COVID: Temporary Changes to the Asylum and Immigration Process
Over the past year, several changes were made by the Home Office to the way in which asylum seeker applications are processed as a result of COVID-19. It is important to note that asylum applications are still being processed in the UK despite the worldwide pandemic. In this article, we will summarise the temporary changes to the asylum application process, including how interviews are being conducted and fresh claims are being handled by the Home Office.
How are the Home Office handling asylum applications during the pandemic?
During the first wave of the pandemic, substantive face to face asylum interviews were cancelled en-masse on 19th March 2020, leading to considerable uncertainty for many applicants. In late April, the Home Office set up a number of temporary Asylum Intake Units (AIU) in Glasgow (Scotland), Belfast (Northern Ireland), Liverpool (North West England), Leeds (North East England), Solihull (Midlands) and Cardiff (Wales). Despite the temporary nature of these AIUs, in November, due to the ongoing pandemic, the Home Office announced that they would continue to operate these locations for asylum application processing. In June, the Home Office announced a phased resumption of asylum interviews stating, “Having worked with delivery partners, to develop and enable the use of a video interviewing solution across most of the asylum estate, we are now ready to resume substantive asylum interviews”.
Three Phases Of Asylum Interview Resumption
Each phase is designed to bridge the gap between the cessation of substantive interviews and their full resumption. The focus at each stage is on ensuring the safety and protection of asylum applicants and Home Office representatives and staff members from exposure to COVID-19, hence the reliance on video conferencing technology.
In the first phase, only asylum applicants who close to a UKVI or VFS office were asked to attend an interview. The idea here to was to limit the amount of travel on public transport applicants would need to use to get to an interview location. On arrival, asylum applicants were taken straight to a dedicated interview room with video conferencing facilities, thereby removing the need to sit in a waiting area with others. Using this approach meant that interviewers were not necessarily in the office, with many working from home using secure video technology. It was also possible for applicants to have their substantive interview with the assistance of an interpreter in a different location.
In the second phase, it is planned that face to face interviews will restart when it is safe to do so (this has not happened yet). To allow this to happen, the Home Office will be putting in place safety screening and layout changes to ensure that social distancing is in place. The use of PPE by Home Office staff and claimants will be kept optional and not mandated. A revised interviewing protocol will also ensure that additional breaks are included during the substantive interview session.
Phased three will see the resumption of normal interviews, including for unaccompanied children and families.
Submitting Additional Information To Support Your Fresh Asylum Application
Those who wish to submit further information to support their fresh claim can no longer book an appointment in Liverpool. Instead, the Home Office are requesting that additional information be sent by post or email. The address in Liverpool is: Refused Case Management Further Submissions Unit, Level 7, The Capital Building, Old Hall Street, Liverpool, L3 9PP, and the email address is: CSUEC@homeoffice.gov.uk. The Home Office advise there is no need to contact the further submission unit by phone before sending your additional information. Those sending information by email should note that there is a limit of 20mb on email attachments. If you need to send several emails, you should add in the title a comment such as (email 1 of 5) to make it easier for claims officers to process your information correctly.
Asylum Seeker Support And Evictions
In March 2020, as the pandemic took hold in the UK, the Home Office made the decision to put a temporary stop on support and evictions of those who have been granted asylum from government accommodation. This was to prevent the potential spread of COVID-19 into the wider community. In addition, in early November, the Government widened this policy to include those who had received negative decisions. Despite the current national lockdown, the Home Office has now lifted this but only for those with asylum status.
The financial support available for destitute asylum seekers increased from £37.75 a week to £39.60 a week in June 2020.
Reporting To The Home Office
At the start of the pandemic, asylum reporting to the Home Office temporarily ceased for a number of months. At present, only some asylum seekers have been advised they need to resume reporting to the Home Office following the reopening of reporting centres. Asylum seekers will be advised individually by text when and how they need to start reporting – for this reason, it is important to check that the Home Office have your correct mobile phone number.
The processing of asylum applications is slowly returning to normal, however, there are currently large backlogs leading to delays in interviews and final decisions. If you are concerned that your application is not progressing or that you are at risk of being removed, it is advisable to seek expert assistance as soon as possible. Assistance is available from immigration Solicitors
and registered charities should you require it. Having to wait for your application to proceed is undoubtedly stressful and worrying, but be assured plenty of help is available to support you. We wish you all the best with your asylum application in the UK and that you will soon be able to relax in the knowledge that your immigration status is secure.
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