Home secretary Sajid Javid has defended his decision to breach parliamentary protocols with legislation to fast-track a new citizenship scheme for members of the Windrush generation after the scandal that forced his predecessor’s resignation.
The Windrush Scheme, which goes live tomorrow, will allow Commonwealth citizens who settled in the UK before 1973 to confirm their British citizenship or apply for and obtain the status they are entitled to free of charge.
Javid gave the scheme legislative footing through a Statutory Instrument laid before parliament on Thursday – the same day the Home Office announced director general of immigration enforcement Hugh Ind and second permanent secretary Patsy Wilkinson were leaving the department for other government jobs.
The legislation will enable the officials to begin processing citizenship applications for Commonwealth nationals who settled in the UK before 1973 free of charge. Free citizenship applications will also be available for children of the Windrush generation who joined their parents before they turned 18.
The Home Office said it would also allow the start of free confirmation of the existing British citizenship for children born to the Windrush generation in the UK where it was needed.
In a written statement to parliament, Javid said the scheme would create a special category of applicant status for members of the Windrush generation, exempting them from the now-routine “knowledge of language and life” tests in addition to waiving fees.
“Breaching the normal 21 day rule between laying a Statutory Instrument and its commencement is not something which I have done lightly and I am very mindful of the need to observe normal parliamentary protocols,” he said.
“However, my judgement is that the imperative to get the new scheme up and running as swiftly as possible requires this course of action.
“The immigration minister has written to the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments and the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee to explain further our reasoning.”
The Home Office said that people applying for citizenship under the Windrush Scheme would still have to meet the “good character” requirements in place for regular applications. It is currently consulting on compensation arrangements for those people wrongly deported because they could not demonstrate their right to remain in the UK under the coalition government crackdown on illegal immigration that began when Theresa May was home secretary.
Earlier this month, Javid told the Home Affairs Select Committee that it was possible the Home Office had wrongly deported 63 members of the Windrush generation.
A dedicated helpline set up last month to assist people affected by the scandal took 13,000 calls in its first five weeks, the department said. It added that more than 5,000 of those calls had been identified as “potential Windrush cases”.
Announcing its reshuffle of senior officials last week, the Home Office said Tyson Hepple, currently director of asylum and protection in UK Visas and Immigration, would become director general of immigration enforcement on an interim basis from early next month. Details of succession plans for Wilkinson were sketchier.
Ind is to lead the implementation of the Public Sector Apprenticeships Strategy in the Cabinet Office, while Wilkinson will take on what the Home Office described as a “national security role outside the department” from next month.