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 1117.

    I am british citizen, my husband is Mexican. We both work and pay tax and abide by the law. How can it take over 6 months to process a visa and in that time you cant even speak to someone to find out about your case and they have both our passports, I am currently like a prisoner in my own country!!! And to add insult to injury the visa service has so far cost me and my husband over £2000!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1116.

    This is truly typically of this country. Illegal migrants come here purely because we are too relaxed in the way we deal with them, and they will most likely be able to stay if they stay unrecognised for a couple of years. It's amazing how an island has such leaky border controls etc. Talks of an amnesty are beyond a joke - if you commit a crime but don't get caught in a year you are free??

  • rate this

    Comment number 1115.

    Its a wonder this country is so busy and full, they make out a few hundred thousand isn't a lot but 300,000 people is two small citys worth of people!

    How can anyone get by without the proper documentation, i struggle with banks security, passports legally doing it illegally must be difficult??

    Oh and the EU freedom of movement is just great for english people going to earn in poland.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1114.

    To allow any sort of amnesty would be a grave mistake. It sends out the signal that it is worth coming to a country illegally as there is a fair chance you will be allowed to stay. Spain and Italy have done this and have had an increase in illegal immigration as a result.
    The UK must maintain a strong line and do more to boot out the overstayers and other illegals to deter others from trying.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1113.

    Heres a though, could this just the be a ploy to get all the illegals to turn up at a central point in each town/city to claim thier 'amnesty' on production of proof of country of origin (passport/id) only to be rounded up and shipped to the nearest airport and put on waiting planes back to thier country of origin?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1112.

    In support of heaven 1977 who has been marked down for merely stating a fact.I saw that programme too.
    We are all descended from one tribe in Africa.However this has no bearing on this argument at all.If it did,then we may as well just give up and let anyone live anywhere they wanted which would be ludicrous and wouldn't work.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1111.

    Bizarre solution, there's too much work involved so give them an amnesty.
    Should we apply this to all people who break the law ?
    If a crime has been comitted we have a duty to society to see that the law runs its course.
    Unless you want to decriminalize it in which case how do you deter illegal migrants.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1110.

    Lousy argument bored13 - we reap as we sow - what goes round comes round - UK has had it coming to it as well as all the other post-imperial nations. People migrating is part of history - it is unstoppable.
    Hector - it just goes to show that immigration like BBC blogs is just a numbers game!.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1109.

    Offering an amnesty to those here illegally simply sends a message to anyone thinking of entering illegally in the future; stick it out and eventually they'll let you stay. This is simply wrong. It makes a mockery of agreed immigration rules and serves no one but people traffickers and businesses looking to push down wages.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1108.

    My serious question about this problem is:- Why do people want to come to this country in the first place?? Is it because of our democratic attitude towards all, is it because of our civilised nature, is it because we offer money?? Whatever the reason, there is no way the UK should harbor criminals, ne'er do wells or anybody that, once their in, should be allowed to exude their own traditions

  • rate this

    Comment number 1107.

    680.Some Lingering Fog

    We are not talking about ordinary immigrants on here, but illegal immigrants who have no right to be here. Of course the country needs a supply of ordinary immigrants, but what it doesn't need is the amount of illegal immigrants who have found their way into the country illegally or have overstayed their visas. These people should be deported back from whence they came.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1106.

    Don't you get it, they will continue to allow these illegals in, claim the benefits system is being abused and then scrap it all, for everyone. These lowlife politician types ARE thinking ahead, and you lot will lose in every single way imaginable. manipulation and mock horror, followed by cuts, slashes and more cuts, gone for ever, "but we had to do it to stop the abuse". Slimy, slippery, liars.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1105.

    If you go into the DSS office and apply to sign on you can get information in no fewer than 16 different languages. Never mind the cost of producing all this information, the effect is a disintegrated society and a beacon to all-comers.

    This is the politically correct price of the multi-culturalism experiment.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1104.

    It took many many years for women to gain equality with men in the UK and this nation should be proud of what it has built. All of that suffering and loss is for nought if we are importing cultures where women are treated as property, shall we continue our march back to the middle ages or stop it now by only allowing immigration from enlightened cultures that benefit our nation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1103.

    Presumably the posh boys here haven't noticed. It isn't a green and pleasant country for most people in this country already. Ridiculously high density, outside space free housing. Bad schools, hospitals and public building with poor grounds. More and more green spaces built on. I would say one of the ruining factors of my life is th epoor enviroment. Posh of course don't have to seeor endure this

  • rate this

    Comment number 1102.

    Just an observation from travelling, but it seems good old Customs and Excise( with a policeman in the background) seemed to control the borders with actually less people, and since formation of UKBA, it actually takes significantly longer for people/tourists etc to get into UK than most European countries.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1101.

    Isn't the Duke of Edinburgh an immigrant? In fact the Queen herself is of Germanic descendant so she's an immigrant too. To be honest the only true English reside in the extreme edges of the UK, the Welsh and the Scots, the rest of us are immigrants. But then we all descended from African origin anyway so doesn't this land just belong to everyone really. We just fence it off and claim it as ours.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1100.

    The right have no answers, typical Tory policy.
    No agenda unless it serves them!
    No path to correct anything, blame the previous govt.
    Whilst you was in opposition.. i did not see no opposition no Tory wanting a cut back on spending
    Why because people like you made vast's amount of money from it
    To trust a man like Osborne as chancellor?
    Give me a break that man is useless at folding bed sheets

  • rate this

    Comment number 1099.

    At the moment I'm wracking my brain trying to think of just one UK government department or agency that is actually fit for purpose that works both efficiently & gets the job done...I can't think of one!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1098.

    1056.JR said "As much as people slate Immigration, this is only because we have the privilege of being born in a wealthy country."

    Yes very nice and reasonable. Don't disagree. Unfortunately we won't be a green & pleasant, wealthy land for too much longer if we carry on letting in all & sundry. Then we'll be able to help nobody..


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