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The Telegraph reports that thousands of illegal immigrants have been granted what the paper describes as “squatters’ rights” to remain in Britain permanently after proving they have lived here for 14 years.

A little-known rule, introduced in 2003, allows illegal immigrants to claim “indefinite leave to remain” if they manage to live in Britain’s black economy for long enough or are failed asylum seekers who manage to avoid deportation.

After 14 years they can apply to the Home Office which considers factors such as “compassionate circumstances, strength of connection to the UK and previous criminal record”, before deciding whether an illegal immigrant will be allowed to stay.

If successful, the immigrant will then be allowed full access to the welfare state and be eligible to apply for a British passport.

Since rules changed in April 2003, 7,245 illegals have won the right to live here permanently – more than 1,000 a year on average. It is likely that many paid no income tax during the 14 years they spent in Britain.

The Home Office estimated in 2005 that the illegal immigrant population in Britain was between 310,000 and 570,000 but other groups such as Migrationwatch UK, which campaigns against mass immigration, have put the figure far higher.

Migrationwatch UK now believes the true number of illegal immigrants could be as high as one million.

Damian Green, the shadow immigration minister, said: “What disturbs me most is how many more people will be able to establish this type of squatters’ rights to stay in this country.

“Rewarding illegal behaviour is always bad, and there ought to be a lot more effort put into stopping people getting to this 14 year level.

“One of the reasons why we want to set up a specialist border police force is to prevent people being able to stay here for many years entirely below the radar.”

Sir Andrew Green, the chairman of Migrationwatch, said: “It is wrong in principle that people who have been undercutting British workers for many years and often paying no tax should be granted full access to our welfare state.

“This is a reward for crime, provided you get away with it for long enough.”

One immigration law adviser, who declined to be named, said: “I’m surprised this rule still survives, to be honest.

“It is an anomaly when compared with the rest of the Government’s policy which purports to be getting tough with immigrants who have irregular status.”

The rules allowing illegal immigrants to claim residence after 14 years were formalised by the Home Office in 2003 but previously existed as a loose concession.

The arrangements mirror the legal status of “squatters’ rights”, formally known as adverse possession, in English and Welsh law.

These rules say that anyone who has occupied land or property for 12 years can apply to be registered as owner.

A Home Office spokesman said: “Not all applications for indefinite leave to remain through the long residence rule will be granted.

“They are considered on a case-by-case basis, taking into account the strength of connection to the UK, previous criminal record and compassionate circumstances, and so on.”

He added that it was expected that the number of people granted indefinite leave to remain under the rule would fall as asylum claims were dealt with more quickly.

Keith Best, an immigration expert and former chairman of the Immigration Advisory Service, said:

“This is a sensible and flexible system.

“It takes account of individual circumstances, particularly when somebody may have been an overstayer in this country and has not always committed a deliberate act of trying to evade the authorities.”

The 14 years which illegal immigrants have to wait before claiming indefinite leave to remain in Britain is only four years longer than the period of time required of lawful immigrants.

Those who stay here on a visa or who are granted refugee status only have to wait 10 years before applying for the same concession, if they have been continuously resident in Britain. Source: Daily Telegraph. 

Immigration Matters Comment

The controversial rule, or ‘long stay concession’, allows immigrants to apply for permanent residence after being in the UK for 14 years, even if they have overstayed. But indefinite leave is not automatically granted when an illegal or overstaying immigrant applies to the Home Office. 

Jerry Turner,  OISC registered Level 3 Immigration Adviser and appeal specialist said: 

“In practice the Home Office try to refuse many of these applications despite meeting the spirit of them. For example in one case a man had spent the previous 7 years sleeping on a mattress on a factory floor and the Home Office refused because he could not produce his “tenancy agreement” or “bank statements.” He won on appeal.

“Requirements concerning the conduct of the applicant, such as whether or not false identities have been used, are strictly applied. There is a strong humanitarian case for regularising the stay of people who have been here for over 14 years. Many such people would have strong Human Rights grounds if removal or deportation were attempted. As with many instances of what the politicians perceive as problems needing harsh measures, the circumstances whereby people have been able to remain in the UK for so long unlawfully have arisen because of the gross inefficiencies of both conservative and labour governments. It should not be forgotten that under Michael Howard’s watch immigration staff at the Home Office were reduced whilst the backlog in dealing with asylum cases rose to many years.

“There have been several exercises which have been amnesties in all but name such as the scheme for regularisation of overstayers, the legacy programme on one little known one when only one in ten applications was subjected to much scrutiny. This resulted in identical cases being dealt with in different ways. One which was not subject to scrutiny was allowed and the other which was examined was not allowed. Poor training of staff and a lack of specialisation has resulted in many poor decisions which have in turn placed much pressure on the appeals system. There are many people in the UK illegally because they cannot meet the strict requirements of the immigration rules, but nevertheless have strong humanitarian and human rights grounds to stay. If such people make applications to the Home Office which are refused they have no right of appeal unless removal directions are issued. When refusing applications the Home Office frequently do not issue removal directions, no doubt in order to avoid such people appealing and winning. People are then left in limbo with enormous difficulties in obtaining the bare essentials for living.”

See also:

Do you know how to queue for a British passport?

New regulations for charging for immigration and nationality services

UK Border Agency response on ‘migrant detainees’

UK Border Agency launch free news service for employers recruiting overseas workers

The UK Border Agency has launched a free news feed for employers recruiting or already employing non-EU workers.

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: or visit

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Posted on Feb 22, 2010 - Last updated on Feb 22, 2010

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