Thank you for contacting me about immigration.
New Plan for Immigration: The Home Office has published the New Plan for Immigration which seeks to retain this compassionate approach and combine it with increased fairness, firmness and efficiency. I welcome the ambition to see an asylum system based on need, to better protect and support those who require our help most. You will be reassured to know that the Government is strengthening the safe and legal routes for refugees and fixing historic anomalies in British Nationality law. The Government is also committed to ensuring that resettlement programmes are responsive to emerging international crises and that persecuted minorities are represented. The Plan also helps refugees once they have settled in the UK through support to integrate into society, help in accessing employment and sponsorship programmes.
A key objective of the Plan is also to deter and prevent illegal entry into our country. By cracking down on illegal immigration, we can prioritise those in genuine need. This will help prevent people making dangerous and unnecessary journeys to the UK through potentially fatal means in small boats or aeroplanes, for example. It also aims to halt the business model of criminal trafficking networks and protect those who are in danger of being trafficked.
I am very clear that people should claim asylum in the first safe country they arrive and we must ensure dangerous journeys are not incentivised. I understand that Ministers have been looking at what other countries do to deter illegal migration and I welcome the fact that this work continues. I believe it is correct to not rule out any option that could help reduce the illegal migration and relieve the pressure on the asylum system.
I can reassure you that the proposals comply with our global obligations including commitments to the European Convention on Human Rights, the Refugee Convention and the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings. You may also be interested to know that the Home Office launched a consultation to gain insight from stakeholders and members of the public to inform their strategy. I know Ministers are seeking widespread engagement and are currently analysing the feedback received.
Family Reunion and Support for Refugees: The United Kingdom has a proud record of helping those fleeing persecution, oppression or tyranny from around the world. Alongside providing £10 billion a year to support people through our overseas aid, the UK is a global leader in refugee resettlement. As a country, between 2016 and 2019 we resettled more refugees from outside Europe than any member state of the EU.
In 2015, the Government committed to resettle 20,000 of the most vulnerable refugees who fled the conflict in Syria through the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme (VPRS). I am sure you will join me in welcoming the fact that the Government has now met that commitment.
In total across all of our resettlement schemes, the UK has now resettled more than 25,000 vulnerable refugees in need of protection over the past 6 years, with around half being children. These refugees are resettled directly from regions of conflict and instability rather than from safe European countries. I believe that it is most important to prioritise those refugees in dangerous situations, not those already in Europe.
I welcome the fact that the Government already provides safe and legal routes for people needing protection or seeking to reunite with their families. In the year ending December 2020, over 5,400 refugee family reunion visas were issued to partners and children of those previously granted asylum or humanitarian protection in the UK. Over 29,000 family reunion visas have been issued in the last 5 years.
I have always believed that resettlement is vital as a safe and legal pathway to protection for vulnerable refugees fleeing persecution. It is right that the Government continues to offer safe pathways for those in need. The launch of a new global UK Resettlement Scheme will now build on the success of previous schemes and continue our proud record of resettling refugees who need our help from around the world.
It is also the case that refugees in the UK need to have the freedom to succeed as they settle. This means ensuring refugees have access to the tools required to become fully independent and provide for themselves and their families. This will allow refugees to be in a position to contribute to and integrate into the economic and cultural life of the UK.
It is therefore good news that the Home Secretary has announced £14 million of funding to help newly granted refugees to integrate in the UK. This fund will pilot new approaches across the country to support newly granted refugees to learn English, move into work, access housing and build links in their local communities. Lessons learned from these pilots will inform future support available to all refugees.
Child Refugees: In 2016 Parliament agreed to relocate a specified number of children from Europe to the UK – later settled at 480 following a consultation with local authorities. In July 2020, the Government confirmed that it had completed the transfers of 480 children from France, Greece and Italy and therefore completed the commitment you have referred to. It should also be noted that the UK also received the largest number of asylum applications from unaccompanied children in Europe in 2019. The New Plan for Immigration consultation provides the opportunity to provide views on the Government’s future approach on safe and legal routes to the UK including on family reunion for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children.
Domestic Abuse and Migrants: Protecting women and girls from violence and supporting victims, regardless of their immigration status remains a key Government priority. It is particularly welcome that the Domestic Abuse Act has now received Royal Assent.
