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ESRC North West Social Science Doctoral Training Partnership Standard PhD Studentship Award

Applications are invited for a fully-funded PhD studentship to conduct research on a full-time or part-time basis exploring the impacts of deportation on children.

The research would be conducted under the joint supervision of Professor Helen Stalford, at European Children’s Rights Unit, School of Law and Social Justice, University of Liverpool and Pierre Makhlouf, Legal Director, Bail for Immigration Detainees (BID).

The successful candidate would be registered for their PhD at the University of Liverpool but would complete at least three months of each year (or similar pro-rata if they are part time) at BID.

Research Focus and Context

The research will be the first detailed socio-legal investigation into the effects of the UK’s deportation policy and practice on children.

Deportation is a serious legal measure imposed either on those who have been convicted of a criminal offence and sentenced to at least 12 months in prison or where deportation is ‘conducive to the public good’ (s.32(5) UK Borders Act 2007).

In 2021, 2,673 foreign nationals who had committed criminal offences were removed from the UK (Home Office 2022), a significant proportion of whom will have children.1 A parent sentenced to less than four years in prison can successfully resist deportation if they can establish that it would be ‘unduly harsh’ both to require their child to move with them and also for their child to be left behind. A parent sentenced to at least four years can resist deportation by demonstrating ‘very compelling circumstances’ (s.117C NIAA 2002). These tests are extremely difficult to meet, despite the fact that deportation is lifechanging for children, potentially involving permanent separation from a parent, spending formative years without face-to-face contact, being taken into care or moving to countries of which they have no prior knowledge.

The general legal obligation to ‘safeguard and promote’ children’s welfare in immigration decision-making (Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009, s.55) means that a welfare assessment is required, but without an independent or rigorous assessment mechanism in place. Our preliminary pilot (Yaqub, Stalford, Woodhouse and Griffiths, forthcoming 2023) has revealed that in most cases assessments are wholly inadequate. The Home Office decision-maker assesses welfare based on evidence that the family puts forward. Many families do not have access to any legal advice. The decision maker does not seek out further information and routinely makes decisions without knowledge of children’s views, wishes and feelings, health, development, education and vulnerabilities.

This approach is in stark contrast to other family justice proceedings, where assessment of children’s welfare is compulsory, comprehensive, individualised and independent.

The aims of the PhD research are:

1) to obtain empirical evidence regarding the impacts of parental deportation on children; and

2) to improve policy, process and practice on child welfare assessments in the context of deportation.

To achieve these aims, the project has three main objectives:

1) To conduct a comprehensive legal, policy and practice review of the extent to which decision-making relating to deportation reflect international and domestic legal obligations (e.g. UN Convention on the Rights of the Child).

2) To gather detailed qualitative evidence regarding the deportation decision-making process and its aftermath.

3) To identify children’s rights-based approaches to parental separation in other contexts (e.g., criminal justice, family justice and extradition) and jurisdictions (e.g., Italy Sweden; Canada; New Zealand) and consider how these can be brought to bear on UK deportation proceedings. 

Research Questions

Research questions include:

  • How does the threat/reality of parental deportation affect children?
  • How do factors such as the children’s age, socio-economic background, ethnicity, health/special needs, the length and conditions of separation, involvement of other care-givers, and the quality and opportunities for contact affect experiences of and decisions relating to deportation?
  • To what extent are children’s welfare and rights reflected in deportation processes? How do decision makers approach children’s best interests? How are children’s views captured? What is the independence and experience of professionals involved?
  • How do legislative reforms (particularly relating to immigration, Brexit and the proposed Bill of Rights) recognise and accommodate children’s welfare and rights in this context?

To answer these questions, the following methods are proposed and comprise two interconnected branches:

1) Empirical element exploring the lived reality of parental deportation:

  • This will involve submitting Freedom of Information (FOI) requests to the Home Office and Immigration Tribunals regarding children and deportation proceedings
  • Conducting semi-structured interviews with children and parents affected by deportation
  • Analysing the Home Office decision letters/tribunal decisions relating to deportation
  • Interviewing legal, social work, civil society and Home Office practitioners
  • Attending and observing deportation hearings. 

2) Evaluation of the legal, policy and procedural safeguards relating to deportation:

  • Updated analysis of any recent domestic legislation and case law as well as secondary sources (policy, practice guidance and relevant other empirical research) relating to the welfare and rights of children in the context of deportation.
  • Analysis of Upper Tribunal published decisions on deportation cases involving children for the period 2018-2025.
  • Literature review of research on the impacts of parental separation on children in different legal contexts (e.g. cross-border child abduction/family relocation and the children of UK-national prisoners).

Commencement and Duration of the PhD

The PhD will commence in October 2023 and can be undertaken on a full time (3 years) or part time basis (6 years).


Applicants must satisfy the following criteria:

  • An undergraduate degree/background in law or social sciences (e.g. anthropology, sociology, social policy, political sciences); or a background in related areas such as international relations, migration studies/human geography, social work, psychology or childhood studies.
  • Obtained at least a 2:1 or equivalent (for international applicants) in their undergraduate degree.
  • For a student to qualify for a 3-year full-time studentship (or 6 years part-time), the student must have completed a Masters degree in a related field with some training or insight into qualitative methods and ethics.
  • If the student does not have a Masters degree or further training in social science methods before commencing the PhD studentship, a candidate may be recruited to a 1+3 (full-time) or 2+6 (part-time) studentship. This would enable them to study for a Masters degree in Law or an MA in Social Research at the University of Liverpool.
  • Experience working with community or volunteer organizations or with public engagement is desirable.
  • The successful candidate will need to demonstrate strong communication and team-work skills, and an ability to be flexible in adapting to the pressures facing the partner organisation in terms of meeting urgent deadlines and responding to vulnerable clients’ needs. 


Funded UK students will be eligible for an award which includes a stipend to support living costs (£18,022 per annum full time - 2023/24 rate), and fees paid at the standard UKRI home fee rate (currently £4,682 per annum full time - 2023/24 rate) for four years.

Application Deadline and Process

Applications should be submitted to by no later than 12pm on Thursday 20th April 2023. This should include a full CV and covering letter setting out:

  • Any relevant knowledge, qualifications and experience, including any postgraduate research methods training and qualifications.
  • Your reasons for wishing to undertake a PhD in this area.
  • Whether you wish to complete the PhD on a part time or full-time basis.
  • Confirmation that you would be willing and available to receive training and supervision at the University of Liverpool and Bail for Immigration Detainees, according to the needs of the project.
  • A copy of first degree (and Master’s degree if already acquired) certificates and transcripts (or anticipated grade) Details of two independent referees, including one academic referee.

Shortlisted candidates will be invited to attend an online interview which will take place on Wednesday 26th April 1-3pm.

Further queries can be directed to Professor Helen

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