Those crossing the Channel to Britain from France could risk being classified as group two refugees since they left a 'safe' country | Photo: Stuart Brock / AA / picture alliance
Those crossing the Channel to Britain from France could risk being classified as group two refugees since they left a 'safe' country | Photo: Stuart Brock / AA / picture alliance

There are now two categories of refugee status under Britain's nationality and borders law. The second category grants status for half the time awarded compared to category one refugees.

Refugee status comes with a set of rights granted to the refugee by the host country. These include a set amount of time that the refugee can stay in a country without needing to renew their status, the right to travel, work and often the possibility of applying for family reunification; as well as a route to permanent residency should they still need protection.

Until recently, that was the case for all those granted refugee status in the UK, too. However, under the new Nationality and Borders Bill, as the expert website Free Movement (which looks at immigration law) detailed at the end of June, there are now two categories of refugee status that can be awarded in the UK -- and the second comes with two significant differences, which could make life more precarious for those who are granted it.

Half as long permission to stay

According to author and immigration lawyer Colin Yeo, founder of Free Movement, Category one refugees will be given permission to stay for an initial period of five years before needing to renew, while category two refugees will only be granted two and a half years.

Category one refugees could then apply for settlement after their first five years if they still needed protection, whereas category two refugees would have to wait a total of ten years legal stay in the country before being allowed to apply.

While category two refugees are granted some of the other rights accorded to category one refugees, like immediate and unrestricted access to the labor market, some rights might be more difficult for them to obtain. These include the right to access public funds and the opportunity to apply for a refugee integration loan as well as applying for family reunification.

Family reunification

For category two refugees, the possibility of applying for family reunification will only be granted if they can show "insurmountable obstacles to continuing family life without family reunification," writes Yeo.

It seems that many of those crossing the English Channel could risk being categorized by the UK Home Office (Interior Ministry) as Group Two refugees, as the UK deems France a "safe country."

"Group 2 refugees are defined negatively as those who do not come to the United Kingdom directly from a country or territory where their life or freedom was threatened and present themselves without delay to the authorities," writes Yeo, paraphrasing from the guidance document accompanying the new law.

Challenges to come in court

Yeo predicts that these new definitions and laws will inevitably be challenged in court, and therefore could change if those challenges are successful. However, if the law is applied as intended in the guidance documents, Yeo thinks it could make life much more difficult in the UK for those refugees granted group two status.

Although case workers have been instructed that "in the vast majority of cases, it is likely that a person's protection needs will remain and that further permission to stay or settlement would be granted on that basis," Yeo writes that it is as though the government has hung a "make-believe sword of Damocles" over the heads of group two refugees.

This is because, it will be up to each person to apply for their next leave to remain before the current one is up. If they miss the deadline, they risk falling into illegality and would be classed as an overstayer. As the guidance for the law makes clear, overstayers "are no longer entitled to the benefits associated with a valid period of permission to stay on a protection route, for example permission to work."

Overstayers

Once you fall foul of the law, you could risk being detained in the UK and then could, depending on your case and your ability to access legal help, in the worse case risk deportation. Yeo also criticizes the bureaucracy behind the new policy, saying it will create additional casework for Home Office officials, which will add to the problems in an already overburdened system.

"Previously they had to consider and grant two applications per refugee: the initial grant of asylum plus the grant of settlement after five years. Now they have to consider and grant five applications per refugee: the initial grant, further grants after 2.5 years, 5 years and 7.5 years and the grant of settlement after 10 years," writes Yeo.

Yeo calls this a "total waste of everyone's time and bound to make matters worse, not better."

Similarly, with the family reunification differentiation between group one and group two refugees, Yeo thinks that most refugees in the group two category will be able to prove insurmountable objects and still qualify for family reunification; however "the test appears to create extra uncertainty for refugees ... and it creates additional work for Home Office officials."

'Not just pointless, but counterproductive'

According to Yeo, if a person finds they have been placed in the group two category, they can go through a "rebuttal process" to try and get their status reassessed. They will be given a minimum of ten working days to provide "an explanation of why they are not a Group 2 refugee."

However, there is not a formal right of appeal to the decision to categorise them. So anyone wanting to challenge their categorisation would have to apply for a judicial review. Yeo believes this is "likely to happen quite a lot, creating a whole load of new litigation for the Home Office to deal with."

Yeo concludes that this new policy "exemplifies" the Home Office under Home Secretary Priti Patel: "It pretends to be tough as old boots but in reality it creates genuine but fairly minor problems for very vulnerable people with no likely policy outcomes achieved."

Yeo says that because the policy will add to the backlogs already present in the system, "it is not just pointless; it is actually counterproductive."

With reference to an explainer article on the Free Movement website, published on June 28

 

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