Select Committee on Home Affairs First Report



53.  In the five year period up to 1999-2000 the budget for the Immigration Service remained virtually unchanged after inflation. The budget for the Ports Directorate was £86 million in 1995-96 and £90.5 million in 1998-99 before rising to £99.6 million in 1999-2000 and £116 million in 2000-2001. Combining the budgets of the Ports and Enforcement Directorates gave the Immigration Service a total budget of just under £146 million in 1999-2000.[38] No new staff were recruited and there were few promotions. Staff numbers have remained at about 2,450 from January 1995 to July 2000, dipping to a low of 2,376 in May 1999. We understand that Operation Rawhide to place immigration officers on ferries arriving in the UK was limited by staff shortages. We welcome the fact that more staff are now being taken on, trained and deployed - some 1,000 new posts are being added to the 2,600 in the ports directorate in 2000-01.[39] The budget from 1995-96 is set out in Chart G (after paragraph 54).

"Staff shortages [in the Immigration Service] meant that there were never enough officers available to meet any identified shortfall." Home Office evidence, Appendix 1 para 4.5

54.  The Director General of the Immigration and Nationality Directorate told us:

    "I think having suffered a period when there was not only in cash terms but in the relationship between the number of staff and the work of the job to be done a real decline, we are now in a completely different situation, both as regards the port and as regards enforcement..... During the current year we are bringing in about 1,200 additional immigration officers, about 500 assistant immigration officers, split between ports ... and enforcement .... So the Enforcement Directorate, not only in cash terms but with some capital expenditure, is doubling in size in terms of the people who can deliver the job. This is an enormous transformation.

 Alongside the transformation are the increases in staffing on the case working side, ... 400 extra case workers for the current year. .. you would expect any manager to say one could always do with more but this is putting us in a position to get on top of the job in a way which has not been the case for a very large number of years, indeed the key lesson perhaps from history is once the backlog builds up it takes a great deal of time to get on top and get back in a real sense of the situation. We are now on our way to doing that, although not by any means there yet".[40]

55.  The legal basis for carriers' liability and more flexible entry controls is the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. This legislation flows from policy decisions in 1998, enacted a year later and being implemented now - at least a two year lag between policy and delivery. The new flexibility came into effect on 30 July 2000 and is contained in the Immigration (Leave to Enter and Remain) Order 2000 which provides for:[41]

  • advance clearance to enter the UK for low risk groups such as tour parties

  • permission to enter to be given in writing, by fax, electronically or orally

  • such permission can be given through a third party rather than directly

  • the control can be operated abroad

  • capacity to keep pace with new developments such as identification by use of biometrics.

56.  Flexibility has much to be said for it - not just in concentrating resources on the areas of highest risk. It is also an attitude of mind which is needed to adjust to new situations. For instance, we saw at Harwich how the Football (Disorder) Act 2000 is reviving a need to monitor those leaving the UK - a role given up by the Immigration Service in 1998 - other than through the use of CCTV. One consequence of this is the lack of official information on how many people refused asylum have actually left the country. A switch by traffickers from hiding illegal immigrants on lorries to using fast small boats would require the border agencies to apply different skills and equipment. A more dramatic example of flexibility is the German border police officer in charge of the motorway crossing at Waidhaus between Bavaria and the Czech Republic, who has seen the Iron Curtain replaced by a staffed frontier post, which may in itself be made redundant when the Czech Republic becomes a full member of the EU under the Schengen arrangements.

57.  We welcome this significant increase in resources for the Immigration Service. We recognise, however, that the sharp increase in asylum applicants makes that increased funding essential and we believe that it must be sustained. Recent experience has shown that it takes time to recover from under-investment in equipment and staff.

58.  We welcome new government measures to tackle organised people-smuggling. Given the pressures from economic migrants and refugees and the way organised traffickers change their methods, border controls can be tightened but will only reduce the number of illegal immigrants if used in conjunction with other measures to reduce the factors attracting people to the UK.

59.  The new powers for the Immigration Service - to work more flexibly, to be intelligence-led and to concentrate their resources on the arrivals who pose the highest risk - are welcome, but it is too early to judge their efficiency in the use of resources or its effectiveness in detecting and deterring illegal entry.

60.  The sharing of intelligence, profiling methods and joint working arrangements by border agencies could well have a larger deterrent influence, at little or no significant new cost.


61.  We were told by Professor Goodwin-Gill, Professor of International Refugee Law at the University of Oxford, that the lack of timely and proper decision-taking on asylum-seekers was an encouragement to people coming to the UK - if those processes were improved, people would be deterred from seeking to enter the country.[42] We were told at Harwich about people arriving in East Anglia from Baltic countries to work in agriculture and local factories before returning home - the length of the asylum process has made this possible. The Trade and Industry Committee has drawn our attention to this:

    "One matter which technically falls outside the ambit of this Committee but which is of too great a level of political significance to pass over in silence is the question of asylum seekers from the Baltic states and the related issues of the possibility for citizens of the Baltic States to take up various kinds of work in the UK".[43]

62.  The Government reply said:

    "The number of asylum seekers from the region, particularly Lithuania (third in the CEE league behind the Czech Republic and Romania), is something we take very seriously. In the first 6 months of this year there was a 57% increase in the number of Lithuanian asylum seekers over the corresponding period last year. Much of the problem stems from organised crime. HM Ambassador in Vilnius has raised the government's concerns at ministerial level. The government recognises that the authorities are taking steps to tackle the problem and that they are also aware that, if the situation does not improve, a visa regime may be imposed".[44]


