When children or young people (under the age of 18) come to the UK on their own, with no family to look after them in this country, then the state becomes responsible for them; they go into care. Their immigration background, however, often leaves them facing continuous difficulties in accessing state benefits, education and employment, even after they leave care. This issue is particularity pressing for those whose status is uncertain or temporary.
One of the many reasons highlighted is rapid turnover of social workers, heavy workloads and funding cuts are leaving young people to navigate the UK’s complex immigration system unsupported, overwhelmed, and alone. An acute lack of awareness and rising citizenship fees are leaving children, as British as any of their peers growing up, without their rightful citizenship and exposed to many immigration laws and powers that should have nothing whatsoever to do with them. The complexity of the law in this field means that people frequently do not have an adequate understanding of the substance of the law, how it applies to their case and how to articulate their arguments in writing or before a tribunal or court. This can be exacerbated by language barriers and difficulties with literacy and comprehension.Each young refugee arrives with a unique challenge: immigration, education, housing, employment etc. The biggest challenge is accessing services that they may not be entitled to because of their immigration status. This is where true advocacy comes in; finding pro bono legal services to represent young people at immigration tribunals; convincing college admission boards to admit young people whose asylum applications are outstanding; making sure they extend their leave to remain in good time.
Yusuf arrived in the UK at the age of 17. He was an unaccompanied minor from Eritrea and applied for asylum seeker status. He was granted limited leave to remain. After completing several courses and work experience, he secured an apprenticeship in plumbing with a reputable company. However, when it came to enrolling in college, he started to have difficulties.
He had been granted 5 years refugee status residence, which will expire in 2022. Only then he will be able to apply for indefinite leave to remain. Now the college are saying that they cannot enrol Yusuf in 2021 because of the potential risk of him not being granted indefinite leave to remain. This means, that despite all his efforts to gain relevant work experience and secure a quality apprenticeship that would allow him to build a positive future for himself and actively contribute to our society, Yusuf is being held back from pursuing this opportunity. He is not able to continue his apprenticeship.
Young people have expressed how their refugee status have prevented them from accessing opportunities, employment, and education.
Research has highlighted that, very few local authorities have developed policies and processes to respond effectively to care leavers’ needs to access legal advice and representation in immigration and nationality cases. While some authorities do pay for advice privately in some cases, these decisions are often made on an ad-hoc basis, are left down to individual social workers and personal advisers, and are significantly limited by budgetary constraints. In combination with the continuous lack of understanding of immigration and nationality law and policy, this has damaging consequences for care leavers’ access to justice.