The report was previously updated in March 2022.
Reform of the asylum procedure – legislation passed and a deal made to outsource processing of UK asylum applicants to Rwanda.
- Migration and Economic Development Partnership (MEDP) with Rwanda: The MEDP was agreed and a Memorandum of Understanding was signed by the governments of the United Kingdom and Rwanda prior to the then 2022 Nationality and Borders Bill, completing its passage through parliament. Commonly referred to as the ‘Rwanda deal’ the MoU effectively outsources the processing of claims from some asylum applicants in the UK by physically transferring them to Rwanda. Those recognised as refugees will have the right to stay in Rwanda and whilst the agreement includes provision for some refugees to be resettled in the UK, it is not envisaged that these will be the same individuals initially transferred. The first flight was halted through legal injunctions and two cases were heard in September and October 2022 with no transfers made in the meantime. In addition to the principled objections on outsourcing, criticism highlighted the specific problems in the agreement with Rwanda. Parliamentary scrutiny of the MoU was critical of the lack of parliamentary scrutiny prior to its agreement and questioned the use of the MoU rather than a formal treaty, as the MoU is not legally binding. In November 2022 the UK government issued further details about the asylum process and reception arrangements through Notes Verbale. In December, the High Court found that the principle of the MEDP was lawful. However, the Court stressed that the individual circumstances of each person the UK government seeks to transfer to Rwanda must be considered properly. The Court found that the UK government had failed to do this in the cases of the eight individuals who brought the challenge and so those decisions were quashed. In March 2023, the High Court allowed claimants to appeal the ruling that the plan was in itself lawful.
- Nationality and Borders Act: The Act gained Royal Assent in April 2022 and a few elements came into force immediately, largely granting powers to the Secretary of State to make changes without the need for further parliamentary agreement, rather than substantive changes in themselves. Several elements came into force two months after Royal Assent, on 28 June, including the ‘differential treatment’ elements of the refugee recognition and granting of benefits accordingly e.g. new criminal offences, length of refugee leave and family reunion rights. Not all of the sections have publicly known implementation dates.
- Implementation of the Nationality and Borders Act (NABA) 2022: Some sections of the Act put policy into legislation e.g. inadmissibility rules if a person is deemed to have travelled through safe countries and therefore can be removed to that or another country prepared to take them into its asylum system. The definition of a refugee was also put into primary legislation (having previously been in Immigration Rules). Some sections of the Act have the effect of fundamentally changing the UK asylum system. Elements of the NABA came into force on 28 June. Appointments to claim asylum made before that date are subject to the pre-NABA law in all respects, regardless of when the claim is actually determined. Section 12 of the NABA allows the Home Office to differentiate between different refugees according to an interpretation of ‘coming directly’ to the UK. Those deemed to have come directly, or to have a reasonable excuse for not claiming asylum in a safe country though which they passed, as well as those brought to the UK with prior authorisation (e.g. resettlement) are to be ‘group 1 refugees’ and others are referred to as ‘group 2 refugees’ with differential treatment lawful under the NABA. Differential treatment includes the length of leave to remain that will accompany a grant of refugee status. Section 14 legislates for an asylum claim to be made at a designated place. Asking for asylum in territorial waters, which would allow asylum seekers to enter the UK lawfully, is notably prohibited. Section 28 removes the right of appeal in cases where a claim is certified as ‘clearly unfounded’ replacing the previous policy of a right of appeal after the claimant was removed from the UK (non-suspensive appeal process). Section 32 provides for a two-stage assessment of a person’s well-founded fear with different standards of proof to each. The Immigration Rules were changed to attach a grant of 30 months leave to grants of Humanitarian Protection regardless of the way in which the beneficiary entered the country.
