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Applying social work law to asylum and immigration
Applying social work law to asylum and immigration

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2 Social workers’ obligations

The UK has an obligation under international treaties, such as the European Convention on Human Rights 1950 (ECHR), not to discriminate against individuals on the basis of migration status, and yet ‘hostile environment’ policies, as well as the imposition of conditions like ‘no recourse to public funds’ (NRPF), can lead to destitution and homelessness for people with insecure immigration status. Even people with leave to remain but subject to the NRPF condition may be at risk of destitution and homelessness, for example, when they experience economic hardship due to poor health or disability, or relationship breakdown.

The legal framework excludes people who are subject to immigration control from accessing many housing and welfare rights. Although alternative sources of support are provided, these are set at a lower level than those set for other claimants, and they do not have the status of rights. This is because they are conditional on a range of requirements that aim to control the movement and participation of migrants and asylum seekers in wider society and give a high degree of discretion to decision-makers in the determination of their case. In the following sections you will explore the extent to which this affects the social work role and creates dilemmas for practice, poverty and homelessness for those caught up in these difficulties.

Asylum and immigration law is complex, in part due to the pace of legislative change, but also because it is regularly contested in the domestic courts. Social workers do not need to be experts in this field, but they will encounter migrants, asylum seekers and refugees in the course of their work and should therefore be familiar with the asylum process and know where to go for further advice. They also need to understand the extent of their obligations to provide social work services to migrants, asylum seekers and refugees. However, this course suggests that this knowledge should be placed within its broader social, political and legal context. It is equally important for social workers to question the assumptions that underlie current policy in this area, to reflect on how these may impact on the professional role, and to consider how a commitment to legal and social work values can promote effective and ethical practice with migrants, asylum seekers and refugees.