“(1) Within two months of this Act being passed, the Secretary of State must amend the Immigration Rules so that – for persons to whom this section applies – the requirements to be met for the grant of indefinite leave to remain on the grounds of private life in the UK are that—
(a) the applicant has been in the UK with continuous leave on the grounds of private life for a period of at least 60 months.
(b) the applicant meets the requirements of paragraph 276ADE(1) of the Immigration Rules or, in respect of the requirements in paragraph 276ADE(1)(iv) and (v) of those Rules, the applicant met the requirements in a previous application which led to a grant of limited leave to remain under paragraph 276BE(1) of those Rules.
(2) This section applies to—
(a) persons who have been granted limited leave to remain on the grounds of private life in the UK because at the time of their application—
(i) they were under the age of 18 years and had lived continuously in the UK for at least 7 years (discounting any period of imprisonment) and it would not have been reasonable to expect them to leave the UK; or
(ii) they were aged 18 years of above and under 25 years and had spent over half their life living continuously in the UK (discounting any period of imprisonment).
(i) who were granted leave to remain outside the rules on the basis of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights; and
(ii) who arrived in the UK as a minor.
(c) any dependants of a person to whom paragraph (a) or (b) applies.”—
Under this new clause, persons to whom subsection (2) applies would be able to apply for indefinite leave to remain after five years in the UK (as opposed to ten at present).
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
The new clause would shorten the route to settlement from 10 years to five years for children and young people who have grown up in the UK and know no other home. This issue has a big impact on a relatively small number of people. These are bright young people who want to contribute to society but face a long, uncertain and financially demanding journey before their futures in the country they call home are secure.
I pay tribute to the brilliant charity We Belong, which is led by young people who themselves have been impacted by the unforgiving immigration rules. The Greater London Authority estimates that more than 330,000 children and young people who came to the UK as children have precarious immigration status. The young people who face this predicament are mainly Commonwealth citizens who are bright and want to contribute, but they have to wait 10 years before they reach settlement, at a cost of £12,771, through applications for leave to remain every 30 months.
Costs for leave to remain applications have risen astronomically in recent years, increasing by 331% since 2014. Often, more than one family member will be going through the process at the same time, so there are multiple fees to pay. That means that in many families, for at least a decade, earnings that could otherwise go towards securing a decent home or be invested in a child’s education instead have to be funnelled out of the family and paid to the Home Office. Before we even start to consider legal fees, we are asking families and young people to save more than £1,200 per year per person just to remain in the UK, when 30% of people in the UK have less than £1,000 in total savings and the average low-income family has just £95 in savings.
Each time they have to apply for leave, we raise the bar for these young people, asking far more of them than we ever would of those fortunate enough to be born with a British passport. Each time, they meet these almost impossible hurdles, often working several jobs to keep themselves and their families on this long and narrow 10-year path to security. These are clearly exceptional individuals, but it is not fair that we keep asking this of them.
For Arkam, who came to the UK aged 10, the 10-year route has meant being stuck in unsuitable accommodation. His family has lived in a one-bedroom house for 10 years because, he says
“the rent is so low and it has to be low because the Home Office fees are so high and our quality of life was non-existent.”
For Andrew, it has been the trigger for a string of evictions. His family were left without enough money to pay their rent and lost their home several times.
My own constituent, Tashi, arrived in the UK when she was seven and has since lawfully resided in the UK for almost two decades. When Tashi was just 10 years old, she was held unlawfully in immigration detention, and that experience has traumatised her ever since. Each limited leave renewal ignites the uncertainty and precarious nature of her status. If she makes a mistake on an application form, she could be back in detention and face deportation, even though she knows no other home. Living with limited leave to remain means decades of living with unrelenting uncertainty.
The more times that young people go through the LLR application process, the more they have to lose. If applicants are unable to afford the fee or fail to renew on time, they will have to begin the 10-year process from the very beginning.
That happened to Natasha, who came to the UK from Nigeria at the age of seven. Natasha was granted limited leave to remain when she was 18. When it came to renewing her visa, her family could not afford to renew due to the high fees and Natasha fell out of legal status. Unable to work, Natasha became homeless. Living in the shadows of society, it was only when she was 26 that she was able to raise enough money from family and friends to apply for LLR again and restart the 10-year route. She must renew this status every 30 months over a 10-year period. She will be 36 before she can apply for settlement and 37 years old when she can finally apply for citizenship.
How is this fair? For all this Government’s rhetoric about the importance of social integration, they continue to preside over an immigration system that isolates and stigmatises young migrants who have no other home but the UK. As highlighted by We Belong, many young people will undoubtedly be driven into poverty or lose their lawful status as a result of these high costs.
“I want everybody who comes here and makes their lives here to be, and to feel, British—that’s the most important thing”.
Across this Committee, I think we all agree with that sentiment. We should be proud of our country and encourage our residents to seek British citizenship, so why are we putting every hurdle in the way of ambitious young people who are already integrated into the fabric of our society? We Belong’s experience with young people on the 10-year route reveals how the demands of this process can reverse years, even decades, of integration.
The unforgiving 10-year route sows division and fear among young people, damages mental health, limits life chances and condemns even the hardest-working families to at least a decade of intense financial strain. The instability and onerous demands created by the limited leave to remain route serve nobody, and certainly not employers, educators or communities.
The financial and other constraints imposed by the 10-year process mean that many young migrants reaching early adulthood are denied the opportunity to realise their ambitions, causing prolonged financial and emotional stress. Ten years of multiple applications and multiple fees only increase the likelihood that young people will inadvertently fall out of status and have their lives ruined as a result. A five-year LLR path to settlement would be fairer and give them parity with other migrant groups, which is what this new clause aims to do.
We welcome the Home Office’s recent published guidance to case officers, which opens up a narrow discretionary five-year route for some young people. It shows that the Home Office acknowledges that there is a problem here. However the guidance is limited to those between 18 and 25, among other limitations. Many of the people in the case studies I mentioned, and many others who came to the UK as young children, are now over the age limit and will not be able to benefit from this scheme. Can the Minister tell me when the Home Office plans to rectify this anomaly?
I hope I might be able to satisfy the Committee by saying that both this proposed new clause and the related proposed new clause 45 are commendable, but we are already doing what they seek. We will consolidate our actions in the immigration rules as part of the simplification of the rules in the next 12 months. Home Office officials have discussed the proposed changes with the We Belong group of young migrants, who have indicated that they are supportive of the way the changes will be implemented. With that, I hope the hon. Gentleman will feel able to withdraw this proposed new clause.