Thank you for contacting me about the Nationality and Borders Bill.
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.
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 introduced plans to overhaul our approach to asylum and illegal migration, delivering a fair but firm system. The Nationality and Borders Bill 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 will continue to closely monitor this Bill's progress through Parliament.
I was also 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's Nationality and Borders Bill will 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, among other things, will confirm that the UK may remove people including criminals to a safe third country, introduce a power to impose visa penalties, and ensure that compliance with the asylum or removal process without good reason must be considered in deciding whether to grant immigration bail.
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.
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 will follow the developments in this area closely as the Government takes action to rebuild trust in the immigration system.
Asylum-seekers and 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.
Let me assure you that the new Nationality and Borders Bill will allow the UK continue to resettle genuine refugees directly from places of danger and offer refugee family reunions. It will improve support for refugees to help them build their life in the UK, integrate and become self-sufficient members of society. The Bill also seeks to introduce a new temporary protection status for those who do not come directly to the UK or claim asylum without delay once here but who have, in any event, been recognised as requiring protection.
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, and I will continue to ensure that this is the case. 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 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.
Consultation & Engagement
I welcome the fact that the Government consulted widely on this issue. I hope you took the opportunity to share your views as thousands of stakeholders, sectors and members of the public did over a six-week period from 24 March 2021. The consultation process, consisted of an online platform, in-depth stakeholder sessions and speaking directly to refugees and asylum seekers. I can assure you that the consultation was delivered in line with established principles and relevant statutory duties.
Human Rights & International Obligations
I would like to reassure you that the proposals in the New Plan for Immigration and the Nationality and Borders Bill fully comply with the UK's global obligations including commitments to the European Convention on Human Rights and the UN Refugee Convention. As you will be aware, through the Bill, whether people enter the UK legally or illegally may also have an impact on how their asylum claim progresses, and on their status in the UK if that claim is successful. After looking into this, the UN Refugee Convention does allow for different treatment where, for example, refugees have not come directly from a country of persecution. For example, if someone enters the UK via a safe country, where they could have claimed asylum, they are not seeking refuge from imminent peril. Therefore, returning them to a safe third country is not inconsistent with the UN Refugee Convention.
Reception Centres and Accommodation
In order to make the system fairer and more effective, the Government plans to introduce new asylum reception centres, to replace hotels. I understand that the reception centre model is used in many European countries including Switzerland and Denmark. These will provide simple, safe and secure accommodation to stay in while their claims and returns are being processed.
Review of safe and legal routes
The Government has committed to review safe and legal routes to the UK for those who need protection and has a statutory duty to conduct a public consultation on family reunion for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in the EU. You may be pleased to hear that Ministers have met the statutory commitment to seek views on this issue through the New Plan for Immigration consultation. The Government rightly wants to listen to responses on this issue and reflect before deciding the future approach on this and on wider safe and legal routes to the UK. I welcome the fact that the Government is now analysing the feedback received.
Impact of Leaving the EU
While the Trade and Cooperation Agreement between the EU and the UK does not include provisions on asylum, returns, family reunion for unaccompanied minors, or illegal migration, both the UK and EU note the importance of good management of migratory flows, and recognise the geographical and logistical circumstances, including the ferry services and the Common Travel Area. Therefore, I welcome that the UK and EU released a joint political declaration which made clear the UK's intention to engage in bilateral discussions with the most concerned Member States to discuss suitable practical arrangements on asylum, family reunion for unaccompanied minors or illegal migration.
'The Dubs Amendment'
As you mention, 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 has provided the opportunity to contribute views on the Government’s future approach on safe and legal routes to the UK including on family reunion for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children.
Partnership with local authorities and community sponsors
You may be pleased to hear that the UK’s resettlement schemes have been supported by over 300 local authorities to date, across all parts of the UK. Additionally, the Community Sponsorship Scheme enables local volunteer groups including charities and faith groups, to directly welcome and support refugees, helping with accommodation and integration support. Under the New Plan for Immigration the Government will work to ensure more resettled refugees can enter the UK through community sponsorship, encouraging stronger partnerships between local government and community groups.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.
Craig Whittaker MP