An amnesty for illegal immigrants?


July 29, 2019

In his first statement to the House of Commons as Prime Minister, Boris Johnson suggested that the government would ‘look at’ an amnesty for illegal immigrants.

Mr Johnson already indicated during his leadership campaign that such a scheme could apply to those who have been in the UK illegally for 15 years.

The implication of this being that if you break the law and remain undetected for 15 years you will qualify for the right to remain in the UK permanently, be granted the right to working age and retirement benefits (whether or not you have paid taxes or made National Insurance contributions) and very likely having already enjoyed free health care, education and other services.

This makes no sense and it is not something that most adults in the UK, who have dutifully paid their taxes and made their National Insurance contributions, will regard as fair or reasonable.

That is why we are inviting the public to sign a petition, “Rule out any prospect of granting an amnesty on illegal immigration”, on the Government Petitions website in the name of Migration Watch UK Chairman, Alp Mehmet, in order to send a clear and unambiguous message that such an amnesty would be totally unacceptable.

Migration Watch UK has also published an analysis (MW463 - An amnesty for illegal migrants?) which shows that:

  • Amnesties have been tried five times in Italy, six times in Spain and twice in France in the past 20 years or so. In nearly all cases there were more applications each time. In May 2005, the French Interior Minister declared that further amnesties were 'completely out of the question'.
  • The Home Office estimated in 2001 that there were 430,000 illegal immigrants in the UK. By 2004 that could well have surpassed half a million.
  • The latest estimate, from a former Head of Enforcement, is more than a million.
  • Migration Watch UK estimate that this number is increasing by a net total of at least 70,000 a year.
  • Each additional person in the UK costs the taxpayer in public services and benefits between £4,250 and £7,820 a year (see Home Office document). So, even at £5,000, an extra half million people entitled to benefits of one form or other would cost £2.5 billion a year.
  • The number of removals has fallen sharply in recent years as hardworking staff charged with enforcing the borders have been hampered by an absence of adequate resources and government commitment.
  • The Home Affairs Select Committee concluded: “Amnesties set up a vicious circle which should be broken by discouragement of unfounded claims, fast and efficient processing of those claims when made, and rapid removals when claims have failed.”

Stepping up enforcement is the only acceptable way forward as it would establish a disincentive, rather than an incentive, for illegal migration. Any comparisons with Windrush victims are absurd. They were innocent citizens, with every right to be here.

Commenting, Alp Mehmet, Chairman of Migration Watch UK, said:

Boris Johnson first called for an amnesty for illegal immigrants when he was campaigning to be Mayor of London. With respect to our new Prime Minister, he was wrong then and is wrong now.

The Commons Home Affairs Select Committee got it right when it called for much more effective action by the Home Office to process cases and remove those who no longer have the right to be here as rapidly and humanely as possible. It is also what the public wants and has every right to expect of its government.

Note to Editors

  • Here is a link to the petition calling on the government to rule out the prospect of granting an amnesty on illegal immigration; https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/266925
  • On 25 July 2019, Mr Johnson told the House of Commons: “We saw the difficulties that that kind of problem occasioned in the Windrush fiasco. We know the difficulties that can be caused..."
  • Academics Alessandra Casarico, Giovanni Facchini and Tommaso Frattini noted in 2018: “Existing undocumented immigrants will tend to be on average less skilled than both existing legal migrants and the remainder of the native population. As a consequence of the legalisation, they will end up on the receiving end of the welfare state, and through this channel, will represent a burden for the host country.”
  • 77% of respondents to a 2018 poll said they saw illegal immigration as a serious problem facing the UK (Project28 poll).


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