Improvements to the way that Immigration Rules are written and presented would make them easier to follow for applicants and save the Government almost £70 million over ten years.
This is according to the Law Commission, the independent law reform agency, that published its report on the Simplification of the Immigration Rules today.
The report, which does not make any recommendations around substantive immigration policy, recommends a complete redrafting of the Rules with the aim of creating simplified and more easily accessible Rules that offer increased legal certainty and transparency for applicants.
The recommended changes include improvements to how the Rules are structured, drafted and maintained, and include a twice-yearly limit to updates to the Rules. The improvements extend to how the Rules interact with supporting guidance and application forms.
The report also recommends that the Home Office consider introducing a less prescriptive approach to evidence required from applicants. The overly-detailed approach has led to an increasing number of amendments to the Rules, making them more difficult to follow. By reducing the level of detail and prescription, there is a reduced need for frequent amendment.
The recommendations would help to build trust, increase public confidence and bring reputational benefit to the UK internationally. For the Home Office, financial savings worth almost £70 million over ten years would derive from fewer mistakes and speedier decision-making, a resulting potential reduction in administrative reviews, appeals and judicial reviews, and from a system which is easier to maintain.
Why change is needed
In recent years, a policy of making the Rules more prescriptive has been implemented, with an intention to produce more transparent outcomes for applicants. However, this has made the Rules longer, more complicated and harder to follow. For example:
- Following their introduction in 1973, they have grown from 40 pages to over 1,100 pages in 2019.
- In the last ten years, the Rules have almost quadrupled in length.
The Rules have also been criticised for being poorly drafted and hard to follow for users. The structure of the Rules is confusing and the numbering system is inconsistent. There is duplication between different types of application and unnecessary repetition or near-repetition within these categories.
These issues make it difficult for applicants to correctly follow the Rules.
Recommendations for reform
The Law Commission’s recommendations will make the Rules and supporting guidance easier to navigate and understand, reducing the likelihood of mistakes by applicants and case workers and improving the future administration and drafting of the Rules over the long term.
Recommended changes to improve the accessibility and transparency of the Rules include:
- Dividing the content of the Rules more clearly by subject matter (for example by creating separate sections for specific routes of application such as students, workers and family members), eliminating inconsistencies of wording, and making it easier for applicants to find everything that is relevant to their application
- Improving drafting technique by following our Commission’s guidance for example by removing cross-referencing wherever possible, making it easier to find definitions and using a three-level numbering system for paragraphs so that they follow a logical sequence
- Simplifying supporting guidance alongside the Rules, with the aim of reducing guidance on any topic into a single document for both caseworkers and applicants, and ensuring that there is coordinated oversight of the content of guidance
- Making changes to the online version of the Rules – such as are introducing hyperlinks – to make navigation of the Rules easier, and to connect the Rules, guidance and application forms into one streamlined system which is regularly tested with users.
Suggested approach to evidence:
- A more flexible approach to the evidence required from applicants, by providing a non-exhaustive list of examples and asking for any other document which meets the requirement in the Rules
- A made-to-measure approach for different routes of applications. For example, categories such as international students may be better suited to a clear evidential list whereas family members may have more complex histories and be less likely to be able to provide standard documentation to prove their circumstances.
- More interactive decision making by caseworkers , allowing them to address concerns or request additional evidence before making a decision.
Recommended changes to the administration of the Rules include:
- The creation of an informal advisory committee to review the drafting of the Immigration Rules in line with the principles that we recommend in this Report and to review the interaction between the Rules and guidance
- Ensuring that changes to the Rules are easy to understand for applicants and case workers
- Limiting the number of updates to the Rules to twice a year, in April and October to match the dates that many statutory instruments come into force.
- A structured process for receiving and responding to user feedback to speed up rectification of problems identified in the Immigration Rules, and to ensure lessons are shared internally to improve future processes
Nicholas Paines QC, Public Law Commissioner said:
“For both applicants and case workers, the drafting of the Immigration Rules and frequent updates makes them too difficult to follow. This has resulted in mistakes that waste time and cost taxpayer money.
“By improving the drafting, restructuring the layout and removing inconsistencies, our recommendations will make a real difference by saving money and increasing public confidence in the rules.