It’s no great secret that positive change can be a frustratingly slow process, and there is no magic formula. Big campaign wins can happen, and when they do should be celebrated. But positive changes don’t have to be monumental to make a tangible difference to the life of a refugee or a person seeking asylum.
Here are some recent successes and achievements that will have a positive impact on the lives of refugees and people seeking asylum in the UK today.
Increase in Home Office decision-makers
Home Office decision-making in the asylum system can be poor, inefficient and slow. This has resulted in a record-breaking backlog of cases, and has a profound impact on people’s lives and their ability to feel safe and settled after the horrors they have experienced.
For many years we have been calling for an increase in the number of asylum caseworkers and we are pleased that the Home Office recently committed to increasing the number of asylum caseworkers.
Additionally, officials confirmed that they will allocate resources to improve decision-making on the claims of unaccompanied children. This will make a significant difference for unaccompanied children who are disproportionally represented in the backlog of asylum cases, and for whom waiting for a decision on their claim is particularly traumatic.
Remote interviews for child refugees
The Home Office has told us that they will increase the number of online interviews they do with asylum-seeking children. This is a welcome announcement which will result in improvements for some refugee children, and is something we have been calling for. Allowing more children to have their Home Office interviews remotely means these children can avoid the disruption of a potentially long and expensive journey and instead can take the interviews in familiar and supportive surroundings, such as they their social worker’s office.
Increased use of Statement of Evidence forms
The process for granting asylum involves an initial interview, an opportunity to provide written information, and a substantive interview. The Home Office can, however, if they believe there is enough evidence, grant asylum without the need for a substantive interview. This is a good provision, and, we believe, not used enough.
The Statement of Evidence (SEF) is a form that children seeking asylum use to submit information after their initial interview. The Home Office has told us they want to start using this form more, to reduce the need for substantive interviews for children. The asylum system and process can be traumatic for children so it is better if more children are able to submit additional information in writing, without having to go through difficult and lengthy interviews.
Applying for Indefinite Leave to Remain
When a person is granted refugee status, it is for 5 years. After this time, they need to apply for indefinite leave to remain (ILR).
Previously, people would go to post offices to submit their application, but the service is now run by a commercial company, meaning refugees must go to designated centres to submit their biometrics and documents in support of their application. Unlike post offices, these centres are few and far between and require appointments to be booked on line in advance, some of which must be paid for. The demand for these appointments – especially the free ones – is high, which leaves many people struggling to get appointments.
Following sustained interventions by lawyers and charities, including Refugee Council, the Home Office has now said that refugees applying for ILR for themselves (so not people applying as a family), are able to apply electronically, without having to make an appointment or pay for expensive travel to the centres.
Their ILR status will also be issued digitally, and not as a physical document. This is good for people who are still living in precarious situations, where having to store and look after important documents may not always be an easy option for them.
These changes will remove unnecessary stress and hurdles for some refugees and ensure they can continue to remain in the UK safely and continue to build their lives here.