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The plight of foreign national women
Sophia Benedict highlights the barriers to community resettlement for foreign national women in new research for the Griffins Society.

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Just no future at the moment

New (1 June 2020) research by Sophia Benedict for the Griffins Society examines the barriers to community resettlement for foreign national women.

The research

The overarching aim of this study was to examine and explore the barriers to resettlement for foreign national women living in the community in the UK, and to shed light on the complex ways in which non-citizen immigration status shapes the lived reality of resettlement for this group. 

In recent years, there has been an increased focus by the UK government on the deportation of ‘foreign national criminals’ on completion of their sentence, an emphasis that has geared foreign national women’s pathways through the CJS strongly towards the possibility of deportation, over rehabilitation and resettlement. 

Yet, many foreign national women are released into the community post sentence – indeed, 260 women in 2017, in addition to women serving community sentences. By interviewing women in open, semi-structured conversations, Ms Benedict set out to identify and gain much needed insight into the challenges they face, giving space for women to voice the struggles – often painfully sustained and unyielding – that shape their daily lives in the community and render rehabilitative goals impossible. 

She also interviewed practitioners to identify the barriers they come up against in providing support and to ask how these could be addressed. 

woman leaving prison
© Andy Aitchison


The findings of this research reveal the complex web of obstacles to resettlement currently
experienced by foreign national women. They highlight both the urgency and the scale of change
needed within current policy to ensure that this group of women experience safety, dignity and
hope when resettling into the community. The study identified a number of key themes:

  • The No Recourse to Public Funds condition (NRPF), a lack of access to housing, and the ban placed on work, study, and in many cases volunteering for those awaiting the outcome of applications for leave or asylum has overwhelmingly detrimental implications for every area of women’s lives and resettlement.
  • For women and practitioners alike, the lack of access to housing was identified as the single biggest obstacle to resettlement.
  • All participants identified a significant lack of support options for this group of women; where women had been supported in the community by charities and other support services or faith groups, this support was described as critical for women’s survival.
  • Probation officers emphasised the limitations of probation to adequately support the needs of this cohort; the support and resources provided by probation emerged as patchy and inconsistent across boroughs and officers.
  • The mental health impacts of prolonged waiting for an outcome on immigration cases were highlighted to be overwhelming; one participant described attempting suicide twice in the year since leaving prison, whilst others said they had thought about it.
  • Practitioners strongly emphasised the inadequacy of current mental health provision, and the multiple barriers preventing women from accessing appropriate support.
  • Women and practitioners described the impact of frequent visits to sign on at Home Office reporting centres: women are forced to travel long distances without access to travel money. There was a notable perception amongst practitioners that the number of deportation orders given to women has been increasing.
  • Practitioners articulated a sense of powerlessness, and high levels of emotional investment in the cases of foreign national women. Supporting this cohort was felt to be far more challenging than working with UK national women.
  • Communication with the Home Office was described by all practitioners as extremely poor, and in many cases non-existent. This was felt to be one of the main barriers to effectively supporting women.

Thanks to Andy Aitchison for kind permission to use the image above. You can see Andy’s work here.

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