Sanwar Ali comment:
The coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic has caused huge problems for migrants around the World. It is usually the case that work visa holders and many other migrants do not have access to the same benefits that permanent residents and citizens are entitled to. Governments around the World are not used to dealing with pandemics. It seems in the current situation UK visas at the Home Office will have to agree to suspend the “No recourse to public funds” requirement that many immigrants including Tier 2 visa migrants with a Tier 2 Sponsor are subject to.
It has been suggested that the current Boris Johnson Conservative Government during the coronavirus pandemic has done many things that you would expect from a Labour Government. There has been a huge increase in public spending. The Government is having to be “flexible” on ideology.
UK Home Secretary, Priti Patel, has been urged to end the ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’ (NRPF) UK visa rule or risk making the coronavirus spread worse. Stuart McDonald, the migration spokesperson for the Scottish National Party (SNP), said that cutting off migrants from state benefits during the pandemic has left local councils to ‘navigate a minefield.’
Thousands of migrants with a UK visa are subject to the NRPF restriction, which denies them access to state benefits such as council tax support, housing benefit, Universal Credit, plus means-tested free school meals for their children, even if they have been granted leave to remain in Britain.
While the rule does not restrict access to NHS treatment or state schools, Mr McDonald told Politics Home that NRPF leaves local councils juggling to help migrants facing being made homeless and redundant from their jobs, while trying to comply with Home Office UK visa rules during the coronavirus lockdown.
UK visa migrants turned away from accommodation
The SNP MP – who also has a seat on the Commons Home Affairs Committee - claims that many migrants are being turned away from accommodation, despite the coronavirus, because they have no access to public funds under the terms of their UK visa.
McDonald said: “Some people are able to find alternative accommodation, however, they’re not given any financial support. In other parts of the UK, there are places where there seem to have been some successful schemes to help people get the support they need.”
“Local authorities and other organisations have been left to try and navigate a minefield of what they’re allowed to do and what they’re not allowed to do. To make things simple the Home Office should scrap or suspend these rules and let folk get the support they need to help them get through this - and to help us all get through this,” Mr McDonald added.
Legal action against no public fund for migrants rule
Mr McDonald’s comments come following an announcement from a coalition of charities who said that legal action against the Home Office is a possibility, should it continue to enforce the NRPF rule. The coalition argues that the restriction violates emergency laws that limit movement during the coronavirus lockdown.
Commenting on the lockdown, the collective group of charities, which includes the migrant children’s charity Project 17, the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, and the Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit, said: “We consider that the NRPF system strongly disincentives many of those subject to it from complying with the above guidance, giving rise to serious health risks for them, the people with whom they live and the general public.”
In a letter to Priti Patel, the charity coalition wrote: “For many [migrants], their NRPF condition may mean that they are compelled to continue to work (and risk exposure to / transmission of COVID-19) because they cannot fall back on public funds in the UK. Put simply, such migrants cannot afford to socially distance or self-isolate.”
Coronavirus funds for local councils
Local councils across the UK have reportedly received a share of a £1.6 billion fund handed out by the Communities Department as a financial respite to minimise the impact of coronavirus on their services.
Meanwhile, the UK’s housing minister Luke Hall, has advised local councils to help those, subject to NRPF rules, find emergency housing in an effort to stop rough sleeping.
Mr Hall also said that local authorities should ‘utilise alternative powers and funding to assist those with no recourse to public funds who require shelter and other forms of support due to the Covid-19 pandemic. However, campaigners fear that this strategy could see migrants denied access to any help that’s made available.
Mr McDonald argues that any support for those subject to NRPF rules needs to be as ‘comprehensive as possible’ to ensure the wellbeing of migrants and compliance with government lockdown protocols.
Mr Hall told Politics Home: “At the end of the day, the government response is all about public health and social distancing - people not going out and congregating. To abide by the law you have to follow certain rules - but if you don’t have a home or if you don’t have access to accommodation or support then it’s impossible to do that.”
“I think most people would be perfectly understanding about why everyone has to have access to public support if that’s what’s needed. Because at the end of the day it’s a public health response. We’re told all the time that we’re all in this together. We’re not asking the earth of the government at all,” Hall added.
The SNP MP insists that his comments are motivated by a desire to ensure that everyone has access to basic accommodation during a nationwide health crisis, so that people are able to comply with social distancing rules and stay indoors.
Hall said: “This is not only for the wellbeing of those subject to NRPF rules, but it’s in everybody’s interests because it will help to stop the spread of the virus.”
Call to end NRPF rule backed by various opposition politicians
Mr Hall’s comments have been backed by the Liberal Democrats, several Labour MPs and London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, each of whom have demanded that the NRPF rule be scrapped.
A spokesperson for the government said: “The government is committed to supporting people through this crisis and nobody should find themselves destitute, with £1.6 billion allocated to local authorities to help the most vulnerable.
“Many of the other wide-ranging coronavirus measures we have put in place are not considered public funds and therefore are available to migrants with no recourse to public funds.
“These range from protections for renters from evictions, a mortgage holiday for those who need it, support for the employed and the self-employed and for those on zero-hour contracts, and support for those who are vulnerable and need assistance with access to medication and shopping.
“These measures all apply to people with no recourse to public funds status.”
Coronavirus UK death toll
As of 14 April, the UK coronavirus death toll reached 12,107. An announcement on UK lockdown measures is expected on Thursday, 16 April with widespread reports claiming that the government will announce a three-week extension to existing lockdown measures.
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