Home Office must act now for vulnerable immigrants

Responding to the government’s coronavirus actions, Sheona York of Kent Law Clinic said:

‘People have welcomed the announcement by Chancellor Rishi Sunak to support businesses with loans and to pay statutory sick pay from the first day. However, questions remain for those earning too little to be eligible for sick pay, and for the self-employed, who are not entitled to it. There is concern that people who should self-isolate will not do so for fear they will not be able to afford to feed their families.

‘How should the Home Office respond to this?

  1. Waive the ‘no recourse to public funds’ condition

‘Though Boris Johnson has referred to helping “British citizens”, nothing has been said of a crucial group in the population – working immigrants. Hundreds of thousands of workers and families present in the UK are on time-limited visas, permitted to work but with no recourse to public funds, and may find themselves denied sick pay. Many of these are working in essential services like the NHS, social care and child care, as well as in hospitality and food processing.

‘If these people stop work in order to self-isolate, they will be unable to claim any benefits without a complicated application to the Home Office, which could take months. From a public health perspective, the Home Office should assure workers and families that they, as equal contributors to society, must be protected and supported through our crisis.

‘This could be done by instructing relevant authorities that for the next six months (to allow the virus to pass) that the “no recourse to public funds” requirement is not to be applied. This would entitle people to sick-pay and means to support families.

  1. Extend immigration visas by six months

‘The Home Office deals with 25,000 immigration applications every month. Given the complexity of immigration law, many people need legal advice before renewing visas, but many legal practices and advice centres are now closing to new clients.

‘Applicants are also required to visit specified Home Office appointment centres to apply for biometric permits, despite some centres having announced closure due to Covid-19.

The Home Office should announce that all visas be extended by six months, to avoid applicants missing deadlines or making incomplete applications and thus becoming “illegal” because of the public health emergency.

  1. Up to 1 million “illegal” migrants in the UK need suspension of enforcement activity, and help so they do not become ill and spread the virus

‘There are many immigrants with an arguable case for regularisation even under the present immigration rules, but cannot now be reasonably expected to apply, as they’re unable to obtain legal advice or attend the requisite Home Office appointments. Immigrants with no visa who are required to “report” regularly to the Home Office are now being advised by text message not to, but the Home Office admits that it does not have contact details for everyone. The Home Office should announce the suspension of such immigration enforcement activity.

‘Many “illegal” migrants are working informally to get by, and it is clearly impracticable now to suggest that they should just ‘go home’. For public health reasons the Home Office should provide support to even to those unlawfully present, to ensure they will not spread the virus just through trying to survive economically.’

Sheona York, Kent Law Clinic