The UK Border Agency has been branded ‘unfit for purpose’ by a group of MP’s led by Keith Vaz in the wake of accusations that the immigration guidance was tweaked to allow a backdoor amnesty for asylum seekers.
How Does UK Keep Track Of Asylum Numbers?
As a cross party committee of MPs claim a change in immigration guidance has led to an asylum “amnesty”, Sky News asks – what are the UK’s immigration policies?
The asylum system exists in the UK and many other nations as a means of offering protection and shelter to those who claim to be at risk of persecution in their own countries.
It is granted if it is felt those individuals or their families are at real risk of harm.
The asylum system is separate from the border controls which monitor economic migration, or the student visa system.
What is the asylum process in the UK?
Since March 2007 there has been a six-stage process for an asylum application.
Firstly the applicant is required to go to an asylum screening unit and be interviewed. They are then assigned a case worker who deals with the application.
A first meeting is then held to discuss full details of the asylum application before a formal compulsory asylum interview is held.
While a decision is made on the application, the asylum seeker is given instructions on how to report to authorities and told if they can work.
A decision on the asylum application is then made but an appeal may be lodged if it is unsuccessful.
How long should the process take?
The UK Border Agency (UKBA) aims to conclude all new asylum applications within six months but in reality it can take much longer.
The complexity of the system can see some applications take over a decade to be decided.
This can be due to the backlog of applicants in the system, the appeal process if an applicant is denied asylum and the number of staff working on cases.
How many asylum applications are made?
The Home Office released the following figures for applications received:
2007 – 23,430
2008 – 25,930
2009 – 24,485
2010 – 17,790
But in recent years some 75,000 asylum seekers are unaccounted for. It is not known if they have returned to their own country, remain in the UK or have died.
How does the UK keep track of those entering and leaving the UK?
Everyone entering the UK has to pass through immigration controls. Despite the Government’s pledge to cut immigration, figures released last week show a jump in the number of people entering the UK.
Net migration increased to 243,000 in the year to the end of September, mainly due to a fall in the number of people leaving Britain along with an increase in the number of eastern Europeans coming in.
For those wanting to work in the UK, a points-based system was introduced in 2008 to cover migrants from outside the European Economic Area and Switzerland, where those without a job offer can stay if they pass a points-based assessment.
Currently no exit checks are carried out when immigrants leave the UK.
The Home Office introduced an e-Borders programme to “collect and analyse information on passengers and crew intending to travel to or from the UK, or in transit through the UK”, however this is intended for law enforcement purposes and is not used to control immigration.
Is the UK Border Agency ‘unfit for purpose’?
Former home secretary Lord Reid claimed the agency was “not fit for purpose” in 2006. Procedures at the UKBA were then overhauled and the then-government pledged to get rid of a backlog of 450,000 asylum claims.
The majority of those applicants have now been reviewed – with 40% being allowed to stay in the UK and just 9% rejected.
The agency is also facing accusations that it is not robust enough and with plans to cut 5,000 jobs, it seems their job is unlikely to get any easier. Source: Sky News
Sir Andrew Green, Chairman of Migration Watch UK said: “It is an amnesty for failed asylum seekers and the truth of the matter is that amnesties of any kind don’t work.”
But Damian Green, Minister for Immigration, denied any such amnesty, pointing to migration figures to prove that none had been granted:
“You can see that it is not because if we had had an amnesty then the rate, the percentage of people granted leave to remain, would have gone up, if hasn’t gone up.”
“We have known for some time that the asylum system we inherited was chaotic.
‘”Some of these cases date back more than a decade and the UK Border Agency was always clear that, because of the length of time many of these individuals have been in the country, there would be no alternative to granting them leave to remain. There is no amnesty.”
Responding to the report’s observations on the immigration system in general, he added:
“We are already radically reforming the points-based system and other routes of entry that have been subject to widespread abuse, and will re-introduce exit checks by 2015.
“We are making greater use of intelligence to remove people with no right to be here and are concluding individual cases faster.”
The UKBA is on target to meet a promise to clear the so-called legacy backlog by this summer, with 403,500 files now closed.
In reality, the clear up of old asylum ‘legacy’ cases has been going on for a number of years, started by the last government, and was no secret.
The previous Labour government brought in a number of ‘schemes’, which could be called a type of amnesty, including the domestic workers concession and the asylum legacy cases.
The 14 year ‘long stay’ rule, which allows illegal overstayers to apply for indefinite leave to remain after 14 years in the UK was also inherited by the coalition government.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrat party favour an all out amnesty for people illegally in Britain, but both Labour and the Conservatives suggest it would actually make the problem worse.
BBC Home Affairs correspondent Daniel Sandford has written an interesting article which asks ‘Is an amnesty the answer’?
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.”
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