In the fourth quarter of 2006, the most recent statistics available on asylum applications, 730 unaccompanied children applied for asylum in the United Kingdom. The total number of child asylum applicants for the whole year was 2855.
Unaccompanied asylum seeking children, or UASCs as they are sometimes referred to in the acronym-addicted and arcane world of immigration control, were until April allowed to remain in the UK until their 18th birthday, after which they would be treated as an adult asylum seeker and subjected to the full rigour of the adult asylum process.
However, this policy changed on 30th March 2007, announced in APU Notice 3/2007. In fact, the official policy has always been that a period of Discretionary Leave, a form of temporary immigration status that can lead to settlement after six years, would be granted for three years or up until the child’s 18th birthday, whichever was the shorter period. However, if there were adequate reception arrangements in place in the child’s country of origin then removal would take place. All this is stated in a specific Asylum Policy Instruction on children.
Because it was all but impossible for the Home Office to ensure adequate reception arrangements, the de facto policy was for grants of leave of three years or until the 18th birthday. For a while the Home Office made noises at stakeholder group meetings about piloting removals to certain countries. One of these was Albania, a major centre for human trafficking. One wonders what on earth possessed them to think that Albania would be a suitable pilot. In any event, unsurprisingly, nothing came of it.
The new policy is a little different. In essence the grant of Discretionary Leave will be for three years (12 months for certain countries) or until the age of 17 ½, whichever is the shorter.
The justification given for the change is as follows:
The purpose behind the change is to enable the Border and Immigration Agency to deal with any application to extend or to vary leave and any subsequent appeal prior to the young person turning 18, providing more clarity to the young person about their future.
Or, to put it another way, better to ensure the child is removed on or around his or her 18th birthday by getting any appeals out of the way by then. This would represent a significant cost saving to the public purse, although not necessarily the Home Office’s own budget. Under the Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000 all children in the care of social services, including asylum seeking children, receive additional help after their 18th birthday to help them make the transition to adulthood. They used simply to be rather unceremoniously booted out of care, which was for many a traumatic experience. There will be no need to provide this support if the asylum seeker child can be removed whence he or she came, obviously.
Lastly, it would also appear that fewer children will benefit from appeal rights as more children — all those aged 16 ½ and above — will now be granted a period of 12 months leave or less. It is only possible to appeal a grant of leave if it is for a period greater than 12 months, or once decisions to grant leave reach an aggregate of 12 months. Why would one want to appeal a grant of status? In order to get full refugee status, which provides additional benefits and stronger long term protection. It is hard enough to succeed in proving an asylum claim soon after the events that led you to leave your home country. Hard evidence is almost always non-existent. To try and prove a claim even further down the line will make the task that much harder.
Curiously, the old policy of only granting one year of Discretionary Leave to children from certain countries will continue. These countries are Albania, Bangladesh, Bulgaria, Jamaica, Macedonia, Moldova, Romania, Serbia and Montenegro and Sri Lanka. Why children from these countries have been singled out is difficult to fathom, but it has been pointed out to me that the list is the same as the old, unamended ‘white list’ for presumed clearly unfounded cases.