UK: new rules make it easier for young people to access secure residence permit

Earlier this year, the UK’s Immigration Rules were changed to facilitate access to a secure residence permit for non-British children and young people living in the UK. We spoke with Chrisann Jarrett from We Belong, a youth-led organisation that has been campaigning for this change, to know more.

What does this reform do?

In essence, this reform halves the time of the procedure to grant indefinite leave to remain to young people who came to the UK as children, who don’t have British citizenship, as long as they’ve lived half of their life in the UK. The process – also called a route to settlement – now takes 5 years, which is exactly half of what it used to take. The previous ‘ten-year route’ was the longest route to settlement in the whole UK migration system.

Young people who are already on the ten-year route can also switch to the five-year route if they meet the new rules of eligibility.

The reform came about as a government’s “concession” – a temporary measure – in October 2021, following strategic litigation, and was transposed into law in June 2022.

Why is five years better than ten?

First, it makes the whole procedure less costly. When you’re on the route to settlement, you get a temporary residence permit that you have to renew – and pay for – every two and a half years. On the ten-year route, this meant that you had to renew your temporary residence permit five times, paying over 2,500£ (around 2,930 €) per application per person – so a total of over 12,500£ (around 14,650 €). Now, in the five-year route, you save over 4,000£ (around 4,685 €). This is hugely important for families too, who often had to choose which child they could pay for in the longer route to settlement.

Second, it reduces the uncertainty that came with being in a limbo for ten years. Many young people who had grown up in the UK ended up on the ten-year-route because of lack of awareness about their immigration status, absence of legal aid and the complex and costly immigration system. If they entered the ten-year route at 18, they’d be nearly 30 before they could apply for indefinite leave to remain. Plus, people would have no certainty – and still won’t have – that they would receive that indefinite leave to remain. This has a massive impact on one’s identity and sense of belonging.

Third, it reduces the time spent with limited leave to remain (a temporary residence permit), which often means facing widespread suspicion by public authorities and services. For example, a young person’s limited leave to remain status is often questioned by employers who do not understand this type of immigration status. Because employers must check whether the person has the right to work, they are often reluctant to employ young people with this temporary residence permit despite this permit being issued due to strong ties to the UK.

What do you make of this reform?

It’s a great win for thousands of children, teenagers, and young adults across the UK. We’re very aware that this is not the silver bullet solution to all the problems with the British immigration system, but it’s a huge first step in the recognition of these children and young adults as part of British society.

Can you tell us about the work of We Belong in securing this win?

Our work started as soon as We Belong was founded in 2019, as a spin-off of a previous campaign to challenge barriers in education called Let Us Learn. That campaign had made us realise that challenges with access to education were only a symptom of broader issues with the UK migration system. In 2017 we launched the campaign ‘Chasing status’ to call for shorter, more accessible routes to residency. We’ve been working on three key tracks: direct advocacy, public communications, and cooperation with barristers in strategic litigation. For instance, in addition to our campaigning, we provided witness statements in the case that eventually prompted the UK Home Office to grant the five-year route concession.

Are you already looking at next steps as regards routes to settlement?

We’ll start with looking at the implementation of this shorter route to settlement, since implementation of positive changes has often been tricky in the past. We’ve also been working on another key problem of these routes to settlement, that is application fees, which are among the highest in Europe.

For more on challenges facing young people in accessing a secure residence permit, including an overview of the situation in the UK, read our report Turning 18 and undocumented: Supporting children in their transition into adulthood.

Cover image: © Marco – Adobe Stock