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Home Affairs Committee examines Home Office's handing of visas and immigration during Covid-19 pandemic

Summary:

New report calls for 'no recourse to public funds' to be temporarily lifted

Date of Publication:
16 June 2020

Home Affairs Committee examines Home Office's handing of visas and immigration during Covid-19 pandemic

16 June 2020
EIN

Parliament's Home Affairs Committee yesterday published a report on the Home Office preparedness for Covid-19 with regard to immigration and visas.

You can read the report online here or download the 49-page PDF report here.

The Committee explains: "This short report summarises issues relating to immigration and visas which were discussed at an evidence session held on 21 April 2020, in which we heard from Adrian Berry, Chair of the Immigration Law Practitioners' Association (ILPA) and Colin Yeo, a barrister specialising in immigration and asylum law and editor of the Free Movement immigration website. We also took evidence on a wider range of immigration, asylum and detention issues, some of which is pertinent to this report, from a separate panel featuring Andy Hewett, Head of Advocacy for the Refugee Council, Chai Patel, Legal Policy Director for the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) and Bella Sankey, Director of Detention Action. We followed up issues raised in this session in writing and in evidence with the Home Secretary on 29 April."

The report covers:

  • Visa extensions for everyone with temporary status;
  • Visa arrangements for frontline NHS and care workers;
  • Other visas and requirements;
  • Home Office communication;
  • The EU Settlement Scheme;
  • The 'no recourse to public funds' (NRPF) condition.

On the last topic, the Committee makes a notable recommendation for NRPF to be temporarily lifted.

The report states: "We welcome the revised guidance issued by the Home Office, clarifying the situation for caseworkers and confirming that under the family and private life rules the NRPF condition must be lifted or not imposed if an applicant is destitute or is at risk of imminent destitution. There is scope, however, for further measures to provide reassurance and support to NRPF condition holders affected by the pandemic. There needs to be clarity that all who are prohibited from having recourse to public funds must have access to the support they need during this crisis, and funding provided to ensure that happens. The Government should immediately make arrangements for the temporary lifting of NRPF conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Government should also direct local authorities to provide support where required by others who are destitute (or at risk of destitution) and who would otherwise be prohibited from accessing public funds, and it should provide funding to allow this to happen."

On the subject of visa extensions, the Committee welcomed the Home Office's recognition of the problems faced by individuals with soon-to-expire visas during the pandemic, but it warned: "The Home Office must clarify the legal basis for the offers of visa extensions. Relying on the Home Secretary's discretion is not sufficient legal assurance for people whose lives in the UK depend on evidential clarity. We recommend that the department introduce a statutory instrument clarifying the legal basis for both the extension of leave for all individuals who are unable to leave the country before the expiry of their current visa, and for the automatic extensions of leave offered to NHS staff."

It added: "Communication about the availability of visa extensions must also improve. The Home Office should be proactive and contact all individuals whose visas are due to expire before 31 July 2020 to inform them of the steps they need to take to extend their visa."

The Committee also requested that the Home Office clarify whether an individual who does not apply for a visa extension and thus overstays their existing visa because of Covid-19, can retrospectively gain the extension to which they would have been entitled.

Yvette Cooper MP, Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, said it was very welcome that the Government had agreed to waive the Immigration Health Surcharge for NHS and social care workers.

The report states: "The Government is right to recognise the huge debt we owe to all NHS and social care workers for the work they are doing during the Covid-19 pandemic. Given that they have already contributed so much to the NHS through their valiant and life-saving work, the Government's announcement that NHS staff and social care employees will be removed from the Immigration Health Surcharge is very welcome. We encourage the Home Secretary and Health and Social Care Secretary to make fulfilment of this commitment an urgent priority. We also believe there is a need to review the appropriateness of the NHS charge, and the rate it is set at more generally."

The Committee was disappointed, however, that the Government had not extended the offer to non-medical NHS employees and social care workers: "We recommend that all NHS staff—regardless of job role, pay grade or visa route—and social care workers are offered the same fee-free one-year visa extension. It cannot be right that, at a time when they are providing a vital and lifesaving service for the country, non-UK health and care staff have to worry about their status and residency in the country."

The report also called on the Home Office to conduct a thorough review of its policy on the Minimum Income Requirement for partner visas in light of the pandemic's effect on people's earnings. The Committee recommends that the Home Office implement a range of appropriately flexible measures to take account of unexpected loss of income due to Covid-19.

Overall, the Committee was appreciative of many of the measures the Home Office had taken during the pandemic, noting: "We recognise that in the current unprecedented circumstances it is hard to operate a normal immigration system. Travel restrictions have made entering or leaving the country a complex or impossible process; there are difficulties in implementing normal work or income requirements without undermining public health messages; and the impact of the pandemic on workload and staffing levels is also being felt by the Home Office. We place on record our appreciation to Home Office officials and caseworkers who have provided support and guidance to people at this challenging time. In this context, we welcome recent developments that show that the Home Office recognises the need for pragmatic temporary changes to ensure that the UK's immigration and visa systems can continue to function appropriately."