Remote Home Office Substantive Asylum Interviews
In 2020/21, the Home Office expanded the use of Remote Interviewing via Video Conferencing (‘remote interviewing’) for substantive asylum interviews (though this had started before the first Covid-19 lockdown). Remote interviewing usually involves the interviewer in a Home Office building or working from home and the interviewee in a Home Office building or non-Home Office building (such as local authority premises). Interpreters may be present in the Home Office location but are not necessarily in the same room as the Home Office interviewer.
For the Home Office, the use of remote interviewing can result in a better distribution of workloads around the country; the easier allocation of interpreters where less common languages are involved; and a reduction of travel – all of which can help improve efficiency and reduce delays in waiting for interviews. Those working with people going through the asylum system have highlighted that if the use of remote interviewing was expanded to permit individuals to participate from other locations (in a similar fashion to the system introduced for unaccompanied children), then claimants might also benefit from a more accessible, less pressured and more comfortable environment in which to be interviewed.
However, a number of challenges remain, as Helen Bamber Foundation and Asylum Aid staff have found in their work with clients. These include logistical issues such as:
- IT issues, such as poor internet connection; tablets with small screens; interpreter’s camera not working; and claimants needing to change rooms during the interview.
- Inconsistent information on how remote interviews work
- Inconsistent safeguarding procedures
- Inconsistent staffing and support at interview locations
- Lack of transparency
There are also issues inherent in conducting an interview remotely. These include lack of visual cues, difficulty interpreting silences and difficulty identifying cues of mental distress, such as dissociation (where people experience a disconnection with their surroundings) or self-neglect.
This briefing looks at some of those issues in more detail and makes recommendations for improving the interviews process so that it does not cause harm and people seeking asylum are able to make their own decision as to whether to have a remote interview or not.