News & Views Monday 25th May to Sunday 31st May 2020

Home Office Inefficiency “Frustrates the Purpose” of Internal Review

Reports by the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, David Bolt, now follow a familiar pattern. Mr Bolt and his team carry out an inspection of a certain area of Home Office activity. A report on possible areas of improvement is drawn up and sent to the department for publication. Officials sit on the report for, say, nine months. They eventually publish the report alongside a list of reasons why they couldn’t possibly follow many of the recommendations, terribly sorry. Mr Bolt, evidently forewarned, issues a caustic press release rebutting the Home Office response.

This month’s tit for tat concerns the system of administrative review, an often risible internal appeal process in which the Home Office marks its own homework. Mr Bolt’s opening salvo: I understand that in responding to my reports the Home Office will always want to accentuate the positives. But, this can give the appearance of selective hearing… some of its responses to this latest report suggest only a qualified acceptance of the need to be more open and more adaptable.

Read more: Freemovement,

General Grounds for Refusal: Understanding Re-Entry Bans

The Home Office can impose entry bans on people who have previously breached immigration law or used deception in their applications for leave. Bans can last one year, two years, five years or ten years. Generally speaking, and except for some minor exceptions, the person will not be allowed to re-enter the UK during the length of the ban. It sounds straightforward — but the detailed rules on re-entry bans are very complex. This post tries to disentangle them.

Re-entry bans: what periods apply when? The rules relating to entry bans for the majority of applicants are at paragraphs A320 and 320(7B) of the Immigration Rules. For visit visa applications, see paragraphs V3.7, V3.9 and V3.10. Paragraph 320(7B) says that entry clearance or leave to enter the United Kingdom is to be refused:

Read more: Freemovement,

Home Office Issue Woman With British Passport After 18 Year Battle

Even by Home Office standards, the decision to defend the case of R (Nmai) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2020] EWHC 1139 (Admin) looks particularly pointless. The claimant had an incredibly strong case and the judge allowed the claim with little hesitation. By allowing it to get to a final hearing the Home Office wasted the time and resources of everyone involved. The case was about the department’s longstanding refusal to issue the claimant with a British passport. Since 2002, officials had denied the identity of the claimant and refused to accept that she has British nationality. There was no question at any stage that the claimant’s brother is a British citizen and that he had a sister, Wendy Nmai, who would also be entitled to British citizenship.

The sole question therefore was whether the claimant was Wendy Nmai or not. The claimant sent the Home Office medical evidence based on genetic analysis in 2005 which proved beyond doubt that she and her brother are siblings. This was confirmed with further DNA testing in 2019 (“the likelihood of their full siblingship was 99.999995%”). The Home Office response on both occasions was that this did not prove her nationality, just that she was the sibling of a British national. The decision-maker failed to acknowledge that, once it was accepted that she was the sibling of her brother, the only logical conclusion could be that she was Wendy and therefore a British citizen.

Read more: Freemovement,

Appeal Judges Dismiss Challenge to Home Office Paying Immigration Detainees £1 an Hour

A challenge to the Home Office’s policy of paying detainees in immigration detention centres a fixed pay rate of £1 an hour to work in detention, has been dismissed by the Court of Appeal. The Appeal judges found that detainees were not entitled to the national minimum wage on the basis that Parliament did not intend their work to be compensated on its true value. ‘This is a very disappointing decision for our clients,’ said Phil Armitage of Duncan Lewis Solicitors who represented the appellant. ‘The £1 an hour rate of pay for detainees has now been in place for twelve years with no increase. Our clients were undertaking key work within the IRCs, including cleaning to ensure the centre was hygienic, and all they are asking is that the value of that work is respected by the Home Office.’

The detainees also argued that work undertaken by prisoners and detainees were sufficiently similar, and to not compensate them in the same way amounts to discrimination. The Court rejected this argument because they found a distinction between prisoners and detainees. According to the judgement, unlike prisoners, detainees are not required to work and receive a weekly allowance irrespective of whether they work. The court was not persuaded by the Home Office’s argument that the claim was not brought in time. Typically, Judicial Review should be brought within three months from when the claim first arises. The Home Office’s policy was introduced in 2013. However, the Court ruled that the timing for a claim first arises ‘when a person is affected by the application of the challenge policy or practice’. The decision reinforces an important principle on timing grounds. Duncan Lewis Solicitors confirm that they are considering an appeal to the Supreme Court.