- Key asylum statistics: 89,398 persons applied for asylum in the UK in 2022, including 15,925 applicants from Albania, 10,872 from Afghanistan and 9,183 from Iran. 18% of applicants were children, and 77% of applicants were men and boys. Recognition rate at first instance stood at 74% (70% refugee status, 4% subsidiary protection). Meanwhile, the number of pending cases rose to 132,182 cases concerning 160,919 persons. The Home Office also served 21,532 claimants with ‘notices of intent’ that their case could be considered inadmissible, although formally only 83 cases received inadmissibility decisions in 2021 and 2022.
- Focus on channel crossings: The media and political attention to this issue continued, as did the scrutiny by Inspectors and Parliamentarians. The Home Office continued to publish a daily count of the number of people and boats detected. Government rhetoric and action continued to focus on promises to stop the boats and punish people for arriving irregularly although there is no obvious increase in prosecutions of those who travel. Non-governmental agencies published opinions and critiques of the government’s approach.
- Deterrence: The MEPD agreement with Rwanda is specifically aimed at deterring people from migration to the UK, entering unlawfully and claiming asylum. Following much speculation about ‘deals’ made with a variety of countries and UK overseas territories, the announcement of an agreement was made on 14th April 2022.
- Access to the procedure: the average waiting time between registering an asylum claim and the screening interview more than tripled in the first quarter of 2022 to 67 days, compared to 20 for the first quarter of 2021, and kept increasing to 85 days in quarter 2 and 121 days in quarter 3, going down slightly to 90 days in quarter 4 of 2022.
- Backlogs rise: The number of asylum applicants awaiting an initial decision on their claim continued to rise up to 160,919 people at the end of 2022. Many commentators made the link between this and the accommodation crisis. It was also the basis for suggestions for solutions including more use of powers to decide claims based on nationality and/or without the need to interview all applicants. Ministers continued to defend practices and pointed to the rise in decision makers as well as continuing to focus their efforts on reducing the number of claims. In December, the Prime Minister committed to clearing all claims made before 28 June 2022 by the end of 2023. At the end of 2022, a record number of 88,929 cases had been pending for more than 6 months, and 40,913 had been waiting for one to three years.
- UK response to the crisis in Afghanistan: Building on the announcements made in autumn 2021, the pace of government action to ensure all Afghans brought to the UK were provided with relevant documentation and long-term accommodation was heavily criticised by NGOs and parliamentarians. The Resettlement scheme was officially opened in January 2022 although remained ‘open’ only to those already in the UK. Statistics relating to the number of beneficiaries of the different schemes was not published until November and the numbers of people still living in temporary accommodation (bridging hotels) remained high.
- Reception capacity: The accommodation estate continued to experience pressure and the use of hotels to house people in the asylum system continued. Plans to use an ex-military site to create a new accommodation centre were dropped just before the scheduled opening. The Nationality and Borders Act outlines factors to consider when allocating accommodation, specifically the suitability of different types of accommodation with shared sleeping quarters in the style of the former military barracks. Guidance was issued to reflect this approach in October 2022.
- Unaccompanied children outside of the usual legal framework: The government practice in relation to unaccompanied children continued to alarm NGOs, parliamentarians and official inspectorates. A number of children were cared for outside of the usual system whereby a local authority is responsible for an unaccompanied child within 24 hours of their arrival in the UK or of them being identified as a ‘child in need’ following a referral. The use of hotels was criticised but not solely because of the inappropriate facilities. Whilst the Home Office takes responsibility, via contractors, for unaccompanied children’s care, they are outside of the framework and protection of children’s legislation.
Detention of asylum seekers
- Rise in detentions: In part due to the removal directions issued to asylum applicants subject to the MEPD (Rwanda deal) the use of detention began to rise during 2022. At least 14,227 asylum seekers were detained in 2022 in immigration removal centres, representing 70% of all immigration detainees in 2022.