A Domestic Abuse Commissioner has been established to provide public leadership on domestic abuse issues. I welcome that the commissioner will be required to have a specific focus on the needs of victims and survivors from minority or marginalised groups, including migrants.
I believe it is important to find the most effective way of ensuring these victims have support, rather than providing a pathway to indefinite leave to remain or a blanket lifting of the no recourse to public funds condition. After looking into this issue for you, I understand that there is a lack of evidence at the current time to highlight which cohorts of migrants are likely to need support the most, the numbers involved and how effective existing arrangements are.
I very much welcome the fact that the Government has launched the £1.5m Support for Migrant Victims Scheme. This scheme will look to cover the cost of support in a refuge or other safe accommodation for migrant victims of domestic abuse who are unable to access public funds. I understand that Ministers will use the scheme to better assess the level of need for these victims, inform spending review decisions on longer-term funding and to inform subsequent policy development.
Data collected through the course of this scheme will provide the information needed to assess current provisions and ensure protection and support is available to migrant victims of domestic abuse. It was announced on 15 April that Southall Black Sisters had emerged as the successful bidders to deliver this scheme and I hope this work will start shortly.
The Home Office also operates the Destitute Domestic Violence Concession. This concession enables migrant victims on spousal visas to apply for leave to remain without the No Recourse to Public Funds restriction when their relationship has broken down because of domestic violence, they are destitute, and intend to subsequently make an application for indefinite leave to remain as a victim of domestic abuse. These victims can then apply to claim public funds (benefits) for up to three months while their application to settle in the UK is considered.
Homelessness and Rough Sleeping: I would like to reassure you that the measures outlined in the Immigration Rules relating to rough sleeping and homelessness will be used sparingly and only as a last resort when the person in question repeatedly refuses offers of support and engages in persistent anti-social behaviour. The Home Office and the Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government continue to work together, engaging with local authorities and charities to resolve the immigration status of eligible rough sleepers and helping them access support and benefits available.
The provisions in the New Plan for Immigration which aim to help those most in need while also cracking down on illegal immigration and human trafficking and to help refugees integrate once they have settled in the UK through assistance with accessing employment and sponsorship programmes should also do much to prevent migrants from becoming homeless.
Detention: I know the Government is committed to using immigration detention sparingly and only when necessary. Indefinite detention is not permitted in UK law. The Government is held to account on this by the courts, and by a series of safeguards that ensure proper scrutiny of decisions to detain, and on-going detention.
I know the Government is committed to using immigration detention sparingly and only when necessary. Indefinite detention is not permitted in UK law. In order for the detention of an individual to be lawful, there must be a realistic prospect of their removal within a reasonable timescale. The Government is held to account on this by the courts, and by a series of safeguards that ensure proper scrutiny of decisions to detain, and on-going detention.
In my view, a time limit is not only unnecessary, but it would also severely limit the Government’s ability to use detention as an effective means of maintaining lawful immigration control. I have been advised that any time limit would encourage those who seek to frustrate the removal process to run down the clock until the time limit is reached and release is guaranteed, regardless of the proximity of removal and the facts of the case.
I remain encouraged that the vast majority, 95 per cent, of people liable to be removed from the UK are granted immigration bail and there continues to be a general downward trend in the use of detention since 2015.
I understand you have concerns regarding the use of prisons for the purposes of immigration detention. It is important to consider that these individuals are held in prison because they have been assessed as unsuitable for the conditions of immigration removal centres. This is because they are high-risk or high harm.
After looking into this for you, there are dedicated Home Office teams working in prisons to support these individuals. Importantly, this includes access to legal advice. With regards to time-served foreign national offenders, these individuals are risked assessed before they are detained alongside other immigration offenders in the immigration detention estate. If they pose a significant risk of harm, they are detained within the prison estate.
Hassockfield: As I understand it, the Government is continuing to make progress with plans for an Immigration Removal Centre in Hassockfield. I have been reassured the Home Office will continue to consult with local representatives and the wider community over the coming months.
Illegal Immigration and the New Plan for Immigration: Illegal immigration must be tackled. A wide range of measures were introduced in the Immigration Acts 2014 and 2016 to remove the ability of illegal immigrants to remain in the UK in defiance of our immigration laws. These include allowing the earnings of illegal workers to be seized under the Proceeds of Crime Act, while employers of illegal workers also face tougher enforcement, with increased custodial sentences for those who persistently use illegal workers as a source of cheap labour.
