On 13 December 2022, the Prime Minister made a statement on ‘illegal immigration’ in the House of Commons. He announced the government’s aims to process asylum claims ‘in days or weeks, not months or years’, to ‘triple the productivity of our caseworkers’, and to ‘abolish the backlog of initial asylum decisions’ by the end of 2023.
To help achieve these aims, the Home Office introduced a new streamlined asylum process on 23 February 2023.
The streamlined asylum process applies to ‘legacy’ asylum claims only, i.e. claims made before 28 June 2022, which is when the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 came into force. It also only applies to the processing of ‘manifestly well-founded cases’. Currently, this refers to the cases of claimants from Afghanistan, Eritrea, Libya, Syria, and Yemen, as there is a high-grant rate (over 95%) of protection status for claimants from these countries due to their current security and humanitarian situation. The Home Office does states that this list is subject to change and will be regularly reviewed. The streamlined process does not apply to Unaccompanied Asylum-Seeking Children or accompanied children who are not dependent on their adult family member’s claim.
Omitting the substantive asylum interview
After first registering their claim, asylum seekers are often made to wait many months before they are invited for a substantive asylum interview. Substantive interviews are usually lengthy and can last anywhere from a few hours to a whole day. There is the option under Paragraph 339NA(i) of the Immigration Rules to grant protection status to claimants without the need for a substantive interview if there is sufficient evidence of their claim. The streamlined process encourages caseworkers to take this approach as long as there is enough evidence to confirm the nationality of a claimant, and there is sufficient evidence to support their claim. If an interview is required, then the streamlined process allows for a ‘targeted/shorter’ interview to take place instead of a substantive interview.
A substantive interview may still be required if a claimant is particularly vulnerable, or there may be information that adversely affects their credibility, or suggests that they may have been involved in conduct that could lead to exclusion from the Refugee Convention and from Humanitarian Protection (e.g. conduct relating to war crimes, crimes against humanity and serious non-political crimes, and acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations).
Claimants subject to the streamlined process will be sent an Asylum Questionnaire that will cover the following matters:
- Whether the claimant wishes to withdraw their claim
- Personal details, for example, residential address
- Identity and nationality
- Previous employment
- Previous addresses
- Reasons for claiming asylum
- Fear of what would happen if returned to the country of origin
- Physical and mental health issues
- Exploitation (trafficking and modern slavery if applicable)
- Other reasons for needing to stay in the UK
- Whether there are grounds for suspecting the individual may have been involved in activities of concern that would cause them to be excluded from the Refugee Convention
- The family members dependent on the claim including any UK-born children
- Any further evidence the claimant wishes to provide in support of their claim
Claimants will have 20 working days from the date of service of the questionnaire to return their answers. If they do not respond within this time period, caseworkers must send a reminder and provide the claimant with another ten working days to return the questionnaire. However, a decision on their claim may also be made if further evidence has been provided by the claimant. This, therefore, suggests that claimants may provide alternative evidence to the questionnaire that could lead to a grant of protection status. A claimant may request an extension of the 20-working day deadline, and this will be granted if ‘reasonable and proportionate’. If a claimant does not return the Asylum Questionnaire within the relevant time period then their claim may be treated as withdrawn under Paragraph 333C of the Immigration Rules.
Victims of modern slavery/human trafficking
Under the streamlined asylum process, caseworkers are encouraged to decide on a claimant’s asylum case where they have also been identified as a potential victim of modern slavery or human trafficking and have been referred to the NRM (National Referral Mechanism). This is a positive move away from the standard practice of asylum teams waiting for a decision on a claimant’s modern slavery/human trafficking case before making a decision on their asylum claim. Unfortunately, there are considerable delays to NRM decisions, and this exacerbates asylum delays.
The introduction of this streamlined asylum process is a welcome change for legacy claimants of Afghanistan, Eritrea, Libya, Syria, and Yemen who have been waiting a long time for their claims to be decided. However, there are concerns regarding the potential requirement for questionnaires to be completed in English, whether claimants are able to access legal advice within the deadline for returning the questionnaires, and the exclusion of legacy claimants from other high-grant countries. The justness of this new process therefore depends on whether the Home Office takes a flexible approach to enforcing their deadlines, and to the evidence provided by claimants. If this is the case, then it is positive there is some indication that the Home Office is moving towards a more streamlined process for a wider range of claimants in the future.