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Between a rock and a hard place: the COVID-19 crisis and migrants with No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF)

26 Jun 2020

All work, study and family visas granted to people coming to the UK from outside the EU specifically deny the holder access to most benefits, including Universal Credit or Child Benefit, until they have been granted indefinite leave to remain (ILR). This is known as No Recourse to Public Funds, or NRPF condition.

The NRPF condition applies to non-EEA residents who are subject to immigration control. Immigration policies are often designed to ensure that migrants, as far as possible, do not place an excessive burden on public finances and the NRPF condition is intended to help achieve these goals.

The majority of these visa holders can be expected to be in a reasonably secure financial position and therefore to not face economic hardship under normal circumstances. As such, most people with the NRPF condition attached to their immigration status do not have any need to access public benefits.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic is causing an economic crisis of unprecedented scale and has translated into a large increase in unemployment, which could get even worse. As recent research has shown, this crisis is expected to widen the existing economic inequalities and has put many migrants with NRPF, particularly those in precarious types of employment, in a vulnerable position.

While at this stage it is not possible to know precisely how many migrants with NRPF have lost their jobs or are at significant risk of falling into poverty or destitution, Migration Observatory analysis of Home Office data provides some insight into the numbers of migrants who might be subject to the NRPF condition. Our analysis – which was undertaken for Citizens Advice  – shows that at the end of 2019, about 1.376 million people held valid UK visas that would usually have the NRPF condition attached to them (Table 1)

Table 1

The 1.376 million number includes those people in the UK with a valid leave to remain other than ILR or citizenship at the end of 2019 for those issued visas from 2004 onwards, but excludes anyone who did not entered the UK with an out-of-country visa on one of the work, study or family routes (including EEA family permit). This excludes most asylum seekers and most people with refugee status. Asylum seekers whose application is still pending are likely to face financial hardship too because they are not allowed to work, although they can apply for Section 95 support – which is housing plus £37.75 per week for each person.

There are a few important caveats for these figures. First, it should not be taken as the exact number of people in the UK with NRPF, as it’s possible that some of these people will have left the country while their visa is still valid, others may have been issued the visa but not travelled to the UK.

Second – as explained earlier – the total number of people with NRPF is not the same as the total number of people facing financial hardship – only a small share will be in this situation.

Third, there are some exceptions and concessions for lifting the NRPF conditions, such as the change of conditions of leave granted on basis of family or private life, which has been recently modified following a legal challenge.

Finally, while it is possible to apply for NRPF conditions to be removed, for those people on a 5 year path to settlement in the UK, applying for NRPF to be removed automatically means they are moved to the 10 year route- essentially doubling the amount of time it will take for them to gain indefinite leave to remain.

This commentary was made possible with the support of the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust and the University of Oxford Social Science Division’s Economic, Social, Cultural and Environmental Impacts of Covid-19 – Urgent Response Fund

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