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Public Interest Law Centre and JCWI examines effects of UK immigration law and policy during the Covid-19 pandemic


New report on impact of Covid-19 on migrants, particularly those with insecure immigration status

Date of Publication:
06 June 2022

Public Interest Law Centre and JCWI examines effects of UK immigration law and policy during the Covid-19 pandemic

06 June 2022

A report published last month by the Public Interest Law Centre (PILC) and the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) considers how migrants in the UK were impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Report coverThe 28-page report, "Unequal Impacts": How UK immigration law and policy affected migrants' experiences of the Covid-19 pandemic, can be downloaded here.

PILC and JCWI said: "[The] report explores how UK immigration policy, law and government decision-making have exacerbated the impact of Covid-19 on migrants, particularly those with insecure immigration status. It focuses on access to justice, Home Office applications, state support, healthcare, and the asylum accommodation system, as well as immigration enforcement. Across all these areas, we highlight how the government's anti-migrant approach has exposed migrants to increased risk from Covid-19, undermined public health efforts and introduced greater dysfunctionality into an already-broken immigration system."

Chapter one of the report looks at access to justice, and it finds that Covid-19 compounded existing barriers to justice and made it more difficult than ever for migrants to access needed legal advice and support. Migrants faced both physical and technological barriers to establishing their legal rights.

While the report acknowledges that the courts achieved significant success in the face of hugely challenging circumstances, it notes that there was also a number of errors. For example, the March 2020 Guidance Note by the President of the Upper Tribunal was successfully challenged through a judicial review brought by JCWI and found to be contrary to the common law principles of fairness. The report states: "This case is a reminder to law makers and judges that fairness and fundamental rights cannot be sacrificed at the altar of speed, even in unprecedented times."

PILC and JCWI concluded in chapter one: "Covid-19 has accelerated the erosion of migrants' access to justice. After a decade of austerity and cuts to legal aid and community provision, poorly thought-through governmental decisions further hampered the ability of practitioners to reach and assist migrant applicants during the pandemic, leading to an increase in the already-significant backlog of applications. These decisions will reduce migrants' ability to withstand such problems if and when another crisis should occur. As such, the pandemic has brought to light new, urgent needs for migrants to access justice, challenge discrimination and have their voices heard."

The report also dedicates a chapter to the disruption caused to Home Office applications and procedures. It finds: "The Covid-19 crisis has been an object lesson in the danger of sub-contracting vital public services to private companies. By doing so, the Home Office has obfuscated vital points of contact, reduced its accountability and introduced an element of financial profiteering that is simply incompatible with the administration of a system in which fundamental rights are at stake, especially at a time of crisis."

PILC and JCWI added: "One of the most serious failures of government in respect to migrants' rights during Covid-19 has been its management of an ever-increasing backlog of immigration and asylum applications. Like other underfunded government departments, the Home Office was in no position to sustain the shock and disruption caused by Covid-19. Administering the backlog of applications has come at huge public expense. Meanwhile, those waiting for their applications to be processed have been left in legal limbo and, in many cases, forced into destitution."

Further chapters consider the impact of Covid on state support, healthcare and housing, and on immigration detention and enforcement. The latter chapter finds that the Government prioritised immigration enforcement over the protection of public health.

Ellen Fotheringham, a solicitor at PILC and one of the authors of the report, said: "As the rest of country starts to move on from the Covid-19 pandemic, the impact of the government's failings will continue long into the future for many of those who have been subject to hostile immigration policies over the last two years. This report shows that, throughout the pandemic, the government repeatedly ignored experts and cast aside commitments to public health and fundamental rights in order to drive through an anti-migrant agenda. Such conduct should be grave concern to everyone in the UK."