It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr McCabe, and I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend Meg Hillier on securing this important debate.
It is a feature of this Government’s hostile environment policy on immigration that it treats everyone in the immigration system with equal bad faith. We see that in the appalling state of initial accommodation for asylum seekers, which treats desperate people fleeing horrific violence, persecution and other horrors as if they were criminals; we see it in the lack of safe and legal routes for asylum seekers, and in the cancellation of the Dubs scheme for family reunification; and we see it in the appalling level of service that applicants receive from the Home Office, with mistakes and inaccurate decisions frequently being made, and in the absence of any service standard at all within the Home Office for determining applications brought under article 8 of the Human Rights Act. The system often keeps people waiting indefinitely, in extreme financial hardship, for the decision that they need to resolve their status and to be able to provide for their families. At every turn, this Government go out of their way to say to people who have come to the UK from overseas that they are not really welcome here.
The schedule of application fees is another example. High fees are a cost barrier that stop people claiming their rightful status as UK citizens. I have spoken to many constituents who cannot afford to make applications for their children. Some end up in debt to family and friends in order to fund applications, and others delay making applications on behalf of their children, storing up problems for them later in life when they come to apply for student finance or employment. Many victims of the Windrush scandal came to the UK as children and encountered problems because the adults who were responsible for them at that time had never regularised their status. The current policy of placing immigration fees out of the reach of parents risks sowing the seeds of a future Windrush scandal.
My constituent, A, arrived in the UK as a child and legally resided here for more than a decade. His parents and sibling gained indefinite leave to remain under the highly skilled migrants programme. However, the cost of the application meant that A’s parents were unable to secure ILR for him at the same time. Instead, he was granted 30 months’ leave to remain in 2014, which expired in 2016. At that time, there was an administrative delay and his family were poorly advised by their solicitor, resulting in a short interruption in A’s immigration status. A did very well at school and secured a place at university to study architecture, but because of the interruption in his status—no fault of his family’s—he has been refused student finance. I mention that example because it shows how this policy is causing further material consequences that have devastating impacts on young lives. Had the fees been more affordable, A would never have been in this situation. He would have been granted ILR at the same time as the rest of his family.
The policy also affects many of the key workers on whom we have relied throughout the pandemic. High immigration fees affect NHS workers, social care workers, transport and retail workers—people on whom we all rely and to whom we all owe a huge debt of gratitude, particularly over this past year. This policy is an insult to them and, in addition to the financial burden, has added further stress and anxiety at an impossibly difficult time.
Immigration benefits the UK economically, socially and culturally. This country is enriched by those who have chosen to come here from overseas. Yet the UK Government persist in this hostile environment, of which high application fees are a key component. I call on the Government to undertake a comprehensive review of fees within the immigration system to stop the many hidden injustices that the policy is causing.