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‘New Plans for Immigration’ and Asylum

Explanation and discussion of the Home Secretary’s ‘New Plan for Immigration’, with a focus on the changes to the asylum system.

Increasingly hostility towards ‘clandestine’ entry into the UK. Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay.

By Isabelle Cooper

Published 07/04/2021


Public consultations for the Home Secretary’s ‘New Plan for Immigration’ have opened. The ‘sweeping reforms’ of the asylum system aim to ‘increase fairness’, deter illegal entry into the UK and expediate deportations. However, there are already fierce voices of criticisms and accusations that the plan breaches the Geneva Convention.

So, what is the ‘New Plan’?

The New plan will ‘increase fairness’ by:

  • Emphasising the need for ‘safe-passage’ through resettlement schemes. These schemes are based on vulnerability rather than financial/physical ability to cross the channel via smuggler routes.  Indefinite leave to remain (ILR) in the UK will immediately be granted to those settled via these schemes.

It will deter illegal entry into the UK by:

  • Increasing the maximum sentence for illegally entering the UK and introduce life sentences for those facilitating illegal entry.
  • Creating a two-tier system between those who entered legally and those who entered illegally. For instance, the fact that someone entered the UK ‘illegally’ will harm their initial claim and strip them of certain refugee status benefits (no immediate ILR).

It will expediate deportations by:

  • Introducing a ‘one-stop’ process. This will ensure that ‘asylum, human rights claims, referrals as a potential victim of modern slavery and any other protection matters are made and considered together, ahead of any appeal hearing’. No weight will be given to any evidence after this point.
  • Introducing ‘an expedited process for claims and appeals made from detention’
  • Introducing a ‘new fast-track appeal process’ for cases deemed to be manifestly unfounded or new claims made late.
  • Extending ‘Fixed Recoverable Costs’ to immigration-related judicial reviews. This would enable the winning party to recover legal costs from the losing party. Thus, acting to deter lawyers bringing judicial reviews against the Home Secretary.

What is the difference between ‘legal’ and ‘illegal’ entry?

To enter a country ‘legally’ you must have authorisation to do so i.e., obtain a visa. To cross a border without authorisation is ‘illegally’. However, to cross a border unauthorised/illegally in order to claim asylum is not illegal.

There are 3 ways to claim asylum in the UK:

  1. Through resettlement schemes largely organised by the UNHCR.
  2. Obtaining a visa for authorised entry and then claim asylum on or after arrival.
  3. Claim asylum after an authorised entry i.e. via lorries/boat.

In reality, the first two ways are incredibly difficult and rare. The first is modest in scale and is not a scheme someone can ‘apply’ for as such. There is no data on the prevalence of the second route. But for many they have no grounds for obtaining a non-humanitarian visa (see Frontier Worker Permit, Global Talent and Skilled Worker Visa).

Therefore, only the third option remains for asylum seekers.


Breach of Article 31 of the Geneva Convention:

The most major concern from human rights advocates, is that the proposal to punish those for ‘illegal’ entry breaches Article 31 of the Geneva Convention. The article states that ‘“The Contracting States shall not impose penalties, on account of their illegal entry or presence, on refugees who, coming directly from a territory where their life or freedom was threatened …. , enter or are present in their territory without authorization, provided they present themselves without delay to the authorities and show good cause for their illegal entry or presence”.

To state the obvious: it is legal to cross a border unauthorised in order to claim asylum. Priti Patel wants to end the waiving of punishment for asylum seekers when they enter a country unauthorised to claim asylum.

Furthermore, the Home Office claims that this is the ‘first time’ illegal entry via a ‘safe third country’, such as France, would have an adverse impact on an asylum claim. In reality this already happens. If an asylum seeker fails to make a claim in a previously visited ‘safe third country’, it will harm the ‘credibility’ of their claim. Moreover, if an asylum seeker already has refugee status in a ‘safe third country’, their claim in the UK will be deemed inadmissable. Consequently, they will be at risk of rapid removal to the relevant ‘safe third country’.

Lack of any serious plan for ‘safe passage’ and ‘integration’:

Despite the Home Secretary paying lip-service to the necessity of ‘safe-passage’ through resettlement schemes, the policy statement does not detail on how such schemes will be expanded and funded.

Furthermore, over the last few years the government has been systematically closing legal routes into the UK pushing more people into the arms of human traffickers and smugglers.

Unsubstantiated claims of abuse of the Modern Slavery System:

Interspersed throughout the ‘new plan’ are unsubstantiated claims that many people are taking advantage of the safeguards introduced in the 2015 Modern Slavery Act. The report claims that there has been an ‘alarming increase in the number of illegal migrants, including Foreign National Offenders (FNOs) and those who pose a national security risk to our country, seeking modern slavery referrals – enabling them to avoid immigration detention and frustrate removal from our country’.

Many charities have objected the conflation of those seeking asylum with offenders. Furthermore, they argue that the claims of rising abuses of the Modern Slavery system are baseless.

Concluding Remarks:

The ‘New Plans for Immigration’ are another manifestation of the Leave Campaigns promise to ‘take back control’ of borders. These plans aim to reduce the amount of people illegally entering the UK whilst protecting the right to claim asylum via resettlement schemes.

However, the achievement of both these aims looks precarious. By increasing the punishment for illegal entry only fuels the smuggler industry which Priti Patel seems so eager to stifle. And, as human rights groups have pointed out, the plans may be in breach of the Genevan Convention.

Anyone, be it a professional or member of the public, can contribute to the public consultations here.

April 9,2021 at 10:06 am


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