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Ministers plan to shut down what many see as an immigration loophole which grants illegal immigrants a permanent stay in the UK after 14 years whether they entered the UK legally or not, the Telegraph reports.

Under a controversial concession, those who elude the authorities for 14 years can apply for indefinite leave to stay in the UK.

Almost 9,000 illegal immigrants have been granted such a right since the policy was introduce by Labour in 2003.

But the Home Office now aims to end the policy as part of a wider move to restrict the use of the “family life” defence for those fighting removal from the country.

Theresa May, the Home Secretary, said earlier this month that it is not an “absolute right” and that officials were closely examining the definition to see if there is scope to limit its use and give more weight to the public interest.

Mrs May is concerned that foreign criminals and illegal immigrants are increasingly using the right as a way of fighting deportation.

And ministers believe that any new interpretation of the right – Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights – would also allow an end to the 14 year rule.

A Home Office consultation document on the future of all family visas said: “We suggest that those who wish to settle in the UK on the grounds of private or family life should be upfront about their intentions and make an appropriate application to the UK Border Agency.

“Settlement in the UK is a privilege. It should not be achieved simply by evading our detection for a number of years.

“We will therefore consider the impact of our Article 8 proposals on the need to retain the 14-year long residence rule.”

Damian Green, the immigration minister, said last night: “I am determined to take steps to close the loopholes that have been exploited for too long.

“The right to a family life is not absolute and the interests of the British public must be taken into consideration when deciding who can enter and remain in the UK.

“Those who enter the country illegally or overstay their visa should not be automatically rewarded with the privilege of settlement just because they have avoided detection for years.” Source: The Telegraph.

The 14 year rule is a form of amnesty which allows overstayers to legalise their stay in the UK. It is not automatically granted.

Nobody really knows how many “irregular migrants” there are in the UK, but one recent estimate by the London School of Economics put it at 618,000 – within a range of 417,000 to 863,000.

Last year shortly before joining a conservative led coalition to form a government, the Liberal Democrats said that it was now time to “regularise” those who have been here longest, so they can integrate into the legal economy and contribute to the exchequer by paying taxes.

They also called it an “earned route to citizenship”, but had no idea how many people would qualify.

Their pre-government manifesto, since largely discarded, said: “We will allow people who have been in Britain without the correct papers for 10 years, but speak English, have a clean record and want to live here long-term to earn their citizenship. This route to citizenship will not apply to people arriving after 2010.”

Their is also a 10 year concession for those who have been in the UK legally for ten years or more, such as students.

Jerry Turner, a Level 3 Immigration Adviser for Bison UK believes the government may have difficulty in abolishing the 14 year rule. He said: 

“In the opinion of a leading immigration barrister there is a provision in European law which would make it difficult to do away with the 14 year concession.

“They stand more chance of abolishing the 10 year lawful residence rule as this would not conflict with European law.”

See also:

UK Government launches far reaching consultation on family migration

Government accused of creating an ‘amnesty’ for asylum seekers, but 14 year long stay rule already exists

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