Migration policies branded ‘extreme’ failing both families and society, says Lords committee

Migration policies are failing families as they force loved ones to live apart and add to the trauma child refugees already endure, a Lords Committee has said.

Peers described the rules as being complex and inconsistent and accused the Home Office of being “systematically deficient in its processing of family visa applications”.

In a report published on Tuesday, the House of Lords Justice and Home Affairs Committee said delays “pile up”, branded communication “appallingly poor”, said evidential requirements are “excessively complex” and concluded that applicants can be left “distraught”.

They called on the best interests of children to be put “at the heart of family migration decisions” and insisted it is in the best interests of a child living in the UK to be surrounded by their family and to remain here.

They urged a simplification of family migration rules and said the process for bringing family members to the UK should be “straight forward, affordable, transparent, and fair, with the rules applied as consistently as possible across different pathways”.

Funding to improve the standards of the services the Home Office delivers to families must be “significantly” increased, and caseworkers should be recruited and trained as an “essential yet insufficient starting point”, the committee said.

In November, Home Secretary Suella Braverman (pictured) was accused of being “out of her depth” and not understanding her own asylum policy after she conceded that many asylum seekers would need to first get to the UK in order to submit a claim.

Questioned by a member of the Commons Home Affairs Committee at the time, she struggled to explain how an orphaned African child fleeing war and religious persecution, who has a sibling living legally in the UK, would be able to make a claim from abroad, as they are not covered by any of the Government’s specific schemes.

In their report the Lords said Ms Braverman had, when questioned about child refugees not being able to be joined by any relatives, “defended this policy and showed no intention to better protect these vulnerable children”.

The committee said the arrival of spouses and partners of British citizens “is deterred or delayed by the financial requirement and prohibitive application fees”, meaning parents in the meantime are forced to raise children alone.

They said current rules are “so harsh that they effectively ban families from being joined in the UK by adult relatives from overseas for whom they are desperate to care – often an elderly parent”.

The committee described the Government’s approach as “unjustified and needlessly restrictive”.

Baroness Hamwee, chairwoman of the House of Lords Justice and Home Affairs Committee, said: “Nobody should have to choose between home, safety, and family.

“The primary concern of family migration policies should be to allow families to live together in the UK where possible, and the Home Office should ensure safe and legal routes for family reunion.

“The interests of families and society are not in competition: they go hand-in-hand. Family migration policies should ensure that they are sufficiently protective of family life.

“These restrictive rules and deficiencies affect British citizens, refugees, and permanent residents alike. As one witness told us: ‘I feel that, although I am a British citizen, I have no rights’.

“We believe that it is in the best interests of a child living in this country to be surrounded by their family and to remain here.

“The scandal around the children placed in asylum hotels and going missing from them points up the importance of looking at immigration from the child’s point of view.

“Current policies are extreme. It is virtually impossible to be joined by an elderly parent who needs care. No visa was issued to anyone in that situation in 2021. Tight but fair immigration rules should allow families to live together.

“The minimum income requirement, which those trying to be joined by a partner must meet, is fundamentally flawed. It should be made more flexible and should not increase.

“Home Office processes must improve considerably, and standards of service substantially raised, without applicants left in the dark as to what is happening.”

Beth Gardiner-Smith, chief executive of Safe Passage International, said the committee’s report “confirms how broken the current system is for refugees wishing to reunite with family”.

She described how unaccompanied refugee children the organisation works with were facing “many months of delays, stranded alone in camps and shelters, and then terrible decisions which totally ignore the vulnerable situations they are currently in” – resulting in many children “losing faith in the process” and risking a “dangerous journey” to reach their family in the UK.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “There are a number of family visa routes available for partners, spouses, children and adult dependent relatives of those already settled in the UK.”

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