Border Agency may hand 'amnesty' to migrants, MPs warn


Immigration Minister Mark Harper: "We are checking to see people are still here... we are absolutely not granting amnesty"

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The UK Border Agency's attempts to clear a massive backlog of cases could become an "amnesty" for immigrants with no right to be in the UK, MPs say.

Home Affairs Committee chairman Keith Vaz said the backlog was almost the same as Iceland's population (320,000) and spiralling out of control.

MPs voiced concerns about plans to close an archive of unresolved cases of people officials had lost contact with.

But ministers denied it would result in anyone being granted an amnesty.

The MPs also criticised the way the Border Agency had dealt with mentally ill immigrants facing removal.

In its latest regular report on the workings of the agency, the committee said the total of all the separate backlogs of cases across the immigration system had stood at more than 302,000 at the end of June. That was up 25,000 over three months.

Some 174,000 of the cases were in what is known as the "migration refusal pool". These are people who are recorded as having no permission to be in the UK, but officials do not know if they have left or have stayed without authorisation - or have perhaps been accepted lawfully after a separate application.

UKBA case backlog

  • Current asylum cases 25,500
  • Asylum "controlled archive" 74,000
  • Current immigration cases: 3,500
  • Immigration "controlled archive": 21,000
  • Migration Refusal Pool 174,057
  • Former foreign prisoners: 3,954
  • Untraced former foreign prisoners: 53
  • Total: 302,064

The pool, set up in 2008, came to light only earlier this year when it was discovered by the chief inspector of immigration, John Vine.

As of August, a further 95,000 cases were in what the agency calls "controlled archives" - piles of unresolved applications made by individuals with whom officials are no longer in touch.

The UKBA has pledged to close the controlled archives by the end of 2012, but MPs said they were not convinced final checks on each case could be done to an acceptable standard, given that only 149 staff were dealing with them.

"We are concerned that the closure of the controlled archives may result in a significant number of people being granted effective amnesty in the United Kingdom, irrespective of the merits of their case," said the MPs.

"Preparations should be made for the event that a number of people whose applications are closed may subsequently be discovered to be in the country.

"We expect to hear from the agency what the consequence of this would be both for the individual concerned and for the taxpayer. We are particularly interested to find out whether any such individuals would be offered an amnesty."

'Robust approach'

Mr Vaz said: "Entering the world of the UKBA is like falling through the looking glass. The closer we look, the more backlogs we find, their existence obscured by opaque names such as the 'migration refusal pool' and the 'controlled archive'.

Start Quote

Every day it gets harder to live illegally in the UK - we are tracking people down and taking action against them”

End Quote Mark Harper Immigration Minister

"UKBA must adopt a transparent and robust approach to tackling this problem instead of creating new ways of camouflaging backlogs."

But Immigration Minister Mark Harper said a lot of the cases had been "inherited" over a long period of time and many would "actually turn out not to be in the country".

Speaking to the BBC, he said: "But we're absolutely not granting an amnesty. If those people ever show up again we will take very firm action against them. We're working through that backlog steadily and we're making good progress."

Mr Harper insisted the government was taking "robust action" and it was increasingly "harder" to live illegally in the UK.

"We are tracking people down and taking action against them. We are restricting access to benefits, free healthcare and financial products, and businesses can be fined up to £10,000 for every illegal worker they employ."

The MPs also said they were concerned that since 2011 the UK Border Agency had lost four court cases in which judges said immigration detainees with mental health problems had been falsely imprisoned and subject to inhuman or degrading treatment.

"We are concerned that the cases... may not be isolated incidents but may reflect more systemic failures in relation to the treatment of mentally ill immigration detainees," said the MPs.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 657.

    I have nothing against immigrants who come in the front door, declare etc.,

    but i have a BIG problem with the illegals. If i had my way anyone caught having entered this country illegally would be sent straight back to where they came from, no ifs no buts.

    We all know Calais is full of people trying to get in here illegally and its time the French sorted that particular mess out

  • rate this

    Comment number 656.

    What the BBC wants to hear. I am in favour of a open door immigration totally unrestricted, I am in favour of incorporating in law immigrants requirements such a Sharia Law.
    Any other view is Racist and unacceptable to the BBC I must be in favour of policies such as positive discrimination in law and employment. further more any questions/ thoughts opposite
    this should be rightly moderated

  • rate this

    Comment number 655.

