By Emily Edwards
Our Scottish Family Reunion Service (SFRS) has published a new factsheet on the rights of reunited family members once they are in the UK. Immigration law in the UK is more complex than ever and is in constant flux. It is incredibly difficult for reunited families to access accurate information about their rights and entitlements, especially in a new country. Family reunion is also a challenging area for professionals to provide advice in. This new factsheet covers issues like the right to work, No Recourse to Public Funds, immigration options for extending leave to remain in the future, and what happens if, sadly, the family unit breaks down.
Our new SFRS co-ordinator, Emily Edwards, has put together some more FAQs about our service.
What is the Scottish Family Reunion Service?
The SFRS is a collaboration between JustRight Scotland and the British Red Cross to provide an information and enhanced casework service for refugees who wish to bring their family members to Scotland. The SFRS represents individuals seeking to make applications for family reunion with additional support needs, a certain urgency to the case or a legal complexity. This includes applications under the Immigration Rules, as well as outside the Rules.
Since 2017, JustRight Scotland has been funded by Unbound Philanthropy to deliver the SFRS. Unbound Philanthropy is a private grant-making foundation that works in the UK and the USA to ensure that migrants and refugees are treated with respect and engage with their new communities.
What is family reunion?
Refugee family reunion is a visa route contained within Part 11 of the UK Immigration Rules, which allows refugees and those granted humanitarian protection to bring over a group of narrowly defined family members. Family reunion is restricted to the spouse or unmarried partner, and children under 18. The family must have existed as a pre-flight family unit, which means that, for instance, marriages after a refugee has fled their country are not eligible. Our factsheet, above, explains more.
Why is it needed?
Refugee family reunion is one of the few safe and legal routes for refugee families who have been torn apart by war and persecution to reunite. It has the potential to prevent dangerous journeys across oceans and continents to Europe and the UK in order to be reunited with loved ones.
Who is eligible for the SFRS?
To be eligible for the service you must:
- Have Refugee Status or Humanitarian Protection (or Indefinite Leave to Remain as a refugee/Humanitarian Protection)
- Live in Scotland
We can take on any of the following types of cases:
- Additional support needs: for example, mental health or practical problems accessing evidence.
- An extra degree of urgency: for example, your child is going to turn 18 soon, your child is unaccompanied, or your family member is in a conflict area.
- You are applying for family reunion outside out of the Immigration Rules, for example, for a niece or nephew.
If you are unsure of your eligibility, please contact us and we will advise you of whether we can take on your case.
What else do we do?
We provide free information and advice about refugee family reunion to refugees and those supporting refugees by telephone or by appointment (including remote advice appointments).
We also facilitate family reunion information sessions for service providers supporting people who may be eligible for family reunion.
We also hold advice outreach surgeries for areas across Scotland without legal aid providers.
For advice or to inquire about arranging an information session or outreach surgery, please contact Emily Edwards on 07834 496 781 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Challenges during COVID-19
The SFRS is still open and operating. The COVID-19 crisis has resulted in a pause on the issuing of family reunion decisions. Lockdown around the world has prevented families who have been granted family reunion from travelling to the UK to be reunited.
Official guidance from the Home Office says that most visa application centres (VACs) overseas are currently in the process of re-opening. There is currently no known timeframe for when all VACs will be fully reopened.
However, applications are still being prepared, and evidence gathered, so that they are ready to be submitted once VACs are reopened.
The Home Office have confirmed that family members who were granted refugee family reunion but were unable to travel, and who now have expired visas to join their family in the UK, will be able to have them re-issued until the end of the year. It has also been announced that a replacement visa with revised validity dates valid for up to 90 days may be requested free of charge until the end of this year. It is advisable to consider whether there are available and affordable flights before requesting the reissuing of visas.
From 8 June 2020 anyone arriving into the UK will need to self-isolate for 14 days. This means your family will not be able to leave their accommodation for the full 14 days. If your family do not comply with these measures they can be fined up to £1000 for breaching these rules. Please read and follow the guidance from the government: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/home-secretary-announces-new-public-health-measures-for-all-uk-arrivals