Focus: Policy and Politics - Asylum seekers face 'a life in limbo'

Applicants might have a five-year wait for permanent residence, writes Francois Le Goff.

The Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Bill is a massive setback to recent progress on the status of refugees and asylum seekers, the Refugee Council said last week.

The charity said successful applicants would have to wait for up to five years to be granted permanent residence - also known as 'indefinite leave to remain' - whereas under current law it is automatically given with asylum status.

This means that their right to remain could be revoked at any time within this five-year period if the Government judges that they would no longer be in danger in their country of origin.

"The Government is proposing a system worse than the one it abolished in 1998, which made refugees wait for four years," said Imran Hussain, parliamentary officer at the Refugee Council. "It condemns successful applicants to live in limbo for anything up to five years."

MPs on the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Refugees, who met with the charity soon after the Bill was published on 30 June, are known to be concerned about changes to the provision of indefinite leave to remain. The group's chair, Neil Gerrard, who raised the issue during the second reading last week, appears the likely candidate to table an amendment at committee stage in October.

The Refugee Council, along with human rights charity Liberty, said the Bill does not address the Home Office's slow and inadequate processing of asylum claims - something that has become more urgent since it began labelling some claims as "late and opportunistic".

The council wants an assurance from the Government that no new controversial measures will be introduced after the Bill has passed its Commons stages.

"Most ill-considered measures in asylum policy in recent years were introduced to Parliament as late Government amendments to Bills," said a spokeswoman.

"For example, the controversial section 55, which removed the right to asylum support from in-country applicants, was added to the 2002 Bill only at Lords committee stage."

The Bill would also stop Home Office funding to advisory charities such as the Immigration Advisory Service, which provides free advice to asylum seekers. The Home Office said this will not have a negative impact on charities, as it aims to formalise the recent transfer of funding responsibilities to the Legal Services Commission.

But the IAS fought against the transfer because the commission's eligibility criteria exclude many of its clients on grounds of income.

"Not being on benefit doesn't mean that you are not socially excluded and don't need free support," said Keith Best, the service's chief executive.

The charity, which now relies mainly on LSC funding, is talking to the Charity Commission about the Government's challenge to its policy of providing free advice to those not on benefit.

francois.legoff@haynet.com.

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