FAMILY REUNON IN THE IMMIGRATION BILL

Baroness Sally Hamwee writes to explain the complications of the latest “ping pong” of the slow progress on Family Reunion.

Parliamentary procedures are generally logical but often also opaque, so it’s no wonder that people have been asking what happened to the amendment on safe and legal routes, family reunion and unaccompanied asylum seeking children which the Commons had rejected.

In the Lords the Liberal Democrats had supported Alf Dubs’ amendment twice. For this third round, the Government proposed as a compromise the clause I’ve copied below. Lord Dubs decided to accept it. I have to say I would very much have liked to insist on what he had proposed – but the art of the possible and all that.

The Government’s new clause is missing a lot of very significant detail. The review has no objectives. It has no timetable (the three months mentioned is just the period within which the Government has to publish details about how the review will be undertaken). It doesn’t provide for consultation other than regarding unaccompanied children (of course I don’t deny the importance of that).

We will be thrown back on guidance (unenforceable) and rules (unamendable) – and, it appears, they will be the existing rules with all their problems: Family with status need to be able to support the person seeking to join them. The difficulty of demonstrating that a child is in an unsafe environment. Getting a child to a visa application centre to make an application under the rules, and fees which, under one of the paragraphs of the rules, are well over £3,000. I made these perhaps slightly random points in the debate because, without more, they show the importance of consultation on the whole situation.

It is beyond me that what is necessary now is to show “serious and compelling family or other considerations which make exclusion of the child undesirable”. Putting it that way round, rather than the converse, that a child should be given asylum unless there is an overwhelming reason to the contrary (hard to think of any), has always seemed perverse to me. So, too, is the policy that an application under Article 8 of the European Convention, on the right to family life, will not succeed unless there are “exceptional circumstances” with refusal resulting in “unjustifiably harsh consequences”.

But I should end on one positive note. The Minister confirmed that “any person who has applied under Dublin will have a route open to them, as long as the sponsor has the relevant status”.

We are promised (or threatened) with a “Fair Borders Bill” early next year. There is much that should be made more fair about border enforcement, but then the Home Secretary and I may not share views as to what is fair and right.

Baroness Sally Hamwee

The provision which the Government inserted in the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill is:

“Protection claimants: legal routes from the EU and family reunion

(1) The Secretary of State must review, or arrange for a review of, the ways in which protection claimants who are in a member State are able to enter the United Kingdom lawfully.

(2) For the purposes of this section a “protection claimant” is a person who—

(a) has made an application for international protection to a member State, or

(b) is not a national of a member State and is seeking to come to the United Kingdom from a member State for the purpose of making a protection claim.

(3) The review under subsection (1) must, in particular—

(a) consider the position of unaccompanied children in member States who are protection claimants and are seeking to come to the United Kingdom to join relatives there, and

(b) include a public consultation on that aspect of the review.

(4) The Secretary of State must, within the period of three months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed, lay before Parliament a statement providing further details about the review under subsection (1) and, in particular, about the aspect of the review described in subsection (3).

(5) After the review, the Secretary of State must—

(a) prepare a report on the outcome of the review or arrange for such a report to be prepared, and

(b) publish the report and lay it before Parliament.

(6) In this section—

“application for international protection” has the meaning given by Article 2(h) of Directive 2011/95/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council on standards for the qualification of third country nationals or stateless persons as beneficiaries of international protection, for a uniform status for refugees or for persons eligible for subsidiary protection, and for the content of the protection granted;

“protection claim” has the same meaning as in Part 5 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 (see section 82(2) of that Act);

“relative”, in relation to an unaccompanied child, means a parent, grandparent, uncle, aunt, brother or sister of the child;

“unaccompanied child” means a person under the age of 18 (“the child”) who is not in the care of a person who—

(a) is aged 18 or over, and

(b) by law or custom of the country or territory in which the child is present, has responsibility for caring for the child.”