The Home Office has recruited gap year students and given them the task of determining who should be offered asylum in the UK. After five weeks of training students are expected to interview asylum seekers and determine their fate, causing outrage from immigration lawyers.

Following an investigation by the Observer, the Home Office has confirmed that it recruits gap year students on temporary contracts during busy times of the year to help process asylum claims. A spokesperson for the government department admitted that the practice was a longstanding one and that they were targeted at students who were not necessarily interested in having a long term career at the Home Office.

Toufique Hossain, Director of Public Law at Duncan Lewis Solicitors, has condemned the practice arguing that these decisions are potentially a matter of life and death and should be made by more experienced staffs: “Asylum decisions are very much life or death matters. Complex areas of law are involved relating to EU charters, conventions and directives. It is very concerning that the Home Office is bringing in students to make these decisions and that all of the decision-makers are given just five weeks’ training.”

He went on to say: “There is no legal aid for asylum seekers to be accompanied by a solicitor when they make their initial claim for international protection. So it might just be them and a student. If the case is wrongly refused, it is harder for an asylum seeker to come back from the initial negative decision when their appeal is heard.”

A Home Office spokesperson defended the move arguing: “We advertise on university websites for high-performance students. They come in on a fixed term appointment and are given the same training as anyone else. It’s quite an effective way to manage the caseload when things get busy. We get people in when we need them and they don’t continue with the work. Anyone who comes in is given the same training. Asylum decisions are always checked by a senior member of staff. Students are seen as quite an effective demographic; they are not looking for a long-term career with the Home Office or even a permanent contract”.