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Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:18 pm on 18th May 2020.

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Photo of Kate Green Kate Green Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) 8:18 pm, 18th May 2020

I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

Rebuilding our economy will be vital to the post-covid recovery. Immigrants to this country have long had an important role in our economic success, and we will need their efforts and talents again. I recognise, of course, that we will be in a very different situation in the coming months from the tight labour market of recent years. None the less, we can expect that some sectors will continue to struggle to recruit from the domestic labour pool.

That includes key sectors in my constituency, such as social care, hospitality, and retail and food processing, for which the £25,600 threshold will likely lead to significant and ongoing labour shortfalls, yet those sectors are essential to our recovery and our return to normal life. Unsurprisingly, therefore, the Government’s proposed approach is causing concern to businesses in my constituency.

I particularly want to speak about the impact the Bill could have on children, starting with EEA national children who could be eligible for the EU settlement scheme. Home Office figures reveal that, at the end of March, 493,800 applications to the scheme for children had been received, 84% of which had been concluded. That is worryingly lower than the 90% of cases that have concluded overall and, very concerningly, includes only a small number of looked-after children who could be eligible, only 11% of whom, according to the Children’s Society, have secured status. I accept that those cases can be complex, but it seems that, despite guidance from the Government and the Children’s Society, local authorities do not give sufficient priority to progressing applications for looked-after children in their care.

The Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit points to long delays for those children, even before an application has been submitted. Obtaining documents and securing advice is harder; contact with family members who confer the right to status may have been lost; during the covid crisis applications cannot be submitted by post; and the Government have warned that the crisis will create delays in processing them. Ministers have indicated that late applications will be accepted for children in such circumstances, but we need a guarantee that no child will be left without the legal status to which they are entitled.

I am concerned that more children will be subject to the “no recourse to public funds” condition as a result of a new immigration system, including some children born in the UK. Of course I recognise the support that exists under section 17 of the Children Act 1989, but that is insufficient. On 7 May, an eight-year-old British boy, supported by his migrant mother, won a ruling in the High Court that the policy denying families like his access to the welfare safety net breached article 3 of the European convention on human rights. The covid crisis has brought the vulnerability of families with no recourse to public funds into stark relief, and we need urgently to hear how the Government intend to respond to that ruling.

Finally, and harmfully to children’s wellbeing, too often the immigration system separates children from their parents. We know about the issue of family reunion and the way in which the income threshold keeps children apart from parents. Meanwhile refugee children cannot sponsor family members to join them in this country, and we are still waiting for certainty for separated children currently covered by the Dublin III arrangements, which enable children with family members in the UK to have their asylum claims transferred here to be considered. The Dublin arrangements will expire at the end of the year, and the Government have been indicating for some time that they want to replicate them post transition. We are none the wiser as to how they will do that, so I hope that tonight the Minister can update us.

I should like to make a point about clause 5. I simply do not see the justification for the sweeping powers that it gives to Ministers. If it is to rectify deficiencies and retain EU law, the Government already have the ability to do that under the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. If it is to make new policy for the post-transition period, that will affect individuals’ expectations and rights, and have a potentially significant impact on labour mobility that should be debated and provided for in primary legislation. I therefore hope that Ministers will be prepared to reconsider clause 5 as the Bill continues its parliamentary passage.