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New legislation affecting student asylum-seekers

1. Amendments to Social Security benefit rules

Under new rules due to come into force next month, asylum-seekers will no longer be entitled to claim benefit while waiting to hear the outcomes of their applications. As a result, they will no longer be entitled to have course fees waived - colleges currently claim the cash back from the Further Education Funding Council - and will have to pay their own way, like overseas students. The rule will affect any migrant applying for asylum after February 5, unless they apply immediately on arrival in the United Kingdom, or come from country with an oppressive regime named on a "blacklist". After pressure from campaigners Social Security Secretary Peter Lilley has back-tracked on proposals to withdraw benefits from existing asylum-seekers currently awaiting the outcome of appeals.

2. The Asylum and Immigration Bill (currently in committee)

Though none of the proposed legislation is aimed at students, key elements are likely to have significant implications for migrants studying at colleges and universities in this country. The proposals say:

* asylum-seekers in the UK will not be entitled to any form of social housing. At present, people with limited leave to remain cannot be housed under homelessness provision, but can get on a local authority waiting list and be offered council accommodation;

* families of asylum-seekers would no longer be entitled to child benefit;

* employing a person with no entitlement to work could become a criminal offence, depending on the results of a current Home Office consultation on this aspect of the Bill. At present, all students are permitted to work if they gain permission from a job centre - their "half-way" position is not recognised in the consultation document, according to UKCOSA, the Council for International Education, which is calling for an amendment to the legislation;

* anyone helping a student or other individual without leave to remain in the country could be committing a criminal offence. The proposal is aimed at preventing unscrupulous organisations from making cash from helping abusers of the asylum system. Groups such as UKCOSA fear the legislation is worded so broadly that they could be incriminated simply for writing to the Home Office on behalf of students whose leave to remain might only just have lapsed.

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