Updates, commentary, training and advice on immigration and asylum law

Free Movement Weekly Immigration Newsletter #3


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Welcome to the weekly Free Movement newsletter! I was away last week so this is very much an exercise in catching myself up, as well as all of you. It seems that quite a lot happened, and so in absolutely no particular order (apart from doing Rwanda last because I just can’t face it), let’s get stuck in.

The Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration has launched a call for evidence for his inspection of the immigration enforcement competent authority, this is the body that decides most trafficking claims where the person does not have secure immigration status. I first raised my concerns about the IECA in 2022 and I know that many others will have a lot to say in response to this call for evidence. The inspector will be looking at timeliness of decisions (we already know that decisions are taking far longer than they should) and impact of legislative changes (again, nothing positive to report there) as well as quality of decisions. Responses are asked for by 2 February 2024.

There has been a minor update on the situation of the people seeking asylum on Diego Garcia in the Chagos Islands, covered by us previously. The BBC reported last week that UNHCR was granted access to the island and concluded that it is not suitable for people to be kept there in the long term. Apparently five people from the group have now been recognised as refugees, but they remain on the island.

As predicted (a couple of podcasts ago I think, and probably elsewhere since), the backtracking on the more restrictive treatment of EU citizens has begun, with the Guardian reporting on changes made to the Home Office’s EU Settlement Scheme caseworker guidance last week. Take a look at page 50 of the new guidance for the main change, which is supposed to make it easier for people with permanent residence to make a late application. Although as we can see in the Guardian article, concerns have already been raised about how this will be applied in practice, so we may see further changes yet. This stuff is getting increasingly complex, so I would really recommend signing up to learn all about making late applications from Chris Benn who really is one of our go to people when it comes to the EU Settlement Scheme.

The Lord Chancellor made a statement last week about the capacity of the Tribunals to carry out the work required under the Illegal Migration Act 2023 and the redeployment of judges. Despite his being clear that all of this was a matter for the independent judiciary, headlines such as “Sunak to draft 150 judges to fast-track Rwanda migrant appeals” followed. The Lady Chief Justice was less than impressed with this interpretation, reiterating that deployment of judges was “exclusively a matter for the judiciary”.

Lizzie Dearden has continued to cover withdrawals, with this article containing the memorable quote from an (obviously) unnamed Home Office source of “one typo and you’re f**ed” when it comes to sending correspondence that could lead to withdrawal of an asylum claim. Oddly enough the Home Office has proved far more effective at directing correspondence to the correct address when it comes to stopping people’s asylum support and evicting them to homelessness.

Data on reinstatement of withdrawn claims has started to trickle through from the Home Office, although only up to September last year. I am interested to hear from people who have been getting claims reinstated and how that process has been working (as well as any ongoing legal challenges), so if you have anything you want to share then do get in touch. 

Speaking of fudging the numbers, it appears that the Home Office is apparently shuffling people around hotels, presumably so that they can say that [x] number of hotels are no longer being used as asylum accommodation.

The Home Office continues to evict newly recognised refugees to the streets in the middle of winter, this week Nicola Kelly spoke to people in Glasgow who have been affected. The Guardian also continued their coverage of evictions resuming following a brief pause in December. As did the Big Issue who looked at a case where a survivor of trafficking for sexual exploitation had been evicted into -2C weather following her recognition as a refugee.

I do not propose to recap any of the nonsense that took place in the House of Commons in relation to the Safety of Rwanda Bill, it will suffice to say that it came as no surprise that the Bill passed its third reading comfortably. The Bill has had its first reading in the House of Lords, and 2nd reading takes place a week today.

A couple of interesting things to highlight is that the House of Lords will today be debating a motion not to ratify the treaty with Rwanda before the necessary changes that have been proposed for it to be “safe” have been made and properly embedded. That this even has to be said and voted on really beggars belief, but that is where we are with this current government, which has made plain that it intends to proceed on the basis of the paper assurances and nothing else. The motion was tabled following publication of the report ‘Scrutiny of international agreements: UK-Rwanda agreement on an asylum partnership’ by the House of Lords International Agreements Committee.

In an attempt to pressure them to pass the Bill quickly, the Prime Minister told Peers last week not to “frustrate” the “will of the people”. The first point to make on that (h/t Alasdair Mackenzie) is that the 2019 Conservative party election manifesto stated that “We will continue to grant asylum and support to refugees fleeing persecution, with the ultimate aim of helping them to return home if it is safe to do so”. So he cannot claim that anyone voted for the Rwanda plan. The second point is that the actual will of the people has been very clear for a while now, and it is that we no longer have a Conservative government. There is simply no reason for the Lords to do as he says, and indeed, the response was to propose a timetable that will see committee stage in the Lords conclude almost a month away, and third reading potentially in mid-March, before inevitable ping pong

Over to the last week on Free Movement, we covered an asylum support increase for pregnant women and children under 4 years old. We also updated our briefing by Project 17 on the duty to safeguard children in need and their families, as provided for at section 17 of the Children’s Act 1989. Alex Piletska wrote a useful explainer on Appendix Children and we finally have a firm date for the increase to the immigration health surcharge. Also, Jed wrote up a really important case for anyone working with vulnerable detainees that was brought (and won) by Medical Justice.

Finally, for anyone who has missed it – The Unity Project, which is a brilliant organisation that I have been involved with in some way since it started, is recruiting for two immigration casework coordinators. This is such a great opportunity to do incredibly rewarding work with a lovely small team, helping people get the no recourse to public funds restriction lifted from their leave. I really can’t recommend enough that people apply (deadline is this Friday). 

Cheers, Sonia

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What we’re reading

Home Office blamed for NHS bills paid by mothers stuck in UK amid pandemic – The Guardian, 13 January

Modern slavery in social care surging since visa rules eased – The Guardian, 22 January

New guidance on the Rwanda scheme may be of limited comfort to civil servants – Civil Service World, 19 January

Stop the boats has failed – The Swingometer, 19 January

‘Inhumane’ Home Office denying visas to children of migrant health workers – The Guardian, 21 January

Family who fled Isis left in limbo with disabled son for over three years despite being granted UK relocation – Independent, 19 January

‘We are just being used’: asylum seekers react to passing of Rwanda bill – The Guardian, 18 January

Rwandan president Paul Kagame suggests UK could get money back – BBC News, 17 January

Rishi Sunak rebuked by stats watchdog over asylum backlog claim – BBC News, 18 January

Child among asylum seekers returned to country of origin after being sent from Australia to Nauru – The Guardian, 22 January

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Picture of Sonia Lenegan

Sonia Lenegan

Sonia Lenegan is an experienced immigration, asylum and public law solicitor. She has been practising for over ten years and was previously legal director at the Immigration Law Practitioners' Association and legal and policy director at Rainbow Migration. Sonia is the Editor of Free Movement.