You will know, I am sure, that I have campaigned heavily on refugee and immigration issues since first being elected in 2015. Having visited refugee camps in Greece and Calais, I have been particularly moved by families on the move and the rights of unaccompanied minors. As such I have seen first-hand the difficult circumstances which can often result in people coming to the UK and I continue to be active in championing their rights.
I have worked very closely with Lord Dubs not only on his initial efforts in 2016 to ensure that more refugee children could come to the UK, but also earlier this year by working with him to ensure the Brexit legislation passing through Parliament was amended so that children continue to be offered sanctuary after we leave the EU. I also spoke in the debate supporting Lord Dubs’ amendment to the Brexit legislation.
As you will see, I have campaigned for the rights of those seeking asylum and refugee status and please be assured that this is an issue that I care about very much and I will continue to do all that I can to protect the rights of those seeking asylum and their families.
I will watch the new administration’s plans very carefully and particularly their intentions on the issues set out in your email.
I completely understand that people seeking asylum will find the process very difficult and will be under pressure. It is undoubtedly a difficult process to navigate but the Home Office provides information to people seeking asylum, including signposting to any support they may require and ways to seek legal advice.
Your email refers to the possibility of those seeking asylum being able to work whilst their claim is considered. They are provided with support and accommodation to meet their needs if they would otherwise be destitute without it.
With regard to the issue of asylum seekers being granted the right to work, I do not believe it is the right thing to do. Although I would love to believe everyone seeking asylum has a legal right to do so – this just isn’t always the case. As such, it is vital that claims are properly and swiftly processed so that the right support can be given if a claim is upheld. Equally but conversely, we should not be offering employment to illegal asylum seekers by default. I agree with the exception to this rule that if a claim has not been decided after 12 months, through no fault of the asylum seeker’s own, permission is granted. The asylum seeker can then work in one of the jobs on the shortage occupation list.
On the subject of legal aid, there have been some recent changes, which are welcome. The Government recently announced new plans for legal support following the post-implementation review of the legal aid changes made in 2012. Details of the plans are available here.
There have been a number of changes. Currently, legal aid is available in all asylum cases – for all age groups – and immigration cases where a detention decision is being challenged. Legal aid for other immigration matters is available via the Exceptional Case Funding (ECF) scheme. Funding for immigration matters under the ECF scheme has risen substantially over recent years. I think this demonstrates that legal aid is still available and being accessed. However, following a judicial review brought by The Children’s Society, the Government examined both the evidence presented as part of the case and their data on applications for funding, and held a series of discussions with experts, and agreed that they must go further. They have agreed to bring immigration matters for separated migrant children into the scope of legal aid funding generally and that is very welcome.
I hope this goes some way to reassuring you that I understand the critical need to set an immigration policy and tone that is welcoming and reflective of the value we place on the people who come to the UK from around the world.