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Volume 663: debated on Tuesday 23 July 2019

I am today making an announcement on a number of issues related to immigration. These include an expansion of the shortage occupation list (SOL) in line with the recommendations of the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) and a planned future amendment in the Immigration Rules to Section 67 leave. I am also providing an update on the Home Office’s response to cheating in English language tests and the Border, Immigration and Citizenship System (BICS) independent review.

Migration Advisory Committee review of the shortage occupation list

On 29 May, the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) published the outcome of its full review of the shortage occupation list (SOL). I am very grateful to the MAC for a very thorough and comprehensive piece of work. The MAC recommended a number of changes to the main UK-wide SOL, expanding the list to cover a range of high-skilled occupations, including a number of health and social care, engineering and digital technology occupations.

The Government are happy to accept all of the MAC’s recommendations on the composition of the SOL and the necessary amendments will be made in the autumn immigration rules changes.

The MAC also suggested that, in order to combat the particular challenges faced by some remote communities, the Government should pilot a scheme that facilitated migration to these areas. The Government accept that this is an idea worth pursuing. Further details will be given in due course.

Section 67 leave

In June 2018, we introduced section 67 leave to fulfil our legal obligation to those children transferred to the UK under section 67 of the Immigration Act 2016. This ensures that those unaccompanied children transferred to the United Kingdom under section 67, and who do not qualify for refugee status or humanitarian protection, are able to remain in this country and build a life here. This form of leave allows them to study, work, access public funds and healthcare, and is a route to settlement which they would not ordinarily have had.

Currently, the immigration rules only provide for section 67 leave to be granted to those who have already had an application for refugee status or humanitarian protection refused. This means that upon arrival in the United Kingdom, the child is required to go through the process of claiming asylum, including providing an account of why they fled their country of origin.

We intend to amend the existing rules to allow those transferring under section 67 to receive this form of leave immediately, as soon as they arrive. This will provide the children, and the local authorities who will care for them, with additional reassurance and guarantee their status in the UK at the earliest opportunity.

Children who have already been transferred to the UK under section 67 and are currently having their asylum claims assessed will also be entitled to section 67 leave automatically once this amendment has been made. Children granted section 67 leave on arrival will still have the opportunity to claim asylum. Should they be successful in an asylum claim, those who qualify will receive refugee or humanitarian protection status.

The Government are absolutely committed to transferring the specified number of 480 unaccompanied children under section 67 of the Immigration Act 2016 as soon as possible.

The Home Office’s response to cheating in English language tests

Five years ago, the scale of this issue was uncovered by Panorama. Their footage revealed systematic cheating in test centres run on behalf of the company ETS. Further investigation showed just how widespread this fraud was. Twenty-five people who were involved have been convicted and sentenced to over 70 years in prison. Further criminal investigations are ongoing, with a further 14 due in court next month.

Our approach to taking action on students has been endorsed by the courts, who have consistently found the evidence the Home Office had was enough to prompt the action that was taken at the time.

Despite this, there have remained concerns that some people who did not cheat may have been caught up and I am aware that some people found it hard to challenge the accusations against them. So earlier this year, I commissioned officials for advice.

This is a complex matter given that we need to work within existing legal frameworks relating to appeal rights, judicial review and administrative review.

I have therefore asked officials to review our guidance to ensure that we are taking the right decisions on these cases to ensure we are properly balancing a belief that deception was committed some years ago against other factors that would normally lead to leave being granted, especially where children are involved. We will update operational guidance to ensure no further action is taken in cases where there is no evidence an ETS certificate was used in an immigration application.

We continue to look at other options, including whether there is a need for those who feel they have been wronged to be able to ask for their case to be reviewed. We intend to make further announcements about this and will update the House in due course.

Review of the border, immigration and citizenship system

In October 2018, I committed to conducting a review of the Border, Immigration and Citizenship System (BICS). The purpose of this review will be to ensure the BICS is ready and able to deliver a world class immigration system.

The review will focus on whether the BICS has in place the right systems, structures, accountability and working practices to deliver against its goals. It will be forward looking in its nature. It will not consider individual policies or goals, but rather whether the system has the right capabilities to deliver against those stated objectives.

I am pleased to announce today that I have appointed Kate Lampard CBE to lead the review.

Kate has previously held senior non-executive roles in the NHS, chaired the Financial Ombudsman Service, and has undertaken important reviews for Government. She has a wealth of skills and experience to bring to this critically important task.

I will place a copy of the terms of reference for the review in the Libraries of both Houses. The review will aim to complete by early 2020.