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.
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.
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:
Further Submissions Unit
The Capital Building
Old Hall Street
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.
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 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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