Our Written Evidence On The Government’s Proposed Asylum Reforms


Asylum, Current Affairs, Enforcement, History, Legal Matters, Migration Trends, Policy, Population, Refugees, Terrorism

The government announced changes to the immigration and asylum system in March 2021. See the Home Secretary’s statement to Parliament on the government’s proposals. A policy statement is available here.

Migration Watch UK welcomes the government’s renewed efforts to deter illegal immigration and tackle asylum abuse. Illegal entry is “most common method of entry for asylum seekers”. Many of those entering without permission then claim asylum and are either released in the absence of being properly identified – risking public safety and undermining respect for UK law – or are housed at public expense, many after their claim is rejected. Widespread asylum abuse is being compounded by growing deficiencies in immigration enforcement, including a failure to prevent absconding and ensure removals or (by the Home Office specifically) to adequately record and report the risk of re-offending by foreign national offenders. The government’s proposals will need to be accompanied by further changes if they are to have the desired result. Our key points are below:

  1. The increasing problem of illegal immigration risks lives and puts unwarranted pressure on public services while being grossly unfair to UK citizens, legal migrants and true refugees.
  2. Unfair asylum abuse is widespread, growing and occurring in the context of an already-overwhelmed system that cost taxpayers an eye-watering £1.3 billion in 2020/2021.
  3. Illegal immigration and asylum abuse should be seen in the context of very high immigration levels over the past twenty years which have led to rapid population growth and huge strains on our country. This in turn creates or worsens environmental and housing challenges, propels mounting pressure on the NHS, schools and transport, propounds a decay in the quality of life, hurts many of the most vulnerable (e.g. through a negative impact on wages and via job displacement) and drives a range of serious cohesion and safety issues.

We welcome the  proposals contained in the government’s March 2021 ‘New Plan for Immigration’ but further action is required, including:

  1. The government should enshrine in statute a list of safe countries to which those with no right to be in the UK can be removed – This list should be kept up to date and reviewed regularly with the aid of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. The list should be introduced as part of the Sovereign Borders Bill and replace those in the Immigration and Asylum (Treatment of Claimants etc) Act 2004, which were linked to EU membership. It may also be necessary to repeal s2 Asylum & Immigration Appeals Act 1993.
  2. Temporary admission must not become a stepping-stone to settlement – There is a strong case for make it clear in statute that those entering illegally will not be granted asylum status.
  3. Tougher enforcement, with more prosecutions of those entering illegally – the number of prosecutions is abysmal despite 13,000+ illegal entrants detected annually (2018-20). With over 110,000 convictions for TV licence fee evasion in 2019, many people will see this as an example of the government having seriously skewed priorities.
  4. More investment and support at the border – More work is having to be done by fewer people while enforcement operations since 2015 have declined.
  5. Greater use of detention to prevent absconding and to protect the public – there are more than 10,000 foreign ex-offenders living among the public and 50,000 absconders.

The risks posed by illegal immigration and the wider abuse of the asylum and judicial processes are significant and increasing. Had this not been the case, it is reasonable to assume that the government would not be embarking on the reforms that the Home Secretary has announced. The problem of illegal immigration has been exacerbated by the ease and increasing frequency with which the protection mechanisms and asylum system are being abused alongside the ongoing deterioration in effective enforcement of the law. For example, analysis by the Henry Jackson Society of convictions over the past 20 years identified 45 foreign nationals who served prison sentences for Islamist-inspired terrorist offences but were allowed to remain in the UK after completing their jail terms, with many of the convicted terrorists being given permission to stay after being granted asylum.

Continuing high immigration and failure to deal with illegal entry

The wider context is one in which the UK has experienced very high levels of non-UK net immigration, averaging about 300,000 per year over the past two decades, driving more than 80% of population growth since 2001 (six million people). The government’s continuing failure to deal with illegal immigration and asylum abuse casts doubt on its determination and ability to reduce immigration levels.

