Today, nine months after it was submitted to the Home Office, the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration’s fourth report on the Home Office’s handling of family reunion applications has been published.
This inspection follows the decision in 2016 to have family reunion applications made by UK-based caseworkers with experience of working on asylum cases. However, of the 176 applications examined in this report (decided between July 2018 and June 2019), just 101 were assessed in the UK (the remaining 75 were assessed in South Africa).
Of the 101 applications decided in the UK, 73 refugees were granted the right to be reunited with their family, while 28 refugees were refused. Of the 75 applications decided in South Africa, 45 refugees were granted family reunion rights, while 30 were refused.
The Chief Inspector was highly critical of the application process, which asks questions that will likely confuse many refugees. Parts of the application form were described as ‘potentially misleading’, ‘potentially confusing’, and ‘generic and inflexible’.
The inspection team questions the government’s continued assertion that legal aid should not be necessary in all circumstances, although it does point out in its response that Exceptional Case Funding may be available and that separated migrant children will receive legal aid for any application they make, including for their family members.
The report highlights questionable judgments made when there is a lack of evidence supporting an application. The guidance clearly states that refugees might find it difficult to provide concrete evidence of a sustained relationship with a family member who is living in precarious circumstances.
The guidance for applicants on how to reach the required threshold for evidence is heavily criticised in the report.
The Chief Inspector criticises the government’s failure to adequately respond to calls from stakeholders and parliamentarians to review its policies, and called for clarity on the Home Office’s position (with supporting evidence) on child sponsors, dependent family members aged over 18, funding for DNA tests and the availability of legal aid.
Commenting on the report, Judith Dennis, Policy Manager at the Refugee Council, said:
“The Chief Inspector’s frustration is palpable in this, his fourth examination of the way the UK handles family reunion applications. While there are some glimmers of hope, such as UK-based caseworkers taking a more protection-based approach to assessing applications, the outlook is generally bleak. From the byzantine application process, to the level of danger applicants have to experience simply to have their biometrics enrolled, every aspect of the process requires improvement.
Yet again the Chief Inspector tells the government that it must provide evidence to back up its claim that these harsh rules on family reunion, which bring so much suffering into the lives of vulnerable children and adults, are necessary.
It’s also hard not to be cynical about the Home Office’s decision to delay the publication of this report until nine months after it was written and submitted by the Chief Inspector. We empathise with his frustration, and feel that this delay makes it more difficult to believe that the department is committed to implementing the recommendations.”