House of Commons report into
Home Office preparedness
for COVID-19

On 15 June 2020, the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee published a report on the Home Office preparedness for COVID-19, summarising the impact of the pandemic on issues relating to immigration and visas.

Overall, the Committee was satisfied with the Home Office’s handling of visas and immigration during the pandemic, stating: We recognise that in the current unprecedented circumstances it is hard to operate a normal immigration system.

 Travel restrictions have made entering or leaving the country a complex or impossible process; there are difficulties in implementing normal work or income requirements without undermining public health messages; and the impact of the pandemic on workload and staffing levels is also being felt by the Home Office.

We place on record our appreciation to Home Office officials and caseworkers who have provided support and guidance to people at this challenging time. In this context, we welcome recent developments that show that the Home Office recognises the need for pragmatic temporary changes to ensure that the UK’s immigration and visa systems can continue to function appropriately.”

However, the report went on to focus on a number of areas where the Home Office has fallen short during the pandemic, suggesting recommendations to improve public communication and fair access to immigration concessions during this period of uncertainty.

Here, we summarise some of the report’s key findings and recommendations.

Visa extensions for everyone with temporary status

The report welcomed the Home Office’s recognition of the problems faced by individuals with soon-to-expire visas and the offer of visa extensions during the pandemic, stating that this has “removed one burden at a time of great stress and difficulty for many people”.

However, it went on to criticise the Home Office’s communication about the availability of visa extensions, stating that the arrangements were not well publicised and waiting until the middle of May to announce further extensions would have caused some people difficulties.

In response to this, the report recommendations state: “If it is likely that travel continues to be difficult beyond 31 July because of COVID-19, the Home Office should continue with appropriate targeted or general extensions and must notify people affected in good time.”

The committee also warned that the Home Office must clarify the legal basis for visa extensions, and relying on the Home Secretary’s discretion is not sufficient legal assurance for people whose lives in the UK depend on evidential clarity.

Visa arrangements for frontline NHS and care workers

The committee praised the government’s offer of free visa extensions to some NHS staff and their families, but stated their ‘extreme disappointment’ that the government has so far decided not to extend this offer to non-medical NHS employees and social care workers.

Many of the excluded NHS employees such as hospital porters, cleaners and administrative staff are providing essential services to the NHS and its patients, yet the visa extension offer fails to recognise the scale of their contribution by excluding them from the scheme.

The report’s recommendations therefore call on the government to address this discrimination against lower-paid roles by expanding the eligibility for free one-year extensions to include all NHS and social care staff.

EU Settlement Scheme

The committee gave credit to the Home Office that over three million grants of status under the EU Settlement Scheme have been made with a year to go until the deadline.

However, it identified the vulnerable groups that will find it difficult to apply, stressing that these individuals are likely to have been particularly affected by the impacts of COVID-19.

The recommendations therefore call on the Home Office to step up its efforts in supporting those who have not yet applied to the scheme once the crisis abates, and to provide updated details on the measures it is taking to identify individuals who are yet to apply.

The ‘no recourse to public funds’ condition

The ‘no recourse to public funds’ (NRPF) condition prevents individuals on grants of limited leave from accessing certain public funds.

The committee welcomed the Home Office’s sympathetic response to those with NRPF conditions who have found themselves in difficulties due to the pandemic.

However, the recommendations call on the government to make immediate arrangements for the temporary lifting of NRPF conditions altogether during the pandemic.

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