Some relevant facts about illegal immigration:

  • Illegal immigration and the failure to enforce immigration law enables by-passing of border controls; the country’s most important line of defence;
  • Estimates vary but a figure of a million or more illegal migrants here is, we believe likely;
  • There are between 50,000 and 65,000 reports of immigration and commodity abuse by members of the public to the Home Office per year (Home Office transparency statistics).
  • The Independent Chief Inspector of Borders (ICIBI) has described the clandestine entry threat as ‘serious and persistent’, while adding that measures to prevent illegal entry in the back of lorries have been ‘misfiring at every point‘[i].
  • The former ICIBI also noted that Border Force crews were concerned they were seen as a ‘taxi service’ by illegal immigrants as Channel crossings reached record levels
  • Nearly 50,000 people have been detected entering the UK illegally since the start of 2018, including more than 12,000 in small boats. The government’s Channel threat commander – Dan O’Mahoney – told a parliamentary committee that the general practice is for those crossing the Channel in boats to destroy their documentation deliberately. So it is impossible for our border officials to know exactly who is arriving. Some of these arrivals could of course be potential terrorists;
  • The practice of granting bail to illegal immigrants soon after arrival enables many to disappear into the community. There are varying reports of between 35,000 and 55,000 absconders at any one time (the total reporting population is 90,000).
  • According to Home Office figures the number of removals of those with no right to be here (including foreigners with criminal records) has fallen significantly in recent years. Many of them claim asylum in order to delay or stop removal.
  • As the government states in its policy document (on p.9): “The courts are becoming overwhelmed by repeated unmeritorious claims, often made at the last minute.” Of the approximate 6,000 cases determined on paper, 90% were dismissed or refused and out of these dismissals 17% were classified as “Totally Without Merit” by the court.

The serious problem of asylum abuse

Asylum abuse makes a mockery of the UK’s generosity, wastes huge amounts of taxpayer money, destroys support for refugees and delays the genuine claims. This problem is closely conjoined with the deadly and worsening problem of illegal immigration. Those entering the UK illegally may have a stronger motivation to abuse the asylum process and other protection mechanisms due to a need to exculpate the criminal offence of their uninvited entry through possible regularisation.

Meanwhile, recent Home Office statistics suggest that the problem of asylum abuse – particularly by immigration offenders and foreign national offenders who are being detained – has risen. The share of people claiming asylum in detention rose from less than a third (32%) to almost half (47%) during the period from 2017 to 2019. Even though more than 90% of such applications are rejected, applicants are “almost always” released while their claim is processed, enabling many to abscond. Meanwhile a sharply declining number of these rejected claimants are being removed. The Home Office was also quoted by the National Audit Office as saying that such abuse was ‘increasing’.

The following points are also relevant:

  • Illegal entry is “most common method of entry for asylum seekers”, with 62% of UK asylum claims were made by those entering illegally in the year ending September 2019
  • 98% of those illegally crossing the Channel in small boats during the first half of 2020 claimed asylum after arrival.
  • An individual cannot be removed from the UK where they have an outstanding asylum claim or is not in possession of a Passport or (Emergency) Travel Document.
  • We agree with the former Independent Chief Inspector of Borders who wrote in a 2017 report (see p.7): ‘There is… considerable evidence of individuals who have been issued with removal directions making ‘last minute’ asylum claims… in order to frustrate planned removals’.”
  • Judges, including Lady Justice Sharp and Mr Justice Green, have pointed  to “misconduct among immigration lawyers”, who start court hearings simply to thwart attempts to remove failed asylum seekers.

Deficiencies in immigration enforcement made worse by vexatious use of legal avenues

The problem of asylum abuse is abetted by the increasing deficiencies in immigration enforcement worsened by an increase in bogus legal claims aimed at simply staving off removal. This means:

  • Around 42,000 failed asylum seekers are still living in the UK despite having their asylum claim refused.
  • Removals of failed asylum claimants have plummeted from 12,000 in 2004 to less than 2,000; total enforced returns have fallen from 15,000 in 2012 to 2,000 in 2020.
  • Obstruction to enforcement processes, including by those taking advantage of legal loopholes to abuse the asylum and modern slavery laws, helping to prevent the removal of dangerous foreign criminals.

Comments on the government’s proposals

We applaud the Home Secretary’s determined approach to tackling the various problems detailed above (see policy statement of March 2021). We have a number of further comments:

a) Inadmissibility of asylum claims for those coming via a safe country

This is an important reform which will send the message that asylum shopping is unacceptable. However, it will also be essential that those falling into this category are removed expeditiously. The list of safe countries to which people can be returned should be clarified in statute and kept up to date and reviewed regularly with the aid of the FCDO. This list of safe countries should be introduced as part of the Sovereign Borders Bill in order to replace those in the Immigration and Asylum (Treatment of Claimants etc) Act 2004, which were linked to EU membership. It will also be necessary to repeal section 2 of the Asylum and Immigration Appeals Act 1993.

