Changes to the asylum and immigration process due to Covid-19

Legal Updates

Because of the Coronavirus public health crisis, there have been some temporary changes to the asylum and immigration process.

This blog post focuses on the main things that our readers/supporters have been asking about. This blog post was last updated on 28 March.

The government have announced that people in the UK on visas can get their leave to stay extended to 31 May if you unable to return home at the end of their visa because of Coronavirus (but you need to contact the Home Office to ask them to extend the leave). For more information on more technical immigration matters such as visas, see the Free Movement blog post here.

If you have a question about how Covid-19 might affect your particular situation, you can try contacting the Home Office Coronavirus helpline (although we expect it will be very busy).

Telephone: 0800 678 1767 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm). Calls are free of charge.

Email: CIH@homeoffice.gov.uk

Asylum screening interview

Some screening interviews are being cancelled. Some screening interviews are still going ahead.

The Home Office is working on a new system for asylum claims to be registered with as limited contact and travel as possible. We will update this blog post as soon as more is known.

Substantive (big) asylum interview

The Home Office have paused face-to-face substantive asylum interviews.

The Home Office says:

“Many of our applicants travel a long way to have a substantive asylum interview, which can be a lengthy interaction taking several hours. On that basis, we have decided to pause face to face substantive asylum interviews for now.  That means we will be cancelling any that are scheduled from tomorrow 19th March and will not be scheduling any new face to face interviews for now. “

The Home Office is looking at alternative ways of conducting the interviews (they already conduct some substantive interviews by video link/skype). We will update this blogpost when we have more detail about this.

Asylum support

On 27 March, the Home Office announced that for the next three months, people will not be asked to leave their asylum accommodation (as they normally would if they had received a positive decision – for example, refugee status; or if their claim had been refused by the Home Office and appeal). Financial support will continue with the accommodation. This situation will be reviewed at the end of June.

The Asylum Support Appeals Project (ASAP) have written a new factsheet about asylum support and Covid-19. They suggest that people who are “appeal rights exhausted” and who do not currently have a fresh claim being considered by the Home Office may be entitled to Section 4 support on the basis that they cannot currently leave the UK (because of Covid-19 travel restrictions and the grounding of flights). You can find the factsheet here.

Further submissions (fresh claims)

Previously, most people who wanted to submit further evidence to be considered as a fresh claim (read more in the Right to Remain Toolkit here) had to go and do this in person in Liverpool.

This requirement has been stopped for now.

You can submit further evidence by post or email.

Remember if you are sending it yourself (without the help of a lawyer), you will need to explain who you are, and what the evidence is, and how it amounts to a fresh claim – do not just send the evidence without explanation.

The details for sending the evidence are:

Postal address:

Further Submissions Unit
The Capital Building
Old Hall Street
Liverpool
L3 9PP

E-mail address:

CSUCE@homeoffice.gov.uk

Appeals and Judicial Reviews

From 25 March, no face-to-face appeal hearings will be listed at the First-tier Tribunal (the court where most asylum and immigration appeals are be heard).

Until at least 30 April, judges will conduct Case Management Review Hearings by telephone to decide if the case can be decided on the papers (without a hearing). A CMR hearing is a pre-hearing (which already happened in some asylum cases) at which the judge decides whether you and the Home Office are ready to proceed with the full hearing a few weeks later.

If it decided that a full hearing needs to go ahead, this will be done by video.

The Upper Tribunal have cancelled almost all listed hearings including Judicial Reviews (apart from a few exceptions where alternative arrangements have already been made).

Reporting to the Home Office

Reporting to the Home Office has been paused.

The Home Office says they have decided that:

reporting as a condition of immigration bail should be temporarily deferred while it reviews how frequently people should report. You will receive an SMS text message soon with details of your next reporting date.

This follows reports from many people, sharing messages they had received saying they were not required to attend their regular reporting/signing at the Home Office at this time.

Detention

Detention centres are now closed to visitors.

The Home Office have released 350 people from detention. The number of people held in immigration detention as of 24 March was 736 people (down from 1,225 on 1 January).

The Home Office has committed to urgently review the cases of every person currently held in immigration detention. They are starting with the most vulnerable, so it will be important to make the Home Office/healthcare services in the detention centre of any factors that make you vulnerable.

The Home Office has stopped the new detentions of people who would in normal circumstances be facing removal to one of the 49 countries to which removals are not currently taking place because of Covid-19 travel restrictions.