    I know. Let's ban all immigrants, legal or otherwise. Only people born and bred in the UK can have jobs here or run companies. That should kill off the premier league, most of the big supermarkets, the NHS, a big slice of the banking industry and a few politicians. Then we'll have no one to blame but ourselves for the state of the country. Good result!
    (And yes, this is tongue in cheek).

  • rate this

    Comment number 654.

    Immigration is a managed process and it seems out of character for MP's such as Mr Vaz to be so outspoken, especially with respect to his own ethnicity and his own family's immigration status from a time when perhaps the rules were somewhat more relaxed.
    Perhaps Committee members might better use the time spent criticising to roll up their sleeves and offer a helping hand?

  • rate this

    Comment number 653.

    619. righteous fury

    And your point is what ?

    While you are working here, you pay tax here.

    Guardian readers should be prevented from moving to Canada, Australia etc.

  • rate this

    Comment number 652.

    If you get rid of the backlog and don't solve the problem of being able to deal with the number of cases in the first place, all you are doing is delaying another backlog building up. We need more Border Agency staff to be able to deal with the day-to-day cases alone, as well more Revenue and Tax staff, to track down all the Unpaid and Avoided Tax. Hardly rocket science.

  • rate this

    Comment number 651.

    Imigrants comming to this country to work are more than welcome, those who come for and want benefits should be refused entry at the port of entry. All immigrantes who break the law by arriving illegally should be deported without leave to appeal.

  • Comment number 650.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 649.

    Not right. Will only send a false message for future illegal immigrants who will now come in thousands.

  • rate this

    Comment number 648.

    @606. Trout
    Oz experiences huge influxes of asylum seekers, who die by the 100s on the voyage. From the middle east & Sri Lanka, attracted for the same reasons UK people are: Economic & Nanny state. Cyprus, France, Greece have the same issues, particularly with North Africa.

    Also, If we took away the incentive & protected our own boarders, not Pakistan's we'd see numbers decline.

  • rate this

    Comment number 647.

    brilliant we deport our citizens to the USA for crimes committed here yet allow foreign prisoners from anywhere to stay here after their prison sentence no other country in the world does that

  • rate this

    Comment number 646.

    I absolutely "DESPAIR" the STATE the UK is IN it is so bad I had to LEAVE I have relations & comrads that are unemployed & disabled after serving HRH in theatres of war having to survive on £67pw my Brother is an OAP & after 45yrs as a taxpayer they stopped his incapacity benefit happy 65th.The BBC showed an Indian lady complaining that her housing benefit would be cut 4 her & her 2 kids to 26k!

  • rate this

    Comment number 645.

    Employ some of the soldiers that are losing their jobs to track the Illegals down in this country this would be a sensible idea.

  • rate this

    Comment number 644.

    If you walk out of Paddington turn left along the Canal you will come across benchloads of immigrants just arrived & all searching for jobs on their cell phones.

    Anything, said one young men. Restaurant, shop. He did not mind as long as it paid.

    It is going on all around you, & friendly person who serves your lunch is doing the hard work that Brits wont

    Hypocrite Enoch turns in his grave

  • rate this

    Comment number 643.

    Controlled immigration is desirable but the elephant in the room is the last Labour government's policy to change the ethnic mixture of the UK by throwing open our borders. Now see what they've done!

    We should deport all illegals forthwith, except genuine asylum seekers, put them on the first flight home. If they want to sue us they can do it from their own country.

  • rate this

    Comment number 642.


    Very well said!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 641.

    Ethnic minorites in this country make up 7% of our total population. However, they made up 60% of the rioters in London last year.
    Not surpising seeing it was triggered by the killing of someone from an ethnic minority.

    Government incompetence feeds the racists in our socirty.
    Fascism feeds off our damaged democracy. Out of touch politicians in it for themselves.

  • rate this

    Comment number 640.

  • rate this

    Comment number 639.

    "609. Norbert
    Im from Poland and came to UK almost eight years ago.
    I was offer the job because I do work very hard , im fast and reliable and NOT cos Im Polish or for any other reason. "

    Good for you!
    The relevant point to this debate is: are you here legally?

  • rate this

    Comment number 638.

    There's already been an amnesty for years. Whenever someone illegally comes in to the country they get arrested, and then released and told to turn up for deportation tomorrow. But do they turn up for deportation? No


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