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Delays in processing asylum claims are at record levels on both sides of the Atlantic, placing increased pressure on already overstretched governments in both the UK and USA.

With judicial processes relating to immigration matters in both countries coming under more pressure than ever before, we feel that it’s time to look at the main legal problems that both the USA and the UK are facing.

Although Optimus Law, the UK’s leading immigration law firm, specialises in UK immigration, it is essential for us to track the main global issues, such as these in the USA, that are making the news at any one time. By its very definition, immigration is an international theme – so we need a deep understanding of all that is going on in all four corners of the globe.

With this in mind – can the UK and USA governments cope with the current pressure they are facing?

The UK

A recent report in Forbes claims that over 70,000 people – including 3,064 Afghans – were still waiting for a decision on their initial asylum application by the end of June 2021, an increase of 73% over the past two years.

It’s nine times higher, in fact, than it was at the end of June 2011.

Certainly, delays in processing asylum claims are currently at record levels in the United Kingdom, with the Guardian claiming that the number of people waiting six months or more for an initial decision on their claim rising by 5% to 56,520.

Previously the Home Office had a target to process most straightforward claims within six months. It dropped that target in 2019 saying officials wanted to focus on prioritising the most vulnerable asylum seekers.

Most asylum claims are found to be legitimate according to the Home Office figures released recently. Almost two-thirds (64%) of asylum claims ended in a grant of protection. Of those rejected that then went on to appeal, 48% were successfully overturned.

The main pressure-point concerning UK immigration remains the amount of people arriving from France by crossing the Channel in small boats. Almost 26,000 people are believed to have arrived in Britain this year, but in 2018 the figure is thought to have been as small as 299, meaning the number has jumped almost 8,700 per cent over the past three years.

The UK government has faced pressure throughout most of the past year to control the escalating situation. In response, Home Secretary Priti Patel keeps returning to the option of potentially changing the law to allow the UK to “push back” boats en-route to the UK and return them to their departure-point, France.

The USA

The number of people trying to cross the US border is now the highest in 21 years.

In the past seven weeks alone, border agents have sent nearly 50,000 cases to the courts, increasing pressure on the country’s already overstretched courts.

According to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, a data research centre founded at Syracuse University, immigration courts have nearly 1.5m pending cases in their dockets—the most on record and nearly triple the number in 2016.

The job of deciding whether a migrant can stay in America, either as an asylum seeker or on other grounds, falls to 535 judges across 68 immigration courts—on average almost 2,800 cases per judge. Were the judges to rule on three to four cases every business day, it would take at least two-and-a-half years to clear the docket. Scheduling interruptions caused by the pandemic, and the multiple hearings and appeals for each case exacerbate the problem.

The average wait time for a case to get through the system is two and a half years. For asylum seekers, it is nearly four years. To speed things up President Biden has proposed extending the authority to grant asylum to agents from the Citizenship and Immigration Service.

To clear the backlog, judges have said they need more staff and less bureaucracy, according to a report from the National Association of Immigration Judges. Implementing a standardised case-management system and improving access to counsel would also help.

Some advocates would like the courts to be independent, but that is unlikely: immigration courts, unlike others, are part of the executive branch rather than the judiciary. This puts them at the mercy of executive policy decisions.

Conclusion

Both the UK and USA are facing intense pressure concerning immigration matters.

Not only are the application numbers drastically higher than at any recent time in history, but the world’s media also is continually scrutinizing all aspects of the issue, be it the actual numbers themselves, or the government’s response in how to deal with these numbers.

With no sign of the reasons behind the need for immigration changing anytime soon, both the UK and USA need to urgently invest in their immigration processes.

If the backlog keeps rising in the way it is now, we are in danger of seeing a humanitarian issue within a humanitarian issue. That is, upon escaping a humanitarian issue in their own countries, immigrants could well be facing another humanitarian issue as they face a never-ending delay while their applications are dealt with in both the UK and USA.

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