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Migrants in the UK on visas, illegally or seeking asylum are usually ineligible for most social welfare benefits and public housing. This is referred to as having ‘no recourse to public funds’, or ‘NRPF’.

Most temporary migrants have no recourse to public funds, with human rights exceptions

Under the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, people who do not have any immigration permission or whose visa comes with an individual NRPF condition are excluded from benefits and housing. An NRPF condition is mandatory for most types of visa.

A few categories of people, including those granted permission to remain in the UK for human rights reasons, can apply for a ‘change of conditions’ granting them recourse to public funds. A successful application requires evidence of destitution, child welfare concerns or exceptional financial circumstances.

The list of public funds covers a wide range of social security benefits, tax credits and housing assistance. Local authorities have some statutory duties to support people with NRPF, in particular families with children.

The Home Office does not know how many people have no recourse to public funds

This is partly because the total includes unauthorised migrants, but also because the department does not keep track of how many NRPF visas are issued. A new database may allow for improved statistics in future.

Around 1.6 million people held visas that would usually have an NRPF condition at the end of 2021. This figure does not necessarily reflect the number of people experiencing financial hardship as a result.

In 2022, there were 3,200 applications for recourse to public funds by those eligible for an exemption. Around 60% were successful.

As of June 2022, there were around 166,000 people in various stages of the asylum system, which generally means being ineligible for public funds other than asylum support.

NRPF policies have been in place for decades but were especially prominent during Covid-19

No recourse to public funds has been a standard visa condition since 1980. More recently, it has been extended to people granted permission to stay in the UK for human rights reasons, which has been controversial.

The Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 placed a general statutory bar on temporary, unauthorised and asylum-seeking migrants claiming benefits. The Act set up a parallel welfare system of ‘asylum support’ for people seeking asylum instead. This was part of a long-term trend under successive governments to limit or eliminate access to mainstream benefits for migrants not already subject to the NRPF visa condition.

The Covid-19 pandemic drew attention to the lack of a mainstream welfare safety net for people with NRPF. The Government did not waive normal benefits rules during the crisis, but did allow migrants to access temporary schemes such as the furlough programme.

Successive governments have implemented NRPF policies despite civil society objections

The current Government, like previous administrations, argues that NRPF rules are important to prevent migrants becoming a burden on the taxpayer, to promote integration and to sustain public support for immigration.

Opponents say NRPF creates destitution, particularly for minority groups such as Black women, and shifts responsibility for dealing with the consequences to local government.

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