- Detention centres: The government also issued notices to procure delivery partners for two Immigration Removal Centres (both previously decommissioned sites) which will increase capacity by 1,000 places to hold men. Additionally, a new short-term holding facility in Kent, opened on a former military site, added a capacity of 1,600 non-residential places. The government admitted that the site was holding more people than its capacity allowed and for longer than was lawful. In November it was announced that the Home Office had moved everyone who was being held at the site, two days after it was confirmed that one person had died in hospital having been held at the centre following his arrival in the UK.
UK Ukraine visa support
The information given hereafter constitute a short summary of the 2022 Report on UK Ukraine visa support, for further information, see Annex on UK Ukraine visa support.
- Key numbers re. displaced persons from Ukraine in the UK: a total of 256,929 persons applied to be granted entry into the UK under the two visa schemes Ukraine Family and Homes for Ukraine, out of which 209,829 persons were allowed to enter and 154,500 actually entered the UK. The government further granted 15,169 extensions under the Ukraine Extension Scheme.
- UK response to the crisis in Ukraine: in response to the full scale invasion of Ukraine, the UK announced three schemes for displaced persons from Ukraine: the Ukraine Family visa Scheme, for those with family in the UK; the visa sponsorship scheme ‘Homes for Ukraine’, a hosting programme; and the Ukraine Extension Scheme for those in the UK. All programmes continued throughout the year and were amended as needed, such as changes to eligibility related to the visa extension scheme and the inclusion of unaccompanied children in the sponsor scheme (Homes for Ukraine). For the visa schemes, persons had to be residing in Ukraine on or immediately before 1 January 2023.
Eligibility and procedure
- Ukraine Family Scheme: persons eligible under this scheme had to be joining a family member or an extended family member which had to be a UK citizen or have settled, EEA pre-settled status or beneficiary of refugee status/humanitarian protection. Non-Ukrainians can only benefit from this scheme insofar as they are immediate family members for another applicant who is Ukrainian. There is no fee for the visa.
- Homes for Ukraine: this programme aimed to match Ukrainian applicants and their immediate family (which may be Ukrainian or of another nationality) with UK based individual sponsors, or the Scottish or Welsh government was sponsors. The visa did not entail a fee. Persons had to apply from outside the UK. A specific procedure was foreseen to enable unaccompanied minors to apply in safe conditions, although from June to August no new unaccompanied minors could apply.
- Ukraine Extension Scheme: this concerns Ukrainians and their family members who were legally in the UK on 18 March 2022 or between 22 March 2022 and 16 May 2023. Ukrainians holding seasonal worker or temporary HGV/pork butcher worker visas automatically had their visas extended to the end of December 2022 and therefore did not need to apply to the extension scheme immediately. Persons in the UK but not eligible to the Extension Scheme could apply for asylum, but specific arrangements to facilitate this or process the claims were put in place.
- Delays: long processing times were observed regarding issuance of the visas. The requirement for all persons to register their biometric at the specific visa application centres outside the UK was quickly dropped for persons holding a Ukrainian passport. All applications were processed by the Home Office, meaning delays equally affected persons applying to each of the four nations.
Rights associated with status
- Residence permit: upon arrival in the UK, persons receive a biometric residence permit. All schemes offer three-year visas.
- Labour market, social welfare and health care: all beneficiaries have access to work and all public funds, as they are exempt from the habitual residence test which usually restricts access n the first months after arrival. They are not required to pay the surcharge usually applied to visa beneficiaries to access healthcare via the NHS.
- Housing: in July 2022, 92% of accommodation places were hosts’ homes, in which beneficiaries lived with their host. There is no guaranteed entitlement as of length of stay, with the exception sometimes of sponsors of unaccompanied children (which could be asked to commit for the entire three years or until the child reach 18). Following to inappropriate matching, some NGOs were approved to supervise matching processes.
- Financial support for hosts: There is no financial support available to the hosting family under the Ukraine Family Scheme. Hosts receive £350 per week as a ‘thank you’ payment for the first 12 months, increased to £500 after the first year, up to a maximum of two years. The local authority also receives funding for each arrival.