b) Temporary protection status

Those who prevail with asylum claims having entered illegally will receive a new temporary protection status. The principle of temporary admission is of course longstanding, however, given the delays and backlogs that now appear to be an integral part of the system, any new regime must include a means of dealing with claimants quickly and able to remove them without delay, if that is how a case concludes. Temporary admission must not become a stepping-stone to settlement. There is a strong case for making it clear in statute that those entering the UK illegally will not be granted asylum status. There is of course no question of not providing refuge for genuine refugees.

c) Changes to support rules for failed asylum claimants

A March 2021 government policy document acknowledged that ‘individuals who have been found to have no basis to stay, [are] able to continue to stay in the UK, accessing support from the state while not co-operating with immigration directions’. The intention to tackle this anomaly is welcome. Previously published research on this issue noted that providing housing to failed asylum claimants encourages illegal entry and abuse of the system[i]. Indeed, the necessary statutory power to deny housing to those who remain in the UK without authority is in the Immigration Act 2016.

d) Tougher enforcement for illegal immigration

The Home Secretary notes in the policy statement on p.4: “We will increase the maximum sentence for illegally entering the UK and introduce life sentences for those facilitating illegal entry.” Such proposals are to be welcomed. However,  although the statute book is full to bursting with criminal offences relating to immigration control, including entering the UK illegally, most are rarely prosecuted, with an average of just 625 prosecutions per year between 2017 and 2019. In addition to tougher sentencing, a more determined enforcement regime – with the necessary political backing and resources – is essential.

e) Proposals to widen refugee schemes

The government appear to have conceded opposition and NGO demands for further refugee resettlement routes, as a way of easing pressure on illegal routes. This could turn out to be misguided. Demand will always outstrip supply. In any case, the UK has already done more for refugees than most countries and faces problems that require attention before they are made worse.

f) Strengthening age checks for asylum claimants

The Home Office is right to propose a more rigorous approach to age assessments for which there is evidence of abuse. The current subjective and often tortuous process, including legal claims, is simply not working. Home Office statistics have shown that between Quarter 2 2016 and Quarter 2 2020 the majority of asylum seekers whose age was checked after they claimed to be under 18 were found to be adults.

These and other changes will be required if the government is to achieve one of its stated objectives of “deterring illegal entry into the UK, breaking the business model of criminal trafficking networks and protecting the lives of those they endanger.”

More investment and support at the border

According to Lucy Moreton, General Secretary of the Immigration Services Union, illegal immigrants ‘have very little chance of being caught’ due to a lack of resources and workforce cuts. While any union leader worth their salt will work in the interests of their members, Ms Moreton’s remark is justified. More work is having to be done by fewer people while enforcement operations since 2015 have declined. A 2020 National Audit Office report stated that Immigration Compliance and Enforcement [or ICE] teams, ‘do not have the capacity to undertake all tasks requested of them‘.

Detention should be used more to prevent absconding and protect the public

There are tens of thousands of absconders and, as noted above, more than 10,400 foreign ex-offenders living amongst the public. A senior Home Office official recently noted that some of those with no right to be in the UK ‘may pose risk to the public’. As the government has said:Detention plays a key role in securing our borders and maintaining effective immigration control’ and yet the HO proudly announces that it is ‘delivering a reduction… in the numbers of those detained’. Detention is vital for guarding against absconding and should be used more, not less. According to Freedom of Information release, on any given day, there are around 50,000 people known to the immigration system, including convicted criminals, who are free to roam as they please in the community. Many of these people go to ground, not to be found. Some carry out further crimes before being apprehended.

Conclusions

Here again is a summary of our major recommendations:

  1. The government should enshrine in statute a list of safe countries to which those with no right to be in the UK can be removed – This list should be kept up to date and reviewed regularly with the aid of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. The list should be introduced as part of the Sovereign Borders Bill and replace those in the Immigration and Asylum (Treatment of Claimants etc) Act 2004, which were linked to EU membership. It may also be necessary to repeal s2 Asylum & Immigration Appeals Act 1993.
  2. Temporary admission must not become a stepping-stone to settlement – There is a strong case for make it clear in statute that those entering illegally will not be granted asylum status.
  3. Tougher enforcement, with more prosecutions of those entering illegally – the number of prosecutions is abysmal despite 13,000+ illegal entrants detected annually (2018-20). With over 110,000 convictions for TV licence fee evasion in 2019, many people will see this as an example of the government having serious skewed priorities.
  4. More investment and support at the border – More work is having to be done by fewer people while enforcement operations since 2015 have declined.
  5. Greater use of detention to prevent absconding and to protect the public – there are more than 10,000 foreign ex-offenders living among the public and 35,000-50,000 absconders.

6th May 2021

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