63.  The Home Office does not know how many people refused asylum leave of their own accord.[45] Consequently, the Home Secretary does not know how many failed asylum seekers remain in the country without having been given exceptional leave to remain.[46] In recent years, however, only a small proportion of those who have entered the country illegally and those who have been refused asylum have actually been removed from the country. In the decade 1990-99 the UK accepted 12.1% of asylum applicants as genuine refugees, compared with an EU average of 11.1% and a world-wide average of 15%. In 1999 enforcement action was taken against 22,880 people and 6,410 left the country.[47] (The people who actually left in 1999 may well have arrived - and the decisions in their cases may have been taken - in earlier years.) Also in 1999, 10,685 people were refused asylum and 2,760 people who had been refused asylum (either in that year or earlier) were recorded as leaving the country. Details of asylum applications, decisions and removal are set out in charts H and I (after paragraph 69).

64.  The Immigration Service is planning a 50% increase in the number of illegal entrants deported this year - from 8,000 to 12,000.[48] In the six months to 30 September 2000, 4,870 failed asylum seekers were removed - making a total of 7,610 in the first ten months of 2000.[49] Its Service Delivery Agreement for the coming three years envisages a substantial expansion:

  • increase the proportion of failed asylum seekers removed, by removing 30,000 failed asylum seekers in 2001/02; 33,000 in 2002/03; and 37,000 in 2003/04

  • increase the number of non asylum offenders removed, to 3,600 in 2001/02; 3,800 in 2002/03; and 4,000 in 2003/04.

  • ensure a detention capacity of 2,200 detention places by March 2004 (increased from 890 in June 2000).

65.  The new reception centre opened at Oakington near Cambridge on 20 March 2000. It has the capacity to detain 400 asylum-seekers at one time and to deal with up to 13,000 cases a year. Legal advice is available on site from voluntary agencies. Applications are decided within seven days, with appeals handled within three weeks. The Home Secretary told us that the quality of decision-making at Oakington is extremely high.[50] Only 28 of the 763 appeals against refusals of asylum were allowed - so 96.3% of the Home Office decisions were upheld.[51] Some 231 had been removed from the country by 21 November 2000, of whom 120 had their final appeals rejected. Enforcement action is still due to be taken against the remaining 500 or so who are at large in the community.[52] In April to September 2000, the Home Office's initial decision was upheld on appeal in 82% of asylum appeals, compared with 58 % of non-asylum appeals in the same period and 63% of asylum appeals in the previous year.[53] These results may also reflect the quality of the initial legal advice given.

66.  This is faster than the Government's new target that, from April 2001, most initial decisions on asylum applications should be made within two months and most appeals decided within a further four months.[54] Until recently this process was taking 20 months.[55] For applications lodged after July 1993, the average time to an initial decision was between 11 and 16 months in the four years 1996 to 1999.[56] At the same time the Home Office is tackling the backlog of asylum applications made and not dealt with fully in the previous years. The Home Secretary told us on 7 November 2000:

    "the level of applications has stabilised for asylum in this country, whilst in other European countries ­ and there are some key ones, the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium ­ it appears to be rising". [57]

Since then the figures for October and November 2000 have shown a slight rise in the number of asylum applications - and for December 2000 a slight drop - as shown in Chart D (after paragraph 22).

67.  Our inquiry has focussed on measures to deter and detect illegal entry into the UK. It is clear that these measures are not fully effective. One reason no one knows how many people are staying illegally in the country is that there is no system for monitoring departure. Because the Home Office does not record whether visitors, students and failed asylum-seekers have left the country, it cannot tell how many people have remained beyond the time permitted. This in itself must make the UK very attractive - a 'pull' factor' - to those with doubtful claims to refugee status.

68.  One way of tackling this gaping hole in the system would be to provide an incentive for people legitimately in the country to notify the authorities of their departure. One possibility would be for part of the fee paid for a visa application to be refunded on departure.

69.  We conclude that the Home Office has been dilatory in enforcing the removal of people whose asylum claims have been refused and others who have gained illegal entry to the UK. This in itself has attracted more people to the UK. The additional resources being committed to enforcement are welcome. The target of 30,000 removals in 2001-02 - a ten-fold increase over the 1999 figure - seems a very ambitious goal.

38  Appendix 1 para 1.6. Back

39  Q 35. Back

40  Q 509 (Mr Boys Smith). Back

41  Appendix 1 annex 12. Back

42  Q 290. Back

43  Twelfth Report from the Trade and Industry Committee 1999-2000 HC835. Back

44  Government reply HC 307 to Twelfth Report from the Trade and Industry Committee 1999-2000.  Back

45  Q 93 (Mr Boys Smith). Back

46  Q 414 (Home Secretary). Back

47  Control of Immigration Statistics 1999 table 7.1. Back

48  Q 92 (Mr Boys Smith). Back

49  Official Report 14 December 2000 col 263w and Appendix 27. Back

50  Q 428. Back

51  Oral evidence by the Home Secretary on 21 November 2000 HC 994-i (1999-2000) Q 62. Back

52  Oral evidence on 21 November 2000 HC 994-i (1999-2000) Q 57 and 64. Back

53  Official Report 20 November 2000 col 91W. Back

54  Q 12, Q 409 (Mr Boys Smith). Back

55  Q 409 (Home Secretary). Back

56  Official Report 11 December 2000 col 52w. Back

57  Q 410 (Home Secretary). Back

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