These countries are, at the time of writing:

Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Austria, Bulgaria,Cameroon, China, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Egypt, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, India, Iraq, Ireland, Jamaica, Jordan, Kenya, Kuwait, Latvia, Lichenstein, Lebanon, Libya, Luxembourg, Mauritania, Morocco, Netherlands, Pakistan, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Somalia, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Turkey, Uganda, Ukraine, Zimbabwe.

People from these countries who the Home Office consider to be in the “high harm” category may still prior to deportation (as opposed to removal). If this detention happens, the detention will still be challengeable if there the deportation is not going to be able to happen anytime soon because of Covid-19 travel restrictions.

Home Office guidance issued after Detention Action began legal action against them says they will be initiating:

  • Enhanced screening, identification and monitoring of those at risk or showing symptoms of Covid-19, particularly for this with underlying health conditions.
  • Ensuring that persons at increased risk from Covid-19, and persons who are symptomatic, are provided with facilities to self-isolate in single-occupancy rooms and are provided with individualised care plans
  • A review of cleaning practices within detention centres to ensure compliance with Public Health England guidance
  • Provision of anti-bacterial cleaning materials to detainees, upon request
  • The introduction of social spacing measures in communal areas
  • The production of specific guidance to explain in clear terms how to reduce the risk of an outbreak of Covid-19

Earlier this week, there were reports that Brook House detention centre was in lockdown, with people unable to leave their rooms.

Bail hearings are still taking place, but not in person (not face-to-face).



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25 comments on “Changes to the asylum and immigration process due to Covid-19

  1. Mohamed on

    Hi , hope you are safe and fine,
    last week i did my Substantive (big) asylum interview, so i am wondering the home office will keep opening and processing their work or they stop work.

    Thanks

    Reply
    • RtR on

      Hi Mohamed. Thanks for your message and we hope you are well too. The Home Office are still processing cases as far as we know, though they are likely to be very busy (there were already long delays at various points of the asylum process and the current situation will probably have made this worse).

      We recommend that during this time of waiting, you read and learn as much as possible about what the next steps will be.

      Here’s the information in the Right to Remain Tookit:

      https://righttoremain.org.uk/toolkit/asylumdecision/

      Reply
      • Abu Sam on

        Hello sir/Madam
        I’ve got the same request as Mohammed’s one , you said as far as you know the home office is still working so my question is when and how you confirm that they are doing the work?
        I’ve done my big interview last 25th of February and I would love to know how long time you think it can take to have an answer?
        Thank you so much in advance and I hope you stay safe.

        Reply
  2. Joy on

    First and foremost, thanks for all the great work you are doing. All your tools are very informative and easily to comprehend.

    Would it be okay if you please clarify to me, can a new fresh application be made or submit? I am wondering because of the COVID-19.

    The application is Leave to remain on parental route, thinking about social distancing and lock down in UK. Can you please advise how to go about it e.g Biometric enrollment and documents scanning to Home Office. Thanks so much .

    Reply
    • RtR on

      Thank you for your very kind comments Joy.

      The application for leave to remain as a parent is an online form anyway (more information in our Toolkit here: https://righttoremain.org.uk/toolkit/children/)

      We saw some caseworkers saying yesterday that some people had been told to still attend appointments to submit biometric information. But at the moment, information being given out is quite inconsistent and it may depend on where your appointment is (eg some appointment venues are in buildings that are currently closed, so people can’t attend). If you have any contact details on documentation about the appointment, you may need to contact them directly to ask.

      Reply
      • RtR on

        The Home Office have now announced that all Service and Support Centres (SSCs) are closed and that “Your immigration status in the UK will not change as a result of you not being able to attend an appointment.” It’s still possible there may be some variation between the different companies that run different types of centres so still check when possible.

        Reply
  3. Quyen Phan on

    Hi,
    Hope you are safe and fine. My baby have an appointment for photograph and finger print next week and I have not received any message saying that the appointment will be cancelled, so I am wondering that the Home Office is still open next week or is there any changes or cancelling about it.

    Thanks

    Reply
    • RtR on

      We saw some caseworkers saying yesterday that some people had been told to still attend appointments to submit biometric information. But at the moment, information being given out is quite inconsistent and it may depend on where your appointment is (eg some appointment venues are in buildings that are currently closed, so people can’t attend). If you have any contact details on documentation about the appointment, you may need to contact them directly to ask.

      Reply
      • RtR on

        The Home Office have now announced that all Service and Support Centres (SSCs) are closed and that “Your immigration status in the UK will not change as a result of you not being able to attend an appointment.” It’s still possible there may be some variation between the different companies that run different types of centres so still check when possible.

