immigration Rules (HC 617) on 10 September 2021. The Statement makes changes to several visa routes, which we summarise in this post.

For EU citizens, a number of things have changed. Two announcements particularly stand out. The first concerns COVID-19 concessions for those EU citizens with status under the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS). The Home Office announced on 10 June 2021 that applicants to the Scheme whose continuous residence in the UK has been affected by coronavirus would still be able to qualify for status, even if they exceeded permitted absence from the UK. From 6 October 2021, that exception or concession will cease to apply, instead it has been formalised and incorporated into the Immigration Rules.

The second concerns family members of EU/EEA citizens with status under the Scheme who want to join their EU/EEA family members in the UK. The EUSS enables EU, EEA, and Swiss citizens living in the UK before 31 December 2020 to obtain immigration status to continue living in the UK after Brexit. The EUSS family permit, then, allows certain family members to join their EU/EEA family member in the UK even after 31 December 2020, if that family member has the required immigration status. From 6 October 2021, those joining family members will be allowed to apply to the EUSS whilst they are present in the UK as a visitor. Previously, they had to apply from abroad. This will significantly simplify the process of application for joining family members.

For all non-UK residents traveling to the UK, the Statement confirmed previously announced changes relating to documents required for those entering the UK or seeking entry through the Channel Tunnel. From 1 October 2021, the only acceptable document to evidence nationality and identity at the UK border will be a passport. National identity cards are no longer accepted. The only exceptions to this rule are British citizens of Gibraltar, who can use their ID cards indefinitely to enter the UK, and EU/EEA/Swiss citizens with (pre-)settled status under the EUSS. The latter are still able to use their national identity cards until at least the end of 2025.

Other changes include the addition of Iceland and India to the Youth Mobility country list, minor relaxations of endorsement requirements for the Global Talent visa, and consolidation of new visa routes. Concerning the Youth Mobility visa, young (under 30) nationals of India and Iceland may now qualify for a flexible two-year working visa in the UK. The Youth Mobility Visa does not lead to settlement and operates with country-specific quota. Notably, Australia, with its 25.36 million inhabitants, receives 30,000 visas to distribute in 2022, whilst India, a country over 50 times more populous than Australia, gets 10% of that, with 3,000 visas.

New visa routes include the International Sportsperson visa, which builds upon the old T2 Sportsperson and T5 Creative Worker or Sporting Worker to create a new category. The main requirement for getting an International Sportsperson visa is to have an endorsement from the UK governing body of the relevant sport.

There are also changes to settlement routes for Afghan citizens. Specifically, the Statement incorporates the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP) and some other provisions regarding Afghans into the immigration rules. ARAP was put in place to relocate some interpreters and civil servants who served alongside British armed forces in Afghanistan in preparation for the withdrawal of troops in April 2021. In light of recent developments, applicants under ARAP are no longer required to make their application from Afghanistan as they were previously. The Statement does not expressly mention the other Resettlement Scheme for Afghans, the Afghan Citizen Resettlement Scheme (ACRS) for Afghans at risk. The ACRS allows 5000 Afghan citizens to relocate to the UK in 2022, with 15000 more to follow in the next five years. The requirements for qualification under ACRS were addressed in a separate statement, though some detail is still lacking.

Most of these changes are beneficial to applicants and the Home Office alike. They are not earth-shattering; above anything else, they simplify some of the procedures and structures of the visa system. Nevertheless, that system can still be very complicated and confusing. If you need legal assistance with the EU Settlement Scheme, or have any other questions, you can contact us here, call us on 020 8142 8211, or send us a question on WhatsApp.

On national embarrassment, the fuel crisis, and emergency visas by Charlotte Rubin

“Yes, there will be a period of adjustment, but that is, I think, what we need to see in this country,” said Prime Minister Boris Johnson on the Andrew Marr Show regarding the supply chain interruptions that have struck the UK since Brexit came into effect in January 2021, and have been compounded by COVID-induced delays.

What does this “adjustment period” look like? Long lines at petrol stations, not because there is a lack of fuel in the country, but because there is a lack of truck drivers to transport it. According to Reuters, almost a quarter of fuel stations in London and the southeast are still without fuel today. It might take a week to 10 days to get stocks back up to normal. In addition, thousands of animals headed to slaughter because of a poultry workers shortage. And a Prime Minister who insists we can’t “simply go back to the tired failed old model, reach for the lever called uncontrolled immigration.”

Instead, the government opts for some other kind of migration, which, they imply, is more controlled. Thus, a Home Office statement announced that the UK would grant extra temporary work visas until Christmas 2021 to ease supply chain pressures in food and haulage industries during exceptional circumstances this year. 5000 extra heavy goods vehicle (HGV) drivers and 5500 poultry workers have been added to the quota for temporary workers. Normal immigration rules have been waived or bended for those who can start immediately. This is what the PM calls “controlled” migration. Not because of the control on who is let in necessarily, but because of the conditions linked to temporary visas. Temporary workers cannot to settle in the UK in the future. Rather, the visa holders can stay in the UK for three to six months to work before returning to their own country or switching into different via categories.

Unsurprisingly, take up for these extra visas has been (s)low. Additionally, nearly one million residents with HGV licence have received a letter inviting them to help out and join the industry, and 4000 new HPV drivers are being trained to ease supply chain pressures in food and fuel.

As an emergency measure, the government has temporary deployed the army to deliver fuel to service stations. Earlier this year, the army was also deployed to help with COVID-19 vaccinations. Some say this tendency to rely on the army in times of crisis is problematic, and shows the army to be the most efficient state apparatus PM Johnson can still rely on in times of crisis.

If these measures seem too little too late, that’s because they are. Industry experts have been warning for years that Brexit would worsen conditions already prone to such disruptions, as one in five workers in the food and drink supply chains are EU nationals who are impacted by the UK leaving the bloc. Most seasonal workers (e.g. poultry workers around Christmas time or agricultural workers) originate from the EU, and especially Eastern European countries such as Romania and Bulgaria. Seasonal working visas, however, are capped and under the New Points-Based Immigration System other unskilled labour visas are simply non-existent.

This is all part of the government’s plan to attract only the “best and brightest” to work in the UK, at any cost. That is, assuming the best and brightest have enough fuel to get here.

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