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Making it harder for Turkish citizens to settle in the UK is for their own good, judge says


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In March 2018, the Home Office stunned the Turkish community by abolishing the route to settlement in the UK that had existed under the Ankara Agreement. It did issue replacement rules for Turkish businesspeople to get indefinite leave to remain a few months later, but these were more stringent than what had existed before. Applicants can now only get settlement after five years (it had been four), must pay an application fee (£2,389) and pass an English language test.

A group of Turkish citizens already living in the UK challenged this retrospective change in R (Alliance of Turkish Businesspeople Ltd) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2019] EWHC 603 (Admin). They contended that the Home Office had pulled the rug from under them: in legal terms, that they had a legitimate expectation of getting indefinite leave to remain under the old rules when they decided to come and live in the UK. The group argued that frustrating this expectation was so unfair as to be unlawful.

The High Court, in a decision handed down on Monday, accepted that there was a legitimate expectation there but held that frustrating it was justified.

Mr Justice Dingemans said that the Home Office had given particular Turkish citizens a “clear and unequivocal representation” that they could get settlement after four years. What is more:

In my judgment it was reasonable for the applicants to rely on that representation. This is because even though applicants for leave to remain are generally to be taken to know that an immigration policy can change, which affects whether it is reasonable to rely on a statement in such a policy, the applicants in this case were expressly told that the UK had no choice in the matter and that the policy prevailing at 1 January 1973 would prevail. This meant that the applicants could apply for ILR after 4 years residence under the scheme.

The evidence showed that some of the affected business people had come to the UK because of the old policy, when they could have gone to other countries or stayed in Turkey.

But Dingemans J, disposing of the case in a single paragraph, found that the specific changes in policy were justified nonetheless. The Home Office “was entitled to attempt to introduce some uniformity with the nationals of other states”. He even thought that making it harder to settle was in some way helpful to those affected:

Fluency in the English language will assist integration in the UK. The cost of making the application for ILR will be a burden for all and very difficult for some, but it is a payment towards the operation of the system which will benefit the applicants.

The extra year was “important” but “not excessive”, Dingemans J said, concluding that things might have been different “if more extensive and more onerous requirements had been imposed on the applicants by the change of policy”.

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CJ McKinney

CJ McKinney

CJ McKinney is a specialist on immigration law and policy. Formerly the editor of Free Movement, you will find a lot of articles by CJ here on this website! Twitter: @mckinneytweets.