On June 15 the Immigration Minister announced a new form of immigration status for children who came to the UK from Europe under the ‘Dubs’ amendment but who do not qualify for refugee status or humanitarian protection.
Section 67 leave
Section 67 of the Immigration Act 2016 (known as the ‘Dubs amendment’) placed a requirement on the Secretary of State to ‘make arrangements to relocate to the United Kingdom and support a specified number of unaccompanied refugee children from other countries in Europe’. The government has committed to transferring 480 children from France, Greece and Italy under section 67 and over 220 children have been brought to the UK to date.
The new immigration rule creates a form of leave (permission) to remain in the UK. Just like refugee status and humanitarian protection, this new leave would last for five years, and give the holder the right to study, work, and to access public funds and healthcare. Unlike refugees, young people granted section 67 leave will require three years’ ordinary residence before they are entitled to a student loan. Subject to the normal security, criminality and deception checks, those with section 67 leave will be able to apply to settle in the UK permanently after five years without paying a fee. Children or young people granted section 67 leave get an appeal right as asylum applicants. However, the only way to challenge a refusal to grant section 67 leave is judicial review.
Children for whom the main applicant has parental responsibility will also be granted leave in line with the main applicant for leave. These changes will apply from all decisions made on and after 6 July 2018. If any of the 220 children relocated to the UK under section 67 have already had asylum refusals, please contact our advice line.
We wholeheartedly welcome this development, which will bring much needed stability for those children fleeing conflict, exploitation and abuse. It also implicitly acknowledges that the leave currently granted to all other unaccompanied children not granted refugee status (‘leave as an unaccompanied child’, or ‘UASC leave’) is not an adequate long-term solution for children living in this country.
UASC leave only lasts until the child is 17.5 years old or 2.5 years, whichever is shorter. It is granted to children who are found not to be in need of international protection (they have been refused refugee and humanitarian protection) but who cannot be returned to their country of origin because there are no adequate reception arrangements in place there. Once a child reaches the age of 18, they can no longer be granted this leave, because as it is set out in the rules it requires the applicant to be a minor.
2,206 unaccompanied children claimed asylum in the UK last year. UASC leave was granted in 27% of all cases for children in 2017 (378) – down from 50% of cases (828) in 2016. This change is not necessarily the result of a policy decision from the Home Office: it may simply reflect that a greater number of children are coming from countries that the government acknowledges are persecuting children, like Eritrea.
CCLC intervened in the case of SM in 2013 which held, in relation to an old policy, that there are problems with the Home Office granting short periods of leave without considering a child’s need for stability and their best interests. Five years ago, the Joint Committee on Human Rights highlighted the shortcomings of granting this type of short-term leave, stating that it ‘is used too readily at the expense of properly considering other options, such as asylum, which hinders access to further education and to the labour market in adulthood’.
Short grants of leave also assume that return at 18 will be an option. Yet a recent study about the impact of removal on former unaccompanied children to Afghanistan showed that many were caught up in bomb blasts or suicide attacks and some were threatened or targeted as a result of issues connected to their original asylum claims made in the UK. If return at 18 is not an option, then the decision to grant short term leave is not in the best interests of the child – instead it leaves them in limbo, unable to build their futures in the UK and increasing anxiety and possible mental health issues.
As an unaccompanied minor who has travelled through many countries, where many promises were broken and hopes weren’t met, getting to the UK… to be given a status where you have two years and then might be sent back – this effects your stability, your mental health and building relationships in school. It’s a cycle – you start off with uncertainty and then here you are again and given more uncertainty. This cycle needs to be broken. It really affects you because you’re in an uncertain situation, lose motivation, feel hopeless, restricted, limited and can’t access services that other citizens can. Even if you go to college you don’t know what’s going to happen and you can’t concentrate, it affects you mentally – depression, anxiety because they don’t know what’s going to happen.
This new form of status is a welcome step in recognising the need for longer-term grants of leave for children. However, it will only apply to a small handful of the children who are in the UK to seek protection. Earlier this year, the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration recommended that the Home Office review its UASC leave policy and we would urge the same. The creation of section 67 leave shows a willingness on the part of the government to put the best interests of children front and centre in immigration decisions, and we look forward to the day when all children can benefit from this welcome approach.
 Quotes from young asylum seekers involved in Coram’s Young Citizens programme, cited at: http://refugeechildrensconsortium.org.uk/icibi-childrens-best-interests/