A recent report highlights the fact that more than one million people living in the UK are believed to be ‘at risk of destitution’ due to visa conditions which block them from accessing any public funds.
The Home Office has been urged to urgently reform its No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) policy to protect the vulnerable amid warnings that the problem will worsen with the EU settlement scheme, Hong Kong visas and strict refugee rules.
NRPF applies to those with conditional leave to remain status and makes it illegal for them to access support through welfare or indirect funding from local authorities.
The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) thinktank calculated 1.3 million people currently living in the UK on conditional visas are blocked from accessing such support and predicts that this number will increase due to immigration law changes.
This includes some people who have been in the country for more than a decade, with 56,000 people who were issued an initial visa in 2010 still excluded from support.
It is believed that the new Nationality and Borders Bill could leave even more people without this support, due to stricter rules preventing refugees arriving in the UK through unofficial channels from being granted full visas.
This could of course adversely impact Afghan refugees who flee to the UK independently of the official resettlement scheme. EU citizens and family members who have not yet applied for the EU Settlement Scheme and those coming to the UK through the new Hong Kong BN(O) route will also have NRPF status.
IPPR associate director for migration, trade and communities, Marley Morris says that the policy needs urgent reform. “The current rules undermine integration by making lives more precarious and withhold national funds only to leave it to stretched and underfunded local authorities to pick up the pieces.
“The new Nationality and Borders Bill could potentially punish Afghans reaching the UK indirectly or through unauthorised routes. This would be utterly wrong and further highlights the injustice at the heart of this bill”.
The Government said that NRPF applies to most temporary migrants who come to the UK from abroad, including visitors. People with leave under family and human rights routes – including the Hong Kong British National (Overseas) route – can apply to have the conditions lifted if they are at risk of destitution.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “The provision of No Recourse to Public Funds has been upheld by successive governments, and maintains that those coming to the UK should do so on a basis that prevents burdens on the taxpayers. “People with leave under certain routes – including on the Hong Kong British National (Overseas) route – can already apply, free of charge, to have No Recourse to Public Funds conditions lifted if they are at risk of destitution”.
“There are also safeguards in place to ensure vulnerable migrants who are destitute and have community care needs, including issues relating to human rights or the wellbeing of children can receive support”.