If you have been keeping up with immigration news, you will know that asylum has been a hot topic in recent years, with various policy announcements, press releases and parliamentary acts and bills being debated. With all these changes, it can be hard to keep track of the process of claiming asylum, and refugees and their families can understandably be left wondering: ‘what is going on?’
The Nationality and Borders Act 2022
The UK government passed the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 (hereafter referred to as the NABA) on 28 April 2022, which introduced an overhaul of the asylum system. The NABA made several amendments to immigration and nationality law. The key change to the asylum system enforced by the NABA was that recognised refugees whose asylum claims were made on or after 28 June 2022 would be categorised into one of two groups: ‘Group 1’ or ‘Group 2’ (the ‘differentiation’ policy). Refugees falling into ‘Group 1’ under the NABA were those who had come directly to the UK from a country or territory in which their life or freedom was threatened and had presented themselves to the authorities without delay. If a refugee did not meet these requirements, they would be considered under ‘Group 2’. If a refugee was classed as a ‘Group 2’ refugee they would be granted temporary refugee permission to stay for 30 months without any direct route to settlement, rather than the standard grant of five years’ permission to stay for ‘Group 1’ refugees, who are eligible for settlement after five years. ‘Group 2’ refugees’ family members would also have a higher threshold for being able to join their refugee family member in the UK through the refugee family reunion process.
It is no surprise that the NABA was met with a great deal of backlash, particularly from immigration practitioners who knew all too well how much backlog there already was in the asylum system. In an attempt to ‘crack down’ on migrants entering illegally to claim asylum, the Home Office had inadvertently formulated a plan that would create more work for them in the long run.
The Illegal Immigration Bill
The government has since published the Illegal Immigration Bill (hereafter referred to as the IIB), which will seemingly undo the changes to asylum made by the NABA. In a statement made by Robert Jenrick, the Minister of State for Immigration, on 8 June 2023, it was announced that the government would ‘pause’ their differentiation policy in the next package of changes to the Immigration Rules in July 2023. It was also stated that any refugees who had been granted status under ‘Group 2’ would be contacted to have their status aligned with ‘Group 1’ refugees, meaning they would be granted five years’ permission to stay, at the end of which they may be eligible for indefinite leave to remain in the UK.
This comes off the back of the United Nations Refugee Agency’s report on asylum screening in the UK, which identified an alarming number of issues with the asylum system, including inaccurate interview record keeping and concerns with the treatment of refugees being detained. One of the key issues identified in the report was the excessive delays in the asylum system. Undoubtedly, the work the Home Office will need to do to ‘undo’ the mess created by the NABA will worsen delays.
However, there is some potentially good news for applicants from Afghanistan, Eritrea, Libya, Syria, Yemen, and Sudan, who may benefit from a ‘streamlined processing model’, in which positive decisions can be made on claims from refugees from these countries without the need for a substantive interview, where a claim was made before the introduction of the IIB on 7 March 2023. The Home Office has stated that they will not refuse an application without giving the applicant an opportunity to interview. While there are some criticisms of the policy, which requires applicants to complete a detailed questionnaire in place of the interview, it represents a positive step to process more straightforward claims without an interview, which should speed up decision-making.
Where does this leave things?
The Home Office has made it clear that they intend to clear the old backlog of asylum cases by the end of 2023, so we would hope that those who have been waiting a long time for their application to be processed will receive a decision on their case by the end of the year. Whether the Home Office will be able to meet that target, in light of the size of the backlog and the administrative time and effort which will be spent on undoing the differentiation policy is another matter entirely. Those who have already received a ‘Group 2’ decision should wait to be contacted about their status being upgraded to the standard refugee permission to stay.
However, the intention of the Home Office is to deter illegal immigration, including where an individual has entered the UK illegally but is still recognised as a refugee. For these individuals, they can expect to be returned to a ‘safe country’, which could even include Rwanda as discussed previously by our own Elena Musa.
Unfortunately, this focus on deterring even genuine asylum seekers from coming to the UK has distracted the Home Office from a serious problem which has been growing for years, which is the huge backlog of undecided asylum claims. We hope that the decision to undo the differentiation policy and focus on clearing the backlog this year will end the long delays asylum seekers are experiencing.
If you or someone you know needs advice on their asylum claim, we would be happy to help. Please contact us on 0207 401 6887 or by email at email@example.com.