Labour calls for end to migrant benefit block during lockdown | World news

Visa conditions that block thousands of migrants in the UK from accessing most state-funded benefits, tax credits and housing assistance should be suspended during the Covid-19 crisis, the shadow immigration minister has said.

Most migrants from outside the European Economic Area with temporary permission to remain in the UK have “no recourse to public funds” status, including sponsored skilled workers, family members of British citizens, self-employed people, investors, entrepreneurs and asylum seekers. The NRPF rules also apply to undocumented migrants.

There have been warnings that without other sources of financial support, some temporary migrants with NRPF status may feel compelled to continue working and risk exposing themselves and others to coronavirus.

There are also concerns about some migrants’ access to appropriate healthcare and accommodation during the crisis, with the IPPR thinktank warning that the pandemic could have particularly severe financial and health consequences for migrant households.

Holly Lynch, the recently appointed shadow immigration minister, is demanding the government suspend NRPF rules. In a letter to the immigration minister, Kevin Foster, seen by the Guardian, Lynch said: “If those with NRPF status are not entitled to welfare support and cannot undertake their paid roles due to lockdown measures, they face an impossible choice.

“They either continue to work, undermining public health measures endangering themselves and others, or alternatively stay at home with no pay or support and face destitution. I ask the government to end this perverse incentive.”

Her intervention comes ahead of a hearing of the home affairs select committee on Tuesday taking evidence on the impact that the coronavirus outbreak has had on immigration in the UK.

The government has said no one will be charged for testing or treatment of the coronavirus or suspected coronavirus, regardless of immigration status.

Among the benefits that are inaccessible to migrants with NRPF status are public housing and housing benefit.

Domestic abuse services have raised concerns over the rules as refuges rely heavily on housing benefit for income. Migrant women in an abusive home may not be able to access refuge accommodation due to the NRPF rules. Groups including Women’s Aid have similarly called for the suspension of the conditions.

In her letter, Lynch adds: “I urge you to ensure that NRPF is suspended immediately for these women and that support is provided on an ongoing basis for those who find themselves in this frightening position.”

Some of the measures the government has introduced to support individuals suffering financial loss are open to people with NRPF, including the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and the Coronavirus Self-Employment Income Support Scheme.

People who are facing extreme hardship and who have been granted leave to remain on family or private life grounds might be eligible to have their NRPF condition removed, due to a pre-existing “change of conditions” policy.

Asylum seekers will continue to be eligible for Home Office accommodation and financial support after their claims have been decided, for the next three months.

Local authorities have been asked to provide accommodation to all rough sleepers and vulnerable homeless people, including migrants with NRPF.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “The government is committed to supporting people through this crisis and nobody should find themselves destitute, with £1.6bn allocated to local authorities to help the most vulnerable.

“Many of the other wide-ranging coronavirus measures we have put in place are not considered public funds and therefore are available to migrants with no recourse to public funds.

“These range from protections for renters from evictions, a mortgage holiday for those who need it, support for the employed and the self-employed and for those on zero-hour contracts, and support for those who are vulnerable and need assistance with access to medication and shopping. These measures all apply to people with ‘no recourse to public funds’ status.”

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