        Reply
  4. Jackie Fearnley on

    I was told by a lawyer yesterday that Home Office are asking in most cases for fresh claims to be submitted by email rather than by post. But am wondering how people without access to internet, possibly not represented, are going to be able to do this.

    Reply
    • RtR on

      Yes, this is an issue which we are keenly interested in (also because we want to interact with as many as people as possible online for the foreseeable future.) In our recent community research, many people in the asylum process were very aware of how to access free wifi but so many of these places are now not open/functioning. There are calls for wifi to be introduced into asylum accommodation but this hasn’t happened yet and wouldn’t benefit many people wanting to submit a fresh claim.

      It seems that on the fresh claim matter, the Home Office will just have to deal with people without internet access sending submissions by post, but there is a bigger issue here as so many support and information services revert to online only.

      Reply
    • RtR on

      The Home Office has stopped doing the big interviews for now (they are still doing the first, small screening interview for some people).

      Reply
  5. D.Twine on

    Hello
    thank you in advance for listening
    I received the email regarding the cancellation of my husbands immigration appeal case. I could not afford representation so I am the representative (as this is an appeal from outside the UK).
    I am very confused about what I should do.
    I had a date for the 16th April. I have not submitted my bundle of documents or skeletal argument and not sure if sending it 15 days before the appointment still stands?
    I also have read that without representation from a lawyer it would be unlikely I would have a Case management hearing or prehearing telephone call.
    I am so confused as to what I should do. Please can anyone advise

    Reply
    • RtR on

      Hi there – were there contact details on the notification of hearing (the document that said when the hearing date was)? If so, you could try and contact the Tribunal, because at the moment there is some different information being given about the procedure depending on which Tribunal is dealing with it.

      Reply
  6. Ibrahim on

    Hi Sir, hope all is fine and thanks fro Right to Remain effort.

    Do you have an idea if the Home Office has suspended DECISION MAKING on cases which have substantively been interviewed recently. Any announcement or measure will important to know

    Many thanks

    Reply
    • RtR on

      Hi Ibrahim. As far as we have heard, the Home Office have not suspended decision making. I think though, that all the changes there are having to make because of Covid-19 might slow this down (and there were already some delays in this).

      Reply
  7. Bayrak on

    First time I read your newsletter service and it really amazed me. I appreciate your hard work to being helpful for people.

    I just wonder whether the Home Office will proceed for an online substantive interview or they cancelled all interview. Since in my city, they only conducted online interviews via skype not face to face any time. It has been 8 months I am expecting an interview schedule and now I don’t even want to think that they are not going to proceed.

    I am asking since the sound in your post like they may schedule online interviews. I just want to be clear. Thank you very much again.

    Reply
    • RtR on

      Hi Bayrak. Thank you for your kind words. I have double checked the wording of the Home Office announcement, and it was that face-to-face interviews are paused. There may still be a problem in conducting online interviews as in the past this has required Home Office staff, interpreters and of course the interviewee to be present in an office somewhere. It sounds like they are trying to find a way of doing the interviews without requiring people to go the Home Office building itself. We will update the blog post if we hear any more about this.

      Reply
  8. alex on

    Hello ! could you precise what happens to people freshly arrived in UK who want to claim asylum ? Is the situation different in London/Croydon compared to in other cities ? can they have a first screening interview and receive settlement and support ? thx

    Reply
    • RtR on

      Hi Alex – do you mean in normal circumstances? In normal circumstances, everyone (adults) apart from people who arrive to the UK in Northern Ireland have to travel to Croydon to claim asylum/have the screening interview. Last week, there were still screening interviews taking place in Croydon (if the Home Office has accommodated someone when they claimed asylum, they are likely to be near Croydon anyway). We haven’t heard about any change to this. It is usually at your screening interview that you would say you need accommodation/financial support – the Home Office should still be providing this. If screening interviews are being cancelled, the person should contact Migrant Help to see what the current process is for telling the Home Office they need support.

      Reply
  9. mazin on

    Hi, hope All you are fine and in safe place,
    How can I know my asylum case status, already I did my big interview? is there any mail or other way to know?

    Thanks

    Reply
    • RtR on

      Hi Mazin. Usually if you wanted to contact the Home Office about this, you would do this via your lawyer. But you do also need to be careful – although it is difficult to be waiting a long time, asking the Home Office to make a decision more quickly could mean you get a *negative* decision more quickly. There’s more info here: https://righttoremain.org.uk/toolkit/asylumdecision/

      Reply

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