On 13 December 2022 the Prime Minister announced in parliament that the Home Office’s asylum legacy backlog would be cleared by the end of 2023. All the asylum claims in the legacy backlog were made in the UK before 28 June 2022 when certain provisions in the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 came into force. Over 90,000 people who made an asylum claim before 28 June 2022 are waiting for the Home Office to decide their claim.

What has been announced?

Streamlined asylum process for adult claims

On 23 February 2023 the Home Office announced new streamlining plans affecting 12,000 people in the legacy backlog who are all originally from Afghanistan, Eritrea, Libya, Syria and Yemen.  People were sent a complex 10-page document which they needed to read and complete in English before returning to the Home Office within 20 days. Asylum claims from people of these nationalities currently have a grant rate in the UK of over 95%.  It was announced that claims could be granted on receipt of the questionnaire but would not be refused solely on the basis of the questionnaire alone. Failure to return the questionnaire could result in the Home Office treating an asylum claim as having been withdrawn, although on 2 May 2023 the Immigration Minister confirmed that non return of the questionnaire would not result in an asylum claim being withdrawn in certain circumstances.

Streamlined asylum process for children’s claims

On 16 March 2023 the Home Office published new guidance on a streamlined asylum process for children – a pilot to decide whether children could be granted asylum without a substantive interview. It affected children who made their claims before 28 June 2022 and were from Afghanistan, Eritrea, Sudan, Syria and Vietnam (countries which all have a grant rate of over 95%). Children in the pilot are invited to a preliminary information meeting or PIM with their appropriate adult, and their asylum claim could be granted without need for further interview (and as with the adult questionnaires, children will not have their asylum claim refused on the basis of the PIM alone). More information about that process is available in our briefing.

The streamlined process for children now also applies to those who claimed asylum after 28th June 2022.

Streamlined asylum process for adult claims from Iran and Iraq

On 15 May 2023 the Home Office announced that Iranian and Iraqi legacy claims would be streamlined for an asylum decision – this time not because of the grant rate but because of the number of claims in the asylum legacy backlog from those two nationalities. There are about 20,000 asylum claims from nationals of Iran and Iraq in the backlog – the grant rate for Iranian cases is 80% and for Iraqi cases it is 54%.  This streamlining process applies only to people who claimed before the 28 June 2022 and who have not already had a substantive interview as part of their asylum claim. Asylum claims will not be refused based on the questionnaire and for this cohort non- return of the questionnaire will not result in an asylum claim being withdrawn. Unlike with the high grant nationalities, a grant of asylum will not be made on the basis of the questionnaire alone – there will still be an interview although the Home Office intention is for this to be shorter and more targeted than a full substantive interview. More information about the process for Iranians and Iraqis is available in our briefing.

Streamlined asylum process for adult claims from Sudan

On 8 June 2023 the government announced that the streamlined process would also apply to Sudanese nationals who applied for asylum between 28 June 2022 and 6 March 2023. They have not provided any further detail.

For those who claimed before 28 June 2022 the government has said decisions should be made by the end of 2023 under the normal process. 

Impact on people in the North West

At Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit (GMIAU) we have stood alongside people with lived experience in highlighting the misery caused in our communities by the Home Office’s mismanagement of the asylum system. We recognise that in the North West the announced plans could mean thousands of people – who have fled war and persecution only to have been warehoused in the UK’s asylum system – are finally able to get on with the next stage of their lives.

However, by rolling out a scheme at pace (to keep up with a prime ministerial promise), seemingly without consulting legal representatives or local authorities, and ignoring the obvious solution (to automatically grant refugee status to nationalities with very high grant rates), we fear the Home Office’s plans are high risk. And as the history of immigration control repeatedly shows, it is those with everything to lose who end up falling between the cracks of new announcements, relying on community support and local services to pick up the pieces while the government agenda moves on.

Shortage of legal advice

We are extremely concerned that yet again Home Office’s plans fail to understand the context in which they operate – particularly for people in the North West. While there is a shortage of free legal immigration advice and representation across the UK, recent research showed the North West is the most affected region. The shortage of legal advice in the North West is so acute that we have over 300 unaccompanied children waiting to be allocated a legal representative at GMIAU – it is unprecedented. And yet the streamlining plan mean thousands of people need access to legal advice to complete a form or attend an interview within a limited time period. Simply put, there are not enough immigration legal aid representatives to assist that number of people within these short timeframes, and it is illegal for people who are not regulated by the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner to provide immigration advice. It is therefore likely that a significant number of adults receiving the streamlining questionnaire or children being invited for a PIM will be unrepresented through an asylum process that we believe needs legal representation.

Inappropriate process

And despite the lessons the Home Office purports to have learnt from the Windrush scandal, these plans show no sign of understanding the people and communities the Home Office is supposed to serve. The adult streamlining process relies on an English-only form with 50 complex questions. As it stands, the format of the questionnaire is likely to elicit responses that don’t meet the needs of either the people completing it, or the Home Office decision maker. Particularly given the shortage of legal advice, Home Office suggestions that people use online translation sites and ask friends for help are dangerous.

More questions

The Home Office plans also raise more questions about the asylum system in our region:

  • Of the people we supported at GMIAU to complete questionnaires in the first cohort announced in February 2023, as of the end of May 2023 none have so far received a decision on their asylum claim. This raises questions both about the speed of the process (three months later and no decisions yet) and also about whether the questionnaire process itself will result in the Home Office acquiring the information it needs for decisions to be made without interviews.
  • The Home Office’s plans have left services scrambling and people unsure of what they should do to protect their futures. Local authorities have been trying to understand the new plans at pace and ensure an appropriate response for people affected. This includes having to support the housing and homelessness needs that could arise when large numbers of people are granted refugee status or have their asylum claim withdrawn at the same time. This resulted in a letter from Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham and Salford City Mayor Paul Dennett to the Home Secretary with their concerns about the impact of asylum streamlining in Greater Manchester.

What next

At GMIAU we will continue to work with people with lived experience, with the voluntary sector and local authorities to push the Home Office to make compassionate, sensible, common-sense decisions to urgently clear the asylum backlog in a way that works for individuals, families and communities in the North West.

We are urging local leaders to call on the government to make sure that

  • People are not disadvantaged by the streamlining process
  • The streamlining questionnaire is simplified and translated, and that there is a Home Office advice guide to support people to complete it
  • Urgent action is taken to clear the Home Office backlog of children’s asylum claims – making sure that the best interests of the child are at the heart of any decisions
  • Future plans to clear the Home Office asylum backlog involve consultation with communities and local services
  • There is a long term commitment to sufficiently fund legal aid so that people in the North West do not face the largest deficit between supply and demand in the country