Delays in immigration tribunals have increased by a third in the past year.
According to City law firm Bates Wells, people who are seeking to appeal a decision about their right to live and work in the UK now face an average wait of 43 weeks before their case is heard. This marks a 33% increase from 32 weeks in the same period a year ago.
The increased delay has been put down to disruption caused by the pandemic. In the early weeks of lockdown, tribunals were brought to a standstill which further increased the backlog in the courts.
Bates Wells said that unless urgent action is taken to improve capacity in the courts, cases involving EU nationals who have been denied settled status will cause the backlog to increase dramatically.
About 226,900 applicants have had their EU Settlement Scheme applications either refused or rejected as invalid to date. This number is likely to rise as the Home Office deals with the flurry of applications that were submitted just ahead of the 30 June 2021 deadline.
Bates Wells said the delays mean thousands of EU nationals face ongoing uncertainty. If they are unsuccessful in their appeal, they will have to leave the UK. This could further exacerbate labour shortages in sectors such as construction, healthcare and hospitality.
Matthew James, associate at Bates Wells, says: “Delays in the tribunal system are almost 11 months long.
“Without urgent action you can only imagine how bad the delays will become when cases involving EU nationals start being added to the queue as the Home Office works through applications for the Settlement Scheme submitted ahead of the June 30th deadline. Already applicants are being left in limbo for far too long.”
He added: “Many of the people involved will have made this country their home and have laid down their roots here.”
Failure to reapply would mean the loss of right to work and possible removal from the UK.
Earlier this month, the Independent Monitoring Authority, tasked with overseeing implementation of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, initiated proceedings against the Home Office after new conditions were imposed on those with pre-settled status – some 2.3 million people. Ministers had decided to ask these people to reapply for the main scheme once they’d lived here for the five years for which they were granted the right to remain.
According to Home Office figures, of the 226,900 failed applications, 165,550 were refused. Of these, 99% were refused on eligibility grounds with less than 1% refused on suitability grounds
A spokesperson for the Home Office told Personnel Today: “We are tackling the impact of the pandemic on tribunal hearings head on, investing millions to deliver speedier justice, prioritising urgent cases and using remote technology where appropriate so cases can be heard as quickly as possible.
“The EU Settlement Scheme itself has been an overwhelming success, with almost 6.3 million applications received and more than 5.5 million grants of status made by 31 October this year.
“We take a flexible and pragmatic approach to considering late EUSS applications, and anyone whose application remains pending has their rights protected while their application and any appeal are determined.”