Howard backs down on immigration

IMMIGRATION solicitors have forced a last-minute climb-down from Home Secretary Michael Howard over stringent new rules for immigrants applying to remain in the country.

As the solicitors were about to present their case in the High Court last Thursday for a judicial review of the new rules, counsel for Howard promised to withdraw the controversial new application forms that the rules instituted.

The forms, several hundred thousand of which have been issued to immigration solicitors, contained demands for extensive information and extra documentation. More importantly, under Howard's new rules, immigrants seeking to remain in the UK had to fill them in without a single error, with the correct documentation, otherwise their applications would be considered invalid.

Laurie Fransman, of the Immigration Law Practitioners Association (ILPA), which sought the judicial review, said the rules meant that immigrants could suddenly find themselves illegal over-stayers if by accident they fill out their forms incorrectly before their visas expired.

Moreover, if they then re-applied, after their visa had expired, they did not have the right to appeal a refusal.

The statement read in court said the Home Office would undertake to continue a widespread review of its whole initiative. The forms would be withdrawn but may be used on a voluntary basis should applicants wish. The rules in force previous to 3 June (that applications did not have to be on a standard form) were now back in force. But the Home Office has not yet withdrawn the new rules and the House of Commons is set to debate them later this month.

Fransman said: “If new forms are proposed and the Home Secretary continues to insist that an application is only valid if made on one of those forms, then we will have to consider coming back to court.”

Stephen Cragg, of the Public Law Project, who acted for the ILPA, said he believed the new rules had been a deliberate attempt to crack down on immigrants.

“Howard announced these rule changes in April and solicitors and other organisations have written to the Home

Office over the last two months to protest at their unfairness. But to no avail. When it came to court, I think they realised we had a good case.”