The Government has indicated that it wants to make last minute changes to the Asylum and Immigration Bill. The new amendments are likely to be tabled for consideration in the House of Lords on 15 June and include the following:
* Unsuccessful asylum seekers who are officially recognised as unable to return home because, for example, there is no viable way of getting there, and who currently receive board and lodging under Section 4 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act (also called ‘hard case support’) will in future be required to undertake unpaid work in the community in return for full-board housing.
* The Government also intends to replace the current system of back payment to successful asylum seekers with a loan system to meet costs of integration. Currently, asylum applicants granted refugee status can apply for a backdated lump sum of the difference between support received from NASS and what they would have received on full income support. NASS supported asylum seekers receive around 70% of income support payments while their application is being decided.
* A new clause will restrict the right of successful refugees or others given permission to stay to apply for local authority housing except in the areas to which they have been dispersed, to relieve pressure on London and south-east England.
* The process of depriving somebody who is “seriously prejudicial to the vital interests of the UK” of their British citizenship is to be speeded up. Appeals against the citizenship decision and against removal from the country will in future be heard at the same time. This is to prevent a repeat of the prolonged attempt to strip the radical Muslim preacher Abu Hamza of his British passport, which has already taken a year.
* Appeal rights are to be restricted in immigration cases, including people who come to Britain as students but have no place at their stated college.
* Detailed amendments to prevent “sham marriages” to abuse the immigration laws were also tabled.
The proposal to require unsuccessful asylum seekers who cannot go home to undertake compulsory, unpaid community work in return for benefits attracted widespread coverage in the press. In response to this measure, Maeve Sherlock, Chief Executive of the Refugee Council, said:
“We have long said failed asylum seekers who are unable to return home should be given some form of temporary status to enable them to work and contribute to their communities.
“Presently, the Government refuses to allow them to work and they are forced to rely on a very basic form of support which amounts to a bed and three meals a day.
“Many asylum seekers and unsuccessful asylum seekers already volunteer. Making this compulsory in return for such meagre support seems unfair and uncivilised.
“It is well documented that asylum seekers want to work, live independently and contribute to their communities.
“What the Government ought to be looking at is a programme where unsuccessful asylum seekers are appropriately rewarded for the work they do. This will enable better community relations and offer a positive opportunity to people who have no choice but to remain here.”
The Refugee Council also responded on the Government late tabling of these amendments. Bharti Patel, Head of Policy at the Refugee Council, said:
“We are concerned that the Government is tabling so many amendments at this late stage of the bill. Asylum bills do not have a good track record with late amendments – they are often ill-conceived and do not receive adequate parliamentary scrutiny.
“For the very reason the Government is establishing a loan system – to assist integration – we think it is mean and counterproductive to stop the backpayment being made to people recognised as refugees. These are people who may have arrived in the UK with nothing more than the clothes on their back and then spent months living on 70 per cent of income support.
“What’s significant about these amendments is that they do not address the real problems in the system or the current asylum bill. As nearly everyone who has looked at the system has concluded, the key to improving the system is the quality of Home Office decisions.
“Getting more decisions right first time will lead to fewer appeals, speedier results, lower costs and greater public confidence in the system. It is measures improving the quality of decisions that should be the subject of amendments at this stage of the bill.”
To read the relevant BBC article, click here.