Undocumented migrants do not fall into any of the UK’s legal immigration categories. This includes migrants who entered the country through an irregular channel or do not possess valid documents, migrants who have overstayed their visas, migrants with rejected asylum applications or cases where refugee status was revoked.
One of thousands
Abla (not his real name) is just one of the thousands of migrants who could have benefitted immensely from receiving advice on his irregular immigration status. When Abla was eight years old, his father brought him to the UK, and left him in the care of a family friend. Abla is now nineteen. Having spent the last eleven years in the UK, he completed his primary and secondary schooling here, excelled in extracurricular activities and even secured a place at a UK university. It was only last year, when filling out a student loan application that Alba discovered his irregular migration status – he had overstayed his valid visa.
Even though Abla cannot be held responsible for the decisions that adults made for him while he was a child, the UKBA has decided to reject his application to remain in the UK and has requested that he return to Ghana. Having long-lost all ties with his home country, not only does Abla have nothing to go back to, but the life he has worked so hard to secure for himself is being forcefully taken away. Abla’s story is a case in point for why an advice line such as ours has the potential to change lives. Had Abla received advice on regularising his immigration status before the age of eighteen, his chances of being granted leave to remain would have been significantly higher. We know of many other cases like Abla’s in the UK, in the hundreds if not thousands.
Over half of irregular migrants in the UK are believed to live in London. These individuals will now have access to a completely free, completely confidential advice line. Through this service we hope to help so-called irregular migrants to regularise, thus making a huge difference to their lives.
There are an estimated 400,000 irregular migrants in the London area. Thousands of other migrants may be on the verge of irregularity due to increasingly restrictionist immigration policies. JCWI is aware that many such individuals are hesitant to disclose their status due to fear of detection. As one of the most marginalized and vulnerable groups in society, irregular migrants are often unaware of services that may exist to benefit them. The JCWI advice line will address this by offering free advice and assistance regarding their legal status and by referring individuals to outside services better suited to meet their particular needs.
Making a difference
Funded by the Trust for London, the advice line will give irregular or undocumented migrants an opportunity to contact a legal advisor to receive free and confidential advice. Although it would be dishonest to claim we could secure status for anyone, there are irregular migrants who, with the right advice and advocacy, will be able to have their status in the UK assured. The implications for employment, housing, education and access to other rights and services is potentially huge. If we are not able to take on a case, we will instead direct individuals to affiliate organizations providing advice to undocumented migrants on services ranging from health care to housing. The JCWI advice line has the potential to make a real difference in people’s lives.
Information gathered from the advice line calls will also provide JCWI with much needed information on the needs of the irregular migrant community and will give us a better understanding of the nature and scale of the problem. The information we receive will subsequently be used for policy development purposes. While a regularization scheme is not currently on the Government’s agenda, the data we gather can be used to provide services better-suited to the needs of irregular migrants, and inform other policy developments.
You Can Help
A major challenge in making this project work for the people it is designed for is raising awareness and the profile of this service. We ask all our members and readers to help achieve this – by spreading word of the helpline, copying the leaflets and publicity we are producing and getting the message to where it counts.
The advice line launches on Monday 27 February 2012 and will be available for use between 10am and 1pm on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Article written by Svetlana Sytnik, who is currently working in the communications department at JCWI.