The “New Plan for Migration” explained by Charlotte Rubin

After Home Secretary Priti Patel laid out her new Plan for Immigration in Parliament yesterday, the Home Office published the proposals today. Its focus is on the asylum system as a whole as well as those migrants who enter the UK illegally.

Before diving in, it is useful to have a look at numbers and understand exactly what is happening to the “broken” asylum system. In 2019, 9,000 appeals were lodged following an initial asylum claim. The Home Office’s document states that of those appeals determined over the same period, 56% were dismissed. 56% dismissed means 44% were allowed, meaning the Home Office gets it wrong at the initial decision stage in 46% of the cases.

As for the much-discussed backlog, there are 109,000 asylum claims in the asylum system and the number of those awaiting initial decision rose to 52,000 by the end of 2020. Almost 73% of these claims have been in the asylum system for over one year. This is largely not the fault of the asylum seekers, but of the system itself. In fact, asylum numbers are historically low and falling, whilst waiting times for Home Office decisions have soared. Importantly, more asylum seekers are found to be genuine refugees (and their claims accepted) than ever before. As such, the proportion of asylum seekers granted refugee status, or a related form of international protection, at the “initial decision” stage has been around 50% over the past couple of years. This is a significant rise: the 2010-2018 average was 35%. Upon appeal, that number rises even further, as initial refusals are overturned. For immigration applications in general, the appeal success rate is even higher: almost half of all immigration appeals against the Home Office are won by the claimants.

Throughout the document, the Home Office wants to differentiate between “legal” and “illegal” entries to the UK. The idea is to separate clandestine entry, including small boat crossings of the Channel from Calais, with the orderly administrative process of resettlement, where asylum seekers are brought to the UK directly from refugee camps under government programmes. The former will receive less protection once they claim asylum in the UK.

As such, resettled refugees will receive indefinite leave to remain immediately, rather than five years’ temporary permission leading to indefinite leave to remain under the current system. Contrastingly, “anyone who arrives into the UK illegally – where they could reasonably have claimed asylum in another safe country – will be considered inadmissible to the asylum system, consistent with the Refugee Convention”. If an inadmissible person cannot be removed to another country, for example because there is no returns agreement with that country (spoiler: no return agreements exist with any third country at the time of writing), then the UK will be obliged process their claim. If the applicant did not come to the UK directly, did not claim without delay, or did not show good cause for their illegal presence, the applicant will be considered for temporary protection. Temporary protection will be granted for periods no longer than 30 months, after which individuals will be reassessed for return to their country of origin or removal to another safe country. In addition, temporary protection status will not include an automatic right to settle in the UK, family reunion rights will be restricted and there will be no recourse to public funds except in cases of destitution. People granted temporary protection status will be expected to leave the UK as soon as they
are able to or as soon as they can be returned or removed.

On Returns, the Plan states that the UK’s “ability to enforce immigration laws is being impeded, contributing to a downward trend in the number of people, including Foreign National Offenders, being removed from the UK.” A foreign national offender (FNO) is a non-British citizen who has been convicted either in the UK of any criminal offence, or abroad of any serious criminal offence.

This statement is misleading. Crucially, not all forced returns are foreign national offenders, and merging the two is misleading. We know that in the year ending March 2019, the total number of FNOs removed (voluntarily or forcibly) from the UK was 5216, and that the total number of enforced returns in that same period was 8,637. This means that at the very least, 30% of people (2274 in absolute numbers) who were forcibly returned from the UK were not foreign national offenders or “dangerous criminals,” and the figure is likely to be higher.

Except of this, there are plans for a new system for age assessment, to make assessments stricter and reduce the backlog in judicial reviews on this topic. There are plans to expedite asylum claims, to make claimants pay more costs, to change the human trafficking flagging system to make it more restrictive, etc.

The reasons for the asylum system being broken and overloaded are plentiful. From this preliminary analysis, it seems like a lot of the problems can be ascribed to an understaffed, underfunded Home Office that makes many mistakes when assessing claims. Unfortunately, the proposals in the Plan do not exactly deal with those structural issues. Instead, it offloads issues onto the migrants themselves by excluding as many people as possible from the scope of protection and chipping away at existing rights for asylum seekers. That is the proposed solution to deal with an overcrowded, mismanaged and overloaded system. Arguably, a more adequate and effective solution would be to replace management and invest in the system to catch it up with the realities it faces – but that is not the government we are facing today.

A public consultation on many of the proposed measures will run until 6 May 2021 at https://newplanforimmigration.com.

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