Source: Ayesha Ahmad, Justice Gap,

Lockdown Gives Asylum Seekers Reprieve and Hope For Change in Policy

As Britain takes its first small steps out of lockdown, there is one group of people quietly wishing that it wouldn’t. For many asylum seekers, the two-month hiatus has meant reprieve. Freed from detention centres, liberated from the threat of imminent deportation and no longer obliged to report to the Home Office, many have welcomed the relief. And all this at a time when the general population have learned something of what it is like to live with severe curbs on civil liberties. “I know it sounds bad to say, but I felt like coronavirus should not go,” says Maimuna Jawo, a Gambian asylum seeker and female genital mutilation campaigner who had to report to the Home Office once a month before March. “My fear now is that normal life will resume and I’ll have to start reporting again.” Before lockdown, Jawo was under orders to report to Eaton House immigration enforcement centre in Hounslow, west London, on the first Wednesday of every month. The preceding nights were always sleepless. “I don’t know what will happen tomorrow. Maybe they might deport me. Maybe they might put me back in detention,” she says. “You’re going to face somebody who you know can harm you. It’s like there’s a rope around your neck; every time you go to sign the rope is pulled.”

Read more: Clare Considine, Guardian,

Home Office’s Policy On Fee Waivers Is Unlawful

A court ruling has given hope to thousands of migrants, including health and care workers, that they will no longer have to pay visa and NHS surcharge fees if they cannot afford them. An immigration court found that the Home Office was applying too harsh a test on whether people should be forced to pay. It comes as Boris Johnson faces growing pressure to scrap the health surcharge for migrant health and social care workers in light of their essential role during the coronavirus crisis. Although the Home Office has granted a free one-year extension to visas for migrant health and social care workers – a move estimated to benefit 3,000 workers – they will be expected to resume payments thereafter.

The ruling on Wednesday in the upper tribunal of the immigration and asylum chamber focused on the issue of fee waivers for visa applications. The NHS surcharge forms part of this application. Under Home Office rules, a fee waiver is possible if applicants can prove they are destitute. But many impoverished migrants fall short of the high bar for that status. The court ruled that the Home Office was applying the wrong test for whether or not people should have to pay thousands of pounds for their visas and NHS surcharge. Instead of the destitution test, the court said the Home Office should be applying a test of whether applicants could afford to pay the fees, and if migrants could prove they did not have the income to pay then they should not have to do so.

Read more: Diane Taylorl Guardian,

Removals by Charter Flight Fall But Violence Stalks Those Carried Out

Last year saw a “significant reduction” in charter flights to remove migrants from the UK, a watchdog reported this week — but those so removed are still physically restrained more often than is necessary. In the latter respect, the 2019 annual report of the Independent Monitoring Boards Charter Flight Monitoring Team is similar to last year’s (Too many migrants still physically restrained on charter flights, watchdog warns). But its conclusions have become more critical: 2018’s “Returnees were generally treated fairly” has become “Some returnees were treated fairly” in 2019, while a similar qualifier appears in answer to “Are returnees treated humanely?”.

The report’s specific recommendations reflect some real affronts to human dignity: No returnee should be presented to the escorts for removal while semi-naked:No returnee who has just self-harmed should be presented to the escorts before receiving medical attention. Over half the 100 people being removed on the charter flights observed were under some form of restraint. In fairness to the staff involved in removals, some went to “extreme lengths” to resist. The monitors judged that the use of restraints was “reasonable, necessary and proportionate in many, but not all, instances… calm attempts to de-escalate were not deployed”.

Read more: Freemovement,

Coronavirus and the UK Immigration System

Measures taken to combat the spread of coronavirus and COVID-19 disease have changed almost every aspect of society both here in the UK and around the world. The immigration system is no exception. This post gathers together various updates on changes to immigration law and practice caused by coronavirus. For now, in contrast with our normal practice, we’ll be keeping this post continually up to date rather than covering new coronavirus developments as separate blog posts that may become rapidly out of date. Use the page contents to navigate. Material that has been added or updated from one version of this post to the next is labelled New or Updated.

The situation is particularly pressing for people who are in the UK on an expiring visa and unable to leave because of travel restrictions. The Home Office previously granted visa extensions on request to those with leave expiring after 24 January 2020 and before 31 May 2020 who could not leave the UK due to coronavirus. Note that a request had to be made (see below on how to do so) so this was not automatic (unlike for certain NHS staff, see below). On 22 May the Home Office announced that those with visas already extended would automatically have them extended further. There is no need for this group of people to take any action. Those who have not already asked for an extension will need to make a request for the extension to apply to them.

Read more: Freemovement,

Immigration Statistics Year Ending March 2020

Forced Returns

In the year ending March 2020, enforced returns from the UK decreased to 6,778, 21% lower than the previous year and the lowest number since records began in 2004. The fall was largely accounted for by the fall in enforced returns of people who were in detention prior to their return (down 19% to 4,644). Over the same period, there were 10,421 voluntary departures. Although these data are not directly comparable over time (as voluntary returns are subject to upward revision, as in some cases it can take time to identify people who have left the UK without informing the Home Office) the numbers recorded have fallen since 2015.

