Exactly one year ago, on 25 July 2006, then Home Secretary John Reid announced that his officials had found around 400,000 to 450,000 unclosed asylum files found down the back of the sofas at Lunar House, home of the then Immigration and Nationality Directorate, now the Border and Immigration Agency. Oddly, this wasn’t mentioned in the press release, instead it was tucked away in the third bullet point in the box on page 9 of the full report.
These ‘unresolved cases’ soon came to be known as Legacy Cases to most in the sector. The exercise appears to be officially referred to as a ‘case resolution exercise’ in a helpful document that recently but very, very belatedly appeared on the Home Office website.
The immediate effect is that a lot of asylum seekers and ex asylum seekers making applications to the Home Office are being told they are now in a five year queue. This applies whether writing to the Home Office with a fresh application or chasing up on previous unanswered correspondence on already old, outstanding applications. The Home Office letters also say ‘don’t call us, we’ll call you’.
We are now exactly a year into this ‘case resolution exercise’. What has happened? A handful of cases started to received questionnaires from the Home Office early in 2007, and then in the last month or so 6,000 questionnaires have been sent out to ex-asylum seeker families.
Lawyers and campaign groups have been quite definitively told by the Home Office at stakeholder group meetings that there is no asylum or immigration amnesty going on, and this is now confirmed on the Home Office website. The questionnaires being sent out request an update on the recipient’s situation in the UK and question 12 offers an opportunity to provide further information. The Home Office say that those cases that are brought to the front of the queue in this way will be ‘completed’. This means they will, if there is good reason, be granted status or they will be removed. Good reason means a fresh asylum or human rights claim under immigration rule 353, which requires something new and important that wasn’t considered last time around and which creates a realistic prospect of success. For most asylum seekers, this is a difficult requirement to meet and few applications under this rule are successful.
To be clear, unless the recipient of a questionnaire has a good legal basis for remaining lawfully in the UK, there is a very strong chance that they are going to be removed. There is no amnesty, and the Home Office is not exactly known for its compassion.
The questionnaires come with a 14 day return period, rather irritating after some of the recipients have been waiting years and years for the Home Office to make a decision on their case. Anyone who receives a questionnaire would be well advised to return it in within the 14 days and to include anything at all in their case that they think should be considered, including any material or evidence that has already been sent to the Home Office but on which a decision has not yet been received. The Home Office is notorious for failing to link correspondence, so there is no guarantee that a Legacy caseworker will see any material that the applicant may think is already on file.
Lastly, I have heard rumours that some lawyers are taking money from immigrants in order to make an application under the legacy exercise. This verges on criminal in my view, as there is no facility for an ‘application’. The questionnaires are sent to the subjects of the files that have been pulled to the front of the queue. Sending in a copied and then completed questionnaire in the hope that this will prompt a decision on a case is a complete, total, utter and absolute waste of time. The file will not be prioritised as a result of such an attempt and there will be no effect.
However, the Home Office has declared that the following types of case will be prioritised:
i. Cases in which the individuals concerned may pose a risk to the public. These will be a top priority.
ii. Cases relating to individuals who are in receipt of public support (formerly through the National Asylum Support Service).
iii. Cases in which it is likely that a decision will be made to grant leave to enter or remain in the UK.
iv. Cases where the individuals can more easily be removed.
The Home Office has also stated that exceptional or compassionate circumstances could be cited to seek to secure an early outcome, but there is no clear mechanism for this at present. If, as the Home Office suggests, all cases will have a case owner by December 2007, it might then be feasible to correspond with that case owner, however.
Any lawyers who are taking money for ‘applications’ should be taken out and shot.