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A leaked secret memo reveals Home Office officials changed guidelines in order to grant indefinite leave to remain (ILR) to 40,000 people because it is going to be too difficult to remove them, the Daily Telegraph reports.

They are among the backlog of 450,000 historic ‘legacy’ asylum cases which ministers have pledged to clear by 2011, even though many of the individuals would have eventually been removed.

It is alleged that some of the claimants have been in the country for as little as four years and will be allowed to stay because of the delays in processing claims.

Migrants on working visas must wait five years before being granted indefinite leave or residency. They also face stringent checks and must pass a Life in the UK test.

Many Senior Carers have been refused ILR because they have a gap in their work history – a gap caused by the UK Border Agency’s change in policy on Senior Carer Work Permits and subsequent transitional arrangements, which eventually led to a further change in the rules allowing the workers to renew their permits and visas. Thousands were caught out by earlier changes in the qualification period required for ILR from 4 to 5 years.

The memo also reveals ten of thousands of migrants who should have left the UK as long as a decade ago could still be here because the Home Office has no idea where they are – which sounds like a contradiction.

Some go as far back as the mid-1990s and means, if their circumstances have not changed, they are now illegal immigrants.

Chris Grayling, the shadow home secretary, said: “If we bend the rules to give people the right to stay, it gives all the wrong messages around the world about our immigration system.

“This looks like double standards from ministers, talking tough in public while quietly changing the system behind the scenes for political convenience.”

Chris Huhne, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, added: “The Government is prepared to quietly relax the rules in the interests of political expediency but still brag about its record on deportations.”

In 2006, John Reid, the then Home Secretary, announced there were up to 450,000 historic asylum files that had not been dealt with, some dating back to the 1990s and pledged to clear them by 2011.

The memo, from Matthew Coats, the head of immigration for UK Border Agency, is headed “Restricted – Policy. Completion of the legacy exercise” and reveals ministers now want the backlog cleared by December 2010.

He discusses how to deal with a cohort of 40,000 of the cases “which could not be granted indefinite leave to remain under he current parameters of the operational guidance… but which we will almost certainly not be able to conclude through removal”.

He says the main problem is difficulties in enforcing removals to certain countries and shows that Phil Woolas, the immigration minister, asked whether the cohort should be granted indefinite leave or some form of temporary leave.

Mr Coats is “loathe to recommend” what would have constituted a specific amnesty for the group, similar to one given to some families in 2004, or country-specific exceptional leave because of the “high profile” of such an approach.

Instead he suggests changing guidance on current immigration rules that effectively reduces the time individuals have to have been in the UK for them to have a strong case for indefinite leave – from 10-12 years to 6-8 years or even four to six in cases of difficult removal.

He says: “We do not believe the rule itself needs amendment. We do, however, need to make some amendments to the underpinning operational guidance to give caseworkers the necessary latitude to deal with this cohort.”

The memo was sent to Phil Woolas, the immigration minister, and Alan Johnson, the Home Secretary, in July and hundreds have already been cleared to stay after it was signed off by Mr Woolas.

Immigration staff are also frantically working through another 40,000 historic files of migrants and visitors who were told before 2003 that they no longer had a right to stay in the country.

They are made up of individuals who were here on work permits, temporary leave to remain, student visas and visitor visas who were all turned down for extensions to their stay.

But no record has been made as to whether they ever left the country. Some may have left of their own accord and some may have applied under different visa routes and been granted stay but it still raises the prospect that tens of thousands of them could now be here unlawfully.

Damian Green, the shadow immigration minister, said: “This new discovery will only make the delays worse.”

Mr Huhne added: “Needle in the haystack operations like this are the direct consequence of decades of mismanagement of our borders.”

Mr Woolas said: “There is no amnesty.

“Our guidelines were updated to provide case workers with a simple framework to judge cases, and to avoid long drawn out court battles.

“No lawbreaker will be allowed to say, and each case is still decided on its individual merits.”

Mr Woolas insists that tThe UK Border Agency continues to ramp up performance and is concluding several thousand cases a month. 

‘Less than 40% of cases are being granted and I am confident that we will clear all of these cases by 2011.’ 

On the non-asylum backlog, he added:

“This is not a new backlog. The majority of these cases are from prior to 2003, and we believe many of these individuals will either have gone home, been removed following enforcement activity or been granted leave through a different route.”

Source: Daily Telegraph

The UK has an estimated 500,000 – 750,000 illegal workers, and leading think tank, ippr, says it would take 20 years and £5 billion to remove them.

The London School of Economics said in a recently published a report that granting amnesty to long-term illegal immigrants in the UK, could add up to £3bn to the economy. The LSE report added that an amnesty would not lead to a rise in migration but would raise spending on welfare services and housing. 

But in the current climate, where a recent ‘Yougov’ poll revealed that immigration is the second most important issue to voter, a full scale amnesty is unlikely. 

See also:

Government has “no idea of flow of immigrants” says CBI

Tories will keep points system but cap numbers

If you need any immigration advice or help with Studying in the UK, Settlement, Citizenship, Sponsorship, extending Work Permits, Visa or an appeal against a refusal please email:

info@immigrationmatters.co.uk or visit www.immigrationmatters.co.uk

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