Coalition reaction to latest changes to the Immigration Rules on Family Reunion
August 3, 2022
The Government’s Nationality and Borders Act makes significant changes to refugee family reunion. On 6th July, the Families Together coalition brought together more than 50 family reunion practitioners to consider the impact of the changes.
The key change introduced by the Act is ‘differential treatment’, where family reunion rights are now linked to the way that a refugee has arrived in the UK. Those refugees who have not arrived directly via an approved safe route will have to meet extra requirements in order to reunite with their families.
Alongside this negative and major change are two smaller but positive developments: the expansion of the Immigration Rules to include adult dependent child applicants, and minor child applicants seeking to reunite with adult relatives other than their parents.
Below, we set out the key changes and the coalition’s position in relation to each.
Differential treatment is the key change to family reunion introduced by the Nationality and Borders Act. It means that refugees who are given temporary permission to remain (so-called ‘Group 2’ refugees) have to satisfy extra conditions in order to reunite with their family members through refugee family reunion. These extra conditions are detailed in Home Office guidance (see pp19-20).
The coalition is firmly opposed to differential treatment. We believe that all refugees must be able to reunite with their family members and that nobody with protection needs should be denied this fundamental right . We will be monitoring the implementation of the Act to look at how far the extra conditions imposed upon so-called ‘Group 2’ refugees prevent successful family reunion.
The coalition is also concerned about the practical implications of adding additional requirements into the Immigration Rules for family reunion. Practitioners will have to prepare more time-consuming and complex applications, requiring extensive evidence gathering. Such applications are also more complex for Home Office officials to consider.
We fear that differential treatment will therefore lead to more delays in the family reunion application process, prolonging painful family separation for refugees. Again, we will be monitoring the implementation of the Act to see the impact of differential treatment on the family reunion application process.
Finally, we are concerned that refugees will need legal assistance to prepare these complex applications, but that they will not have access to legal aid. We reiterate our call for the government to reintroduce legal aid for family reunion cases.
The expansion of the Immigration Rules: Adult dependent children
We were pleased to see the Home Office expand the Immigration Rules to provide for adult dependent children to reunite with their parent(s) in the UK. These changes came into effect on 28th June 2022.
The coalition has campaigned for this change over the past 5 years, during which time we’ve seen the issue gain traction in parliament. Children do not suddenly become independent at the age of 18, and we are happy to see this reality reflected in the Immigration Rules.
However, we were concerned to see the Home Office impose a series of ‘exceptional circumstances’ requirements on adult dependent child applicants. These extra requirements will necessitate more complex and lengthy applications and will create additional uncertainty for refugee families. We will be working closely with practitioners to understand the impact of these exceptional circumstance requirements.
The expansion of the Immigration Rules: Children reuniting with adult relatives
The second positive change in the Immigration Rules is provision for decision-makers to grant leave in line with the sponsor, and within the rules, to children joining adult relatives other than their parents, even when maintenance and accommodation requirements aren’t met. These changes also came into effect on the 28th June 2022.
This means that those children will be able to access public funds and benefit from protection status. This change should also reduce the need for practitioners to make time-consuming, outside-the-rules applications when seeking to reunite a child applicant with an adult relative in the UK.
Overall, the big change to the Immigration Rules on family reunion is the introduction of differential treatment, which creates more uncertainty for separated refugee families. Differential treatment is also likely to worsen delays – and therefore prolong family separation – by demanding complex and time-consuming applications.
There are two positive developments: the expansion of the Immigration Rules to include adult dependent child applicants, and also to include minor child applicants seeking to reunite with adult relatives other than their parents. The coalition will seek to build on these developments to improve the Immigration Rules and bring more refugee families together.