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In this part of the debate we turn to amendments and new clauses concerning the asylum system and the arrangements made for the support of failed asylum seekers who the courts have agreed do not need our protection.
The crisis in Syria and events in the middle east, north Africa and beyond have seen an unprecedented number of migrants and asylum seekers arriving in Europe. Some have gone on to reach the UK via northern France, including many unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. There are now nearly 1,000 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in Kent county council’s care, 300 of whom have had to be placed in other local authority areas. I would like to put on record my thanks to all those in Kent—all the officers and others—for the way in which they have responded to this challenge, but in our judgment a national response is required.
Additional funding has been made available to local authorities who take on responsibility for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children from Kent. We hope that the dispersal arrangements that have been put in place will remain voluntary. However, we have tabled new clauses 3 to 7 and Government amendments 5 and 6 to underpin the voluntary dispersal arrangement and, if necessary, enforce them, although we see this as a reserve backstop power. The amendments introduce a new power to facilitate the transfer of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children from one local authority to another; enable the Secretary of State to direct local authorities to provide information about their support to children in their care—this will inform new transfer arrangements; enable the Secretary of State to direct a local authority that refuses to comply with a request to accept an unaccompanied asylum-seeking child to provide written reasons; enable the Secretary of State to require local authorities to co-operate in respect of transfers; and enable the provisions to be extended across the UK by regulations, subject to the affirmative procedure and informed by further dialogue with the devolved Administrations.
We take our responsibilities for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children very seriously. The new provisions will ensure that there is a more equitable distribution of such cases across the country and that the welfare of vulnerable children continues to be safeguarded.
Government amendment 7 addresses an anomaly in migrants’ access to support in paying university tuition fees. Under the Education (Student Support) Regulations 2011, which govern home student access to student loans in England, British citizens—including those returning to the UK from overseas—and most other groups must demonstrate three years of ordinary residence before they can qualify. We think that that is also the right benchmark for adult migrant care leavers with limited leave to remain or an outstanding application.
The measure will also relieve the burden on local authorities, created by case law, that means that their leaving care duties under the Children Act 2004 may encompass payment of student tuition fees for migrant care leavers who do not meet the student support regulations. Those payments are normally at international student rates, which range from £12,000 to £15,000 per year in most cases. Even one or two cases can place significant pressure on local authority budgets.
Schedule 3 to the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 restricts access to local authority support for migrants without immigration status. Schedule 9 to the Bill simplifies that framework. Government amendments 8 to 16 make technical improvements to those provisions. Amendment 17 amends schedule 3, which provides a UK-wide framework, so that regulations may make equivalent changes across the UK. That will be informed by further dialogue with the devolved Administrations.
A number of other amendments and new clauses have been tabled in this group. I shall make some initial comments about them, but will reflect and respond further in the light of any points made. Amendments 29 and 40 would reverse the reforms made by schedule 8 to the support provided to failed asylum seekers and other illegal migrants. They reflect a clear difference of principle, which was clear in Committee. We say that it is not appropriate for public money to be used to support illegal migrants, including failed asylum seekers, who can and should leave the UK. Schedule 8 will therefore restrict the availability of such support, consistently with our international obligations, and remove incentives for migrants to remain in the UK when they have no lawful basis for doing so.
The system of support for which Parliament legislated in the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, to discharge our obligations to asylum seekers, is, in our judgment, too often used to support those whose asylum claim has failed and who have no lawful basis to remain in the
We believe that the situation is wrong in principle. That is why, under schedule 8, those with children with them when their asylum claim and any appeal are rejected will no longer be treated as though they were still asylum seekers and will cease to be eligible for support under section 95 of the 1999 Act. Section 4 of the 1999 Act will be repealed and support will be available to failed asylum seekers and any dependent children only if there is a genuine obstacle that prevents their departure when their appeal rights are exhausted.
In Committee, there was a great deal of discussion about the 2005 pilot; it was said that that could be prayed in evidence as to why our approach might not work. However, I underline again what I said in Committee about why we think there is a difference. First, the current onus on the Home Office to show that a family is not co-operating with return is removed; to qualify for support under new section 95A of the 1999 Act, the family will have to show that there is a genuine obstacle to their departure at the point when they have exhausted their appeal rights.
Secondly, the 2005 pilot involved a largely correspondence- based process in cases that had exhausted appeal rights in the previous 11 months. The new approach will involve a managed process of engagement with the family, in tandem with the local authority, following the end of the appeal process, to discuss their situation and the consequences of not leaving the UK when they can. Thirdly, we judge that circumstances have changed: it is now more generally recognised that the taxpayer should not have to support illegal migrants who could and should leave the UK.
Amendments 30 and 31 are concerned with appeal rights. Under the Bill, asylum seekers refused support under section 95 of the 1999 Act will retain their right of appeal. That appeal is extended to those refused support whose further submissions on protection grounds are accepted, or may be treated, as a fresh asylum claim. However, the Bill does not provide a right of appeal to failed asylum seekers refused further support because they do not face a genuine obstacle that prevents their departure from the UK when they have exhausted their appeal rights against the refusal of asylum. Common examples of a genuine obstacle will be where medical evidence shows the person is unfit to travel or there is evidence that an application for the necessary travel document has been submitted and is still outstanding. These are generally straightforward matters of fact which do not require a right of appeal.