In the week following Easter Monday I discovered to my horror that a new draconian fee regime had been devised to deprive a large number of my clients of their right to renewal. At least a quarter of a million asylum seekers have been granted “discretionary leave to remain”, most of them under the so-called “Legacy” backlog exercise. A large number of them were refused asylum, but granted Indefinite Leave to Remain. They are not affected. But an executive decision was made to abolish this in May 2011 and thereafter an equally large number of people have been granted only 3 or 2½ years stay. Those who renewed their stay before 6 April this year did so free of charge, but they will be hit by the draconian charges in 2-3 years time (unless the fee demand has been overthrown before then). However, this still leaves a huge number of renewers who will be hit over the next weeks and months.
This is a huge headache for all of us who are immigration advisers and intermediaries. We have long been reassuring renewers that there was nothing to fear and that the renewal of an existing right is largely a formality, unless the applicant has committed an offence during their residence. Now, overnight the scenario is transformed to one which has, to quote Anne Widdecombe’s famous description of an earlier Home Secretary, “that of the night” about it.
To illustrate the problem: I have a client who is renewing her three years stay together with three dependent children. The renewal is going to cost them £649 each plus a new International Health Surcharge of £600 each, plus a levy for a biometric card of £75 each plus postage. This takes us to well in excess of £5,200! If she tries to claim exemption, this must be on the basis of “destitution”. Neither she nor any others of my clients are likely to qualify, because they are all in receipt of benefits or working and, routinely, only those who have crashed out of the system and are on emergency Social Services funding can be termed destitute. Of course, they are free to become destitute as a result of the charges, but then it will be too late! Possibly their access to benefits will be blocked because he of the unexplained injection of funds from various family members around the world who have dipped into their savings to rescue their unfortunate relatives. By the way, the same family newly applying for Indefinite Leave will have to pay at least £8,000 for the privilege.
A Quakerly response requires some positive proposals, so here goes.
I think that this may constitute Inhuman and Degrading Treatment under the terms of the European and UN Conventions on Torture. We should try to organise to have the matter referred to the relevant committee of the CPT in Strasbourg. At the same time we should lobby any incoming government to quash the fees. Meanwhile, we might advise renewers to apply for only the lead individual in the family (although this will already cost about £1300) and wait for the Home Office to try to declare the other family members to be removable from the UK, which I don’t think any reasonable judge would accept if Judicial Review were taken. Of course, the limited number of people who can take Judicial Review can do so on the basis of not paying at all, if they are prepared to take the risk.
We must do something about this not only from normal altruism, but because a moral gangrene has invaded our public life. Civic rights must now be granted only on payment of a fee set at the discretion of a government minister. What is more, they must not be equal civic rights. Residents (and soon even citizens) who have entered via asylum and human rights provisions must carry a biometric resident card, which employers are enjoined by the Home Secretary’s guidelines to treat with the greatest suspicion. They must pay for the NHS and demonstrate that they have an International Health Surcharge Number. “Brave New World” indeed!