Immigration Detention
The number of people entering detention in the year ending March 2020 was 23,075, 5% less than the previous year. This continues a general downward trend since 2015. The majority (84%) of those entering detention in year ending March 2020 were non-EU nationals. The number of non-EU nationals entering detention fell from a peak of 29,424 in the year ending September 2015 to 19,330 in the year ending March 2020. The number of EU nationals entering detention gradually increased between 2009 and 2017. However, numbers have since fallen to 3,745, falling 21% between 2017 and 2018 and a further 4% between year ending March 2019 and year ending March 2020.

Albanians were the most common nationality entering detention in the latest year, accounting for 15% of the total (3,398) and a 16% increase on the previous year. The number of Iranian nationals entering detention more than doubled to 1,826, moving from the 9th to 2nd highest nationality entering immigration detention. These changes have occurred at a time when the UK has also seen increasing numbers of asylum applications from both nationalities. As at 31 March 2020, there were 895 people in immigration detention, down from 1,637 at the end of December 2019, and less than half the number as at 31 March 2019 (1,839).

Asylum, Resettlement and Protection
The UK offered protection – in the form of asylum, humanitarian protection, alternative forms of leave and resettlement – to 20,339 people in the year ending March 2020, 17% higher than the previous year and similar to levels seen in 2003. The Vulnerable Person Resettlement Scheme (VPRS) accounted for over three-quarters (4,030) of those resettled in the UK in year ending March 2020. 19,768 refugees have been resettled since the government announced the target of resettling 20,000 refugees under the scheme.

There were 35,099 asylum applications (main applicants only) in the UK in the year ending March 2020, 11% more than the previous year, but lower than the recent peak in the year ending June 2016 (36,546). In the year ending March 2020, 54% of initial decisions on asylum applications were grants of asylum, humanitarian protection or alternative forms of leave (such as discretionary leave or UASC leave). This was the highest initial decision grant rate on record, up from 39% in the previous year.

Extension of Temporary Stay in the UK
There were 367,827 decisions on applications to extend a person’s stay in the UK in the year ending March 2020, 32% more than in the previous year. The largest contribution to this increase was from extensions to leave provided to Chinese nationals who were unable to return home due to coronavirus restrictions.

There were 95,120 decisions on applications for settlement in the UK from non-EEA nationals in the year ending March 2020, a 2% increase on the year ending March 2019. Of these, 92,031 (97%) resulted in a grant.

UK Families
There were 194,746 visas and permits granted for family reasons in the year ending March 2020, 21% more than the year ending March 2019. There were increases in family-related visas granted (up 19% to 56,908) and dependants of people coming to the UK on other types of visas (up 17% to 85,536). There were also 40,232 EEA Family permits granted, and 12,070 EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) family permits granted since the scheme was launched on 30 March 2019.

EEA Nationals and Their Family Members
In the year ending March 2020, there were 44,956 registration certificates issued to EEA nationals and registration cards issued to non-EEA family members, down 53% on the previous year. There were 28,402 documents certifying permanent residence and permanent residence cards issued in the year ending March 2020, 71% fewer than the previous year.

There were 165,693 applications for British citizenship in the year to March 2020, 6% fewer than the previous year. Applications for citizenship by EU nationals fell by 20% compared to the previous year to 44,078. Applications made by non-EU nationals increased by 1% in the year ending March 2020 to 121,615.

How Many People Come to the UK Each Year (Including Visitors)?
There were an estimated 140.9 million passenger arrivals in the year ending March 2020 (including returning UK residents), a 2% (3.4 million) decrease compared with the previous year. There were 3.1 million visas granted in the year ending March 2020, a 5% increase compared with the previous year, continuing the upward trend seen over the last decade. Of these, three-quarters (75%) were to visit, 10% were to study (excluding Short-term study), 6% were to work, 2% were for family, and 7% for other reasons.

[‘These Immigration statistics, year ending March 2020’ provide the latest figures on persons who are subject to United Kingdom (UK) immigration controls. All data in this release relate to the year ending March 2020 (1 April 2019 to 31 March 2020) and all comparisons are with the year ending March 2019 (1 April 2018 to 31 March 2019), unless stated otherwise. Due to European Union (EU) freedom of movement principles, the majority of UK immigration controls relate to non-European Economic Area (EEA) nationals. Unless otherwise stated, data in this release relate to non-EEA nationals.]