Speaking for Ourselves

Give permanent residence to all refugees now

Give permanent residence to all refugees now

Adam Mahran

 Migrant Voice - Give permanent residence to all refugees now

Although the Government’s proposed amendments to the asylum system have gained their fair share of criticism, my first impression - as a partner of a refugee who came to Britain after fleeing persecution - is that they finally propose corrections to wrong policies introduced in the last 15 years.

Until 2005, an asylum claimant deemed to have a genuine case that qualified them to be recognised as a refugee would have been granted Indefinite Leave to Remain – permanent residence, recognising their need for future certainty and stability.

But Tony Blair’s Government came up with a weird decision in an attempt to thwart any abuse of the refugee system. They evaded facing the issue of dealing with the supposed system’s abusers, and instead inflicted more damage on genuine refugees. Blair’s Government changed the settlement period of refugees. If they received a positive decision on their asylum application, they would be given a temporary status for five years and could only apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain after that.

Unfortunately, later Conservative Governments made things tougher instead of correcting what the Labour Government had implemented. In 2017, the ‘Safe Returns policy’ was introduced. This means that when the refugee applies for Indefinite Leave to Remain, the Home Office will assess whether their country of origin has become more stable. Under this policy, after five years of residency, a refugee who has paid taxes and built a life in the UK might be subject to return based on the Home Office’s assessment. This puts more uncertainty on the refugee’s future. 

When Priti Patel recently suggested amendments under the cloak of offering support to ‘genuine’ refugees she recognised the disadvantages they have been put through as a result of the policy that deprived them of immediate future stability through permanent residency. Yet she totally ignored those Refugee Status Holders who are currently in Britain and are on the five-year route to settlement.

This would mean that, for example, a refugee from Syria who arrives one day after the new asylum proposals take effect would receive Indefinite Leave to Remain immediately, while a Syrian refugee who arrived two years or two weeks before would still need to continue on the five-year route. This cannot represent any fair policy towards refugees.

The day-to-day concerns of my partner are not the same as many other migrants. Many people are unaware that refugees cannot secure a mortgage until they get Indefinite Leave to Remain, so if a refugee has a job and tries to buy a house they won’t be allowed a mortgage, unlike migrants with permanent residence.

The story of accommodation becomes even harder when a refugee wants to rent a house and presents a Residence Permit Card that states ‘refugee status.’ In many cases this triggers unconscious bias from landlords due to wrong stereotypes about refugees. 

In finding jobs, refugees like many other migrants are seen as temporary residents, so they end up caught in the bureaucracy of the recruiter who might be looking at them as an unstable workforce. They also face the suspicion and stereotypes around refugees that can affect their applications.

Other refugees fear travelling during their refugee status because they fear hostility at airports when they show up with their refugee travel documents.

Refugees pay taxes to councils but are still banned from voting in local elections to have a say on who is the best representative to manage their tax returns. 

All these factors cause the five-year temporary residency period of a refugee to be full of struggle, uncertainty and fear of the future. If reports about the proposed amendments to refugees’ settlement are correct, the proposals will right the wrong of the unnecessarily harsh policy that didn’t solve the issue of the system abusers but targeted genuine refugees instead.

The new policy needs to apply retrospectively, so a new refugee who arrives after the new rules are put in place cannot be better off than a refugee who is already here and on the five-year route to Indefinite Leave to Remain.

Therefore, to prove the intentions to provide genuine refugees with future stability - which is stated as one of the drivers of proposed asylum changes - and as part of correcting a bad policy, all refugee status holders in the UK should be informed that they have become eligible to switch their current temporary Refugee Leave to Indefinite Leave to Remain.

This is a guest article. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

Photo credit: Refugees Welcome by Duncan C /  (CC BY-NC 2.0)

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