There’s good news for struggling families, with the Home Office announcing that it will stop punishing migrant families who ask for help.

Almost 1.4 million people in the UK have a condition on their visa called ‘no recourse to public funds’ (NRPF). This means they’re barred from accessing key benefits like Universal Credit and Jobseekers Allowance for years on end, until they are finally allowed to apply for stable status (Indefinite Leave to Remain).

This rule forces people to take any job they can find – even if conditions are unsafe or unfair. Those who lost their job or had to shield during the pandemic have faced destitution, as they have had no other income or support with their bills. Research by Citizens Advice in November 2021 found that 84% of people with NRPF are in work – but 81% are behind on at least one household bill.

This cruel policy disproportionately impacts people from ethnic minorities, who are more likely to hold these visas, to face lower incomes and to be at greater risk of redundancy. It particularly affects single parents, with a devastating impact on children. NRPF has been shown to drive “extreme poverty” in the UK.

Families who are struggling can apply to have the ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’ condition removed from their visas – essentially being granted the right to ask for help. But until now, families have been punished for making this request.

It normally takes five years, and three expensive applications of at least £1,500 each, for someone to secure ILR – the permanent right to stay in the UK. But for families that apply for the NRPF condition to be lifted, the Home Office extended this, making it a 10-year route to permanent settlement, with a total of five expensive visa applications along the way. This means paying thousands more pounds in application fees, and having insecure status for years longer. And we know from our research that the longer and more expensive it is to get stable status, the more likely people are to become undocumented, and be forced to live under the Hostile Environment.

This system of punishing people who have come to live with their families, and to make the UK their home, has stopped people asking for help during the pandemic.

Thankfully, the Home Office has quietly decided to change its policy. The Home Office said on 10 February 2022 that they are reviewing the policy of automatically placing people who apply to have NRPF lifted (called a Change of Conditions application) onto the 10-year route. In the meantime, they have suspended the policy and, instead of automatically placing people on the 10-year route, will assess the situation of each applicant when they next apply for further leave to remain.

So it’s good news for struggling families, who should now be able to apply for support if they need it, without worrying that it will automatically mean paying thousands more in application fees to get stable status. It’s also a small step forward in the movement to abolish NRPF once and for all. Organisations like the Unity Project, Deighton Pierce Glynn, Praxis and Together With Migrant Children have done fantastic work on this campaign, and that work will continue.

If you’re in the UK on a family visa and would like to know more about applying to have NRPF lifted, you can contact the brilliant Unity Project here.