The Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, David Bolt, has criticised Home Office handling of applications by family members of refugees settled in the UK. The report found the Home Office was too quick to refuse applications which might ultimately succeed once fuller evidence was provided, particularly where it was the Home Office’s own failures which made that missing evidence necessary. The decisions were often found to be legally correct on the basis of the evidence presented but were not being managed “thoughtfully and with compassion.”
Home Office officials and systems were not adequately capturing family details where a refugee first claimed asylum in the UK, information which could later be used to facilitate family reunion applications, and the Home Office had stopped funding DNA testing in 2014, causing refusal rates dramatically to increase from some countries.
The actual cost of the DNA testing varied between around £100,000 and £160,000 per year: a drop in the ocean of the Home Office budget. Despite the inspectors recommending that the Home Office consider funding DNA tests, this recommendation is rejected by the Home Office, which has just published a new family reunion policy (and had received the inspection report before publication). Current policy on DNA testing is succinctly stated at page 24:
The onus is on the applicant and their sponsor to provide sufficient evidence to prove their relationship and satisfy the caseworker that they are related as claimed. As part of this, they may wish to submit a DNA test at their own expense and from an organisation accredited by the Ministry of Justice – HM Courts and Tribunal Service.
Inspectors also recommended more extensive use of interviewing.
The report was based on sampling 191 case files and interviews with officials, NGOs and applicants and sponsors. It is good to see the actual migrants themselves being involved in the process.
The report found examples of the rules being applied incorrectly in children cases, refusal of applications for lack of documents which were not requested or set out anywhere in guidance, failures to keep records, poor quality refusal letters not in plain English and using irrelevant “cut and paste” paragraphs and failure to carry out internal Entry Clearance Manager reviews. Although Home Office policy was that applications might succeed outside the rules in exceptional circumstances, no cases at all had been considered on this basis despite some being potentially eligible.
The inspection highlighted a particularly egregious case where the wife, aged 16, with two children, aged 18 and eight months (at the time of file sampling), was about to be left in Syria without family support. She was refused twice, without reference to the RCU, as the immigration rules require both the spouse applicant and UK sponsor to be aged 18 at the me of the application.
The inspection also reveals marked increase in refugee family reunion applications since 2012:
The refusal rate for Syrian family reunion applications varied hugely between Amman, at 27%, and Istanbul, at 49%. Immigration officials had simply ignored this disparity. Even on the limited file sample, though, inspectors found 7 cases where documents were rejected by British immigration officials in Istanbul and the application accordingly rejected, only for entry clearance to be issued later once DNA evidence had been obtained; the applicants had been telling the truth but had been separated from their family for far longer than was necessary.
Overall, the report shows that refugee family reunion applications are being poorly handled at the Home Office. Much fuss is made of Government commitments to enable children from Syria or Calais to enter the UK. It would be good to see some attention being shone on this existing but neglected process. The refusal rate has increased markedly in the last two years owing to lack of Home Office funding and refugee families are needlessly being kept apart.