Author: Aamna Mohdin
Children in care with unresolved immigration issues are being let down by local authorities, severely restricting their opportunities in life and increasing the risk they will be unfairly deported, lawyers and campaigners have warned.
Councils are supposed to offer support to those with irregular immigration statuses, but many are failing to identify these children and deal with their issues in a timely manner, the experts said.
Rapid turnover of social workers, heavy workloads and funding cuts are leaving young people to navigate the UK’s complex immigration system alone, they added.
Kamena Dorling, the head of policy and public affairs at Coram Children’s Legal Centre, said: “When they turn 18, they miss certain routes that are available to children only.”
Young care leavers are “suddenly finding themselves unable to work, have a driving licence or a bank account”, she added.
Diana Baxter, a partner and immigration specialist at Wesley Gryk Solicitors, said local authorities are not “acting promptly and quickly enough” to resolve the immigration issues of young people in care.
In 2016, the local government and social care ombudsman upheld a complaint from a young woman who was born in Nigeria but moved to the UK when she was 10 and went into care aged 14. The ombudsman found Greenwich council failed to act appropriately to help her regularise her immigration status. A similar finding was made against Dudley council after the local authority failed to obtain citizenship for two children in care.
Bethan Lant, a casework manager at Praxis, a charity that provides support to vulnerable immigrants, said: “I think local authorities are not really thinking about it. They are very much looking at the young person’s immediate need.”
Lant said this was partly down to social workers’ lack of understanding of the immigration system, but “it does feel like a number of them just don’t want to. It’s almost like they don’t see it as part of that person’s welfare.”
Mr Clark, 23 – who did not want to give his first name – went into care when he was 16 and said he had been left alone to sort out his immigration status.
“It doesn’t feel like anyone is helping me to get out of this situation. Immigration is not a priority for the council. There’s just no aspect in this that’s a priority for them,” he said.
Clark was born in Jamaica and moved to the UK when he was six. He said he raised the issue of his immigration status early on, but was rebuffed by social workers and his personal adviser. He said the situation became dire in 2012 when he had issues applying for discretionary leave to remain aged 17.
He said the local authority failed to properly explain to his parents the information he needed for his application and took more than six months to pay for him to apply for the visa.
Clark, who has had six social workers during his time in care, was told last year by the Home Office that he had been residing in the UK illegally, and said the council was again unhelpful. While he was able to apply for another extension of his visa, he said he was unsure if he had the right one.
“I’ve asked them for help and they said they can’t help. I have to now find my own solicitor and I’m not sure where I’ll get funding. I have to find my own way,” Clark said.
“You always feel like you’re not wanted here because you’re always being pushed away. The social workers are meant to look after you, but they’re not.”
Solange Valdez-Symonds, the director of the Project for Registration of Children as British Citizens, said young people were being denied their right to citizenship.
Lack of awareness and rising citizenship fees were “leaving children as British as any of their peers growing up without their rightful citizenship and exposed to a plethora of immigration laws and powers that should have nothing whatsoever to do with them”, she said.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “We work closely with local authorities to identity vulnerable children and prioritise their cases to ensure they are dealt with swiftly by immigration and citizenship caseworkers.”