Immigration and asylum during coronavirus
This page provides a directory of procedural information and sources of support for immigrants, asylum-seekers and their representatives while the system is affected by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. If you feel there is anything missing from this page, please tweet us at @gcnchambers and we will update the information as best we can.
We took a leading role in challenging the First-tier Tribunal’s decision to roll out the Reform Procedure nationally in March 2020 without having consulted with practitioners and without any provision for independent advocates to be paid for preparing “appeal skeleton arguments”. We were unable to be paid for that work for months despite having almost no other source of income from appeal work due to very limited hearings. At the bottom of the page is a summary of the campaigning we participated in. Eventually, a case brought by one of our senior team members Tasaddat Hussain was instrumental in ensuring we could be paid for providing skilled advice and drafting at an early stage with the aim of resolving cases efficiently and where possible without costly full appeal hearings.
Tribunals/Immigration and Asylum Chamber:
Immigration and Asylum Chamber (First-tier Tribunal): Help for Users, January 2021 Update
Immigration and Asylum Chamber (First-tier Tribunal): User Guide, August 2020 update
Presidential Practice Statement No 2 of 2020, 11 June 2020
The Tribunal Procedure (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Rules 2020 (A rule which makes provision about when hearings are heard in private or public is amended, and a new rule on recording of remote hearings is inserted)
MoJ/LAA Press release, ‘Support package for legal providers will ensure access to justice during coronavirus outbreak,’ 3 April 2020, specifically states: “We will also align legal aid fees for First Tier Tribunal immigration and asylum appeals with HMCTS’ move to an online system for these cases.”
Presidential Practice Statement Note No 1 of 2020: arrangements during the COVID-19 Pandemic, 23 March 2020 (revoked by Presidential Practice Statement No 2 of 2020)
First-tier Tribunal (Immigration and Asylum Chamber) Hearings Notice (generic directions to provide appeal skeleton argument being sent out to appellants: see ILPA letter re how there is no funding for this)
First-tier Tribunal (Immigration and Asylum Chamber) Hearings Notice (generic notice that all hearings up to 30 April 2020 converted to CMRs via telephone or Skype)
Immigration judicial review
Coronavirus (Covid-19 Pandemic): Judicial review applications to the Upper Tribunal (Immigration and Asylum Chamber) that require urgent or immediate consideration (Form T483), 23 March 2020
Also note that service on GLD should be done electronically
The Home Office coronavirus immigration team’s contact details are: CIH@homeoffice.gov.uk and there is now one page with all their COVID-19 related guidance.
Coronavirus (COVID-19): advice for UK visa applicants and temporary UK residents (advice for visa customers and applicants in the UK, visa customers outside of the UK and British nationals overseas who need to apply for a passport affected by travel restrictions associated with coronavirus).
Those wishing to extend their leave until 31 July 2020 (where they aim to leave the UK afterwards) can request that online.
Visa extensions for frontline health and care workers, 29 April 2020
(the factsheets go into more detail than the top webpage)
UKVCAS (service will resume from 1 June for postponed appointments but new bookings are not currently being accepted)
Further submissions can be made by email: firstname.lastname@example.org
5 October 2020: Most UK Visa Application Centres (VACs) have resumed services where local restrictions allow. Priority and Super Priority services are only available in some locations. If available, you’ll be able to purchase these services when booking your appointment
27 March 2020: due to the operational impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19), most of the UK’s visa applications centres are currently closed. All visa decision waiting times will be delayed until further notice. The ‘priority service’ and ‘super priority service’ are suspended for applications made outside the UK
Immigration reporting centres: Initially, reporting was temporarily deferred while the Home Office reviewed how frequently people should report. However current guidance says: “Attend your appointment as usual unless you or someone you live with has any coronavirus (COVID-19) symptoms or you are self-isolating. Contact your local reporting centre if you cannot go.” Reporting centres can be contacted by email if needed: email addresses are on the reporting centres webpage.
Asylum Support Appeals Project (ASAP), Asylum Support and Covid-19 Factsheet (17 April 2020). Importantly, those who lose their asylum appeals will be transferred automatically from section 95 to section 4 support, because they cannot leave the UK. ASAP can assist if refused asylum-seekers instead receive a discontinuation letter.
Immigration Law Practitioners Association (ILPA), Coronavirus resources
Free Movement (blog): Coronavirus and the UK Immigration System
Free Movement (blog): Coronavirus and the EU Settlement Scheme
Doctors of the World: Latest NHS guidelines translated into 32 languages
Organizations providing free legal support and advice in asylum and immigration law
AIRE Centre (London, EU issues)
ATLEU (London, trafficking)
Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit (GMIAU) (includes a special project on refugee family reunion)
Liverpool Law Clinic (statelessness)
Manual Bravo Project (Leeds, fresh claims)
Asylum Support Appeals Project (ASAP) (London)
Merseyside Law Centre (Liverpool)
APPEAL SKELETON ARGUMENT ISSUE
We wrote to the FTT President as a team on 25 March 2020 and again on 27 March 2020 as part of a group of immigration teams from other chambers nationwide (21 chambers supported this letter in total) to raise concerns of fair procedure and a lack of legal aid funding for the ‘reform online procedure’ requiring an appeal skeleton argument to be served at an early stage, unconnected to a hearing, which the FTT rolled out nationwide from a local pilot (which had no consultation or evaluation) in response to COVID-19 (again with no consultation). On 24 April 2020, 120 immigration solicitors also wrote to the Legal Aid Agency expressing serious concerns about changes to immigration and asylum tribunal procedure including the lack of funding for certain aspects, the potential waste of public money and the lack of consultation.The MoJ/Legal Aid Agency promised on 3 April 2020 that funding will be put in place but regulations were laid before parliament until 18 May 2020. There is a detailed response from ILPA as to why these regulations are inadequate. The Bar Council and the Law Society and a working group of 133 immigration solicitors and caseworkers have also raised serious concerns.
We, along with immigration barristers from 19 other chambers nationwide placed the following statement on our website at the time, with further explanation below.:
“Other than in exceptional circumstances, each member of the immigration team of the chambers listed below will not accept instructions under the ‘Reform Procedure’ to prepare an ‘Appeal Skeleton Argument’, unless specific provision is made for that work to be adequately remunerated.
Essentially, barristers cannot be paid adequately for doing the appeal skeleton argument (written appellate advocacy being our specific area of expertise) without reducing the amount immigration firms and organizations are paid, which is unsustainable when years of cuts already mean they operate on razor thin margins. Equally, if the work is left to them, they will now be doing many hours more preparation without a proportionate increase in income which is again unsustainable. The regulations have the further effect that the escape fee threshold is raised, even retrospectively, which could have catastrophic effects of the financial model of some firms/organizations who work on complex cases for some of the most vulnerable clients in our jurisdiction, and result in serious unfairness for those who have undertaken that work with a reasonable expectation it would be remunerated. We are extremely disappointed that at a time when we are all under financial pressure due to COVID-19, the FTT and the MoJ/LAA have made decisions which exacerbate that and undermine access to justice for our clients facing persecution and human rights violations in their countries of origin. We fear the loss of barristers, firms and organizations and their expertise that would severely undermine the integrity and excellence of our jurisdiction. We urge those involved to reconsider their position and to include us in consultations over how to improve and modernise the work of the Immigration and Asylum Chamber, to which we are fully dedicated.”
We reiterate our call to be involved in consultations for the sustainability of high quality advocacy in this sector.