The report was previously updated in March 2020.
During 2020 the United Kingdom (UK) government passed legislation and began to reveal its plans for its Immigration system to be brought in at the end of the EU transition period. Some guidance has been changed simply to remove reference to EU law and processes but some are more substantial.
- Impact of COVID-19 on the asylum procedure: Access to registration and the asylum procedure remained open throughout the COVID-19 pandemic including the national lockdowns. In April 2020 six Home Office premises were made available for people to claim asylum without having to travel to the national centre. At the time of writing these remained open but only on a temporary basis. Substantive interviews were paused between mid-March and the end of June 2020. When they resumed they mainly take place via video link; the asylum seeker is invited to the usual Home Office premises but the interviewing officer may be working from home or in a different office. Some face-to-face interviews have resumed.
- Extended scope of the admissibility procedure (post-Dublin): The UK is no longer part of the Dublin regulation and associated processes so the guidance on Dublin III has been removed. A new instruction was introduced to deal with transfers already in process on 31 December 2020. For applications after that date, the guidance on inadmissible claims and the screening and routing guidance were amended in December 2020 to reflect that the UK will change its approach to inadmissibility. The scope of inadmissibility is widened to any country that would agree to take responsibility for the person’s asylum claim, even if there is no connection with that country. The rules allow an inadmissibility decision to be taken on the basis of a person’s earlier presence in or connection to a safe third country, even if that particular country will not immediately agree to the persons return.
- Lodging an application for international protection: people are not permitted to claim asylum in UK territorial waters.
- Reception conditions: There were some changes to reception conditions due to the restrictions on movement brought in through the Coronavirus regulations and through announcements by Ministers and officials. These are detailed below but included a temporary pause of evictions and cessation of asylum support.
- Reception capacity: The accommodation estate suffered severe pressure, in part as a result of the decision not to evict anyone when they received a decision on their claim. The accommodation providers procured contingency accommodation: some hotels were repurposed for use as Initial Accommodation and several former military barracks were rapidly repurposed, which has resulted in media attention. The Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration released in March 2021 some key findings following the team’s visit to both sites formerly used as military barracks. It reported issues in management and leadership, mental health problems among residents, an impoverished, run-down and unsuitable environment for long-term accommodation. Cleanliness at both sites was variable at best and cleaning was made difficult by the age of the buildings. Some areas were filthy.
- People entitled to ‘section 95’ support were not always moved to more independent accommodation. Late in 2020 the government agreed to pay a small amount of cash to such people when they were living in full board accommodation.
Detention of asylum seekers
- Decreased detention: Given the prevalence of Covid-19 cases in detention and the lack of opportunity for the Home Office to remove people from the UK there were calls throughout the year to release everyone from immigration detention. Whilst this call was not heeded, i.e. there was no change in law and policy, the use of detention fell during 2020. Guidance was issued to Immigration Removal Centres (IRCs) and Short-Term Holding Facilities (STHF) for how to manage detention during Covid-19 including responding to outbreaks, preventative measures including cohorting and controlling of visits.
Content of international protection
- Registration: Applicants for visas and extensions of permission to stay, including refugees applying for Indefinite Leave following five years refugee leave, are required to re-register their biometrics at a Service and Support Centre run by a private company. Whilst they are required to provide free appointments to those who make free applications (including refugees) there are very few centres with free appointments available. The Independent Chief Inspector has begun an inspection into this issue.