It is also true that those who have no right to remain in the UK are expected to leave voluntarily and should take all reasonable steps to do so. If they do not leave voluntarily I know that the authorities will seek to enforce their removal.
In addition, as part of the Nationality and Borders Bill, new and tougher criminal offences will be introduced for those attempting to enter the UK illegally by raising the penalty for illegal entry from six months to four years imprisonment and introducing life sentences for people smugglers. Border Force will also be provided with additional powers to deter illegal entry to the UK.
I do, however, remain committed to an immigration policy which welcomes people to the UK through safe and legal routes. All illegal immigration should be deterred and prevented.
The Government is committed to taking back control of our borders and restoring trust in our immigration system. The Home Secretary has outlined plans to overhaul our approach to asylum and illegal migration, delivering a fair but firm system. This includes fairness towards those who need our help, and in welcoming people through safe and legal routes, but firmness in stopping abuse of the system and expediting the removal of those who have no legitimate claim for protection.
I was particularly encouraged that the New Plan For Immigration made clear that it is an essential responsibility of any Government to enforce and promote compliance with immigration laws, ensuring the swift return of those not entitled to be in the UK.
The increased pattern of repeated and often last-minute claims is challenging the Home Office's ability to lawfully remove individuals. It is therefore welcome that the Government has outlined that it needs to legislate further to ensure that people who have no right to be in the UK are swiftly removed from our country. To achieve this the Government will introduce a new one stop process so that all appeals and claims are brought at the very start of the process, upfront. This will reduce the cycle of endless claims while ensuring fair access to justice.
Ministers have also announced that claims from people entering illegally will be deemed inadmissible to the asylum process. If people are unable to be removed to another safe country, and their claim is successful in the UK they will receive temporary protection status and will be re-assessed for removal. The Home Secretary has also been clear that all options are still on the table.
Amnesty for illegal immigrants: I understand that the Immigration Rules already provide a route to regularise immigration status. I welcome the fact that these rules are kept under constant review and evolve in light of feedback and findings of the courts.
I welcome the fact that Ministers will bring forward legislation that delivers on the commitment to enforce and promote compliance with immigration laws and accelerate the operational response to illegal migration. I will follow the developments in this area closely as the Government takes action to rebuild trust in the immigration system.
Deporting Foreign Criminals: Any foreign national who comes to this country and abuses our hospitality by breaking the law should be in no doubt of the UK’s determination to deport them.
The UK Borders Act 2007, approved by Parliament, outlines that the Secretary of State must make a deportation order in respect of a foreign criminal sentenced to imprisonment for a period of 12 months or more, unless their case meets one of the exceptions set out in the Act. The Government has confirmed that it does not propose to change these provisions.
It is important not to forget that these individuals are criminals and have broken the law. I hope you can appreciate that it is not appropriate for me to comment in detail or about the specifics of individual cases, especially if legal proceedings are ongoing. It is important for anyone in public office not to jeopardise the legal process in any way.
I am concerned that Foreign National Offenders returns have fallen in recent years from 6,437 in 2016 to 5,118 in 2019. It does worry me that there are now over 10,000 Foreign National Offenders in the UK, many of whom have committed serious offences. It is important to consider that there are various contributing factors to these trends. However, the increased pattern of repeated and often last-minute claims is challenging the Home Office's ability to lawfully remove individuals. It is therefore welcome that the Government has outlined that it needs to legislate further to ensure that people who have no right to be in the UK, especially those who are a danger to our citizens are swiftly removed.
As part of the New Plan For Immigration, the Government will Increase the early removal provision for Foreign National Offenders who leave the UK from 9 months to 12 months to encourage departure. The Early Removal Scheme provides a window at the end of the sentence, during which the prisoner can be deported. This window will be increased from 9 months to 12 months, subject to serving at least 25 per cent of the full sentence in prison.
A new ‘stop the clock’ provision will be added so that they must complete their sentence if they return. This would be in addition to any sentence for returning in breach of a deportation order. The Government will also consider whether to more carefully control visa availability where a country does not co-operate with receiving their own nationals who have no right to be in the UK.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.
Craig Whittaker MP