A first look at the “New Plan for Immigration”

The Home Office has published a new plan for immigration with the title, somehow both grandiloquent and banal, New Plan for Immigration. It is mainly concerned with asylum and people who enter the UK illegally (those two concepts being subtly mashed together) but there are also some miscellaneous proposals for tweaks to citizenship laws.

Bonus points for “safe and legal” arrivals

The word “illegal” or a derivative of it appears 74 times in the document, epitomised by the sentence “In 2019, 32,000 illegal attempts to enter the UK illegally were prevented in Northern France”. The idea is to contrast clandestine entry, including dangerous crossings of the English Channel, with the orderly process of resettlement directly from refugee camps under government programmes.

The reality is that such programmes, which have been on hiatus throughout the pandemic, do not represent a “queue” which asylum seekers considering a journey to the UK ought to join and wait their turn. Over the past five years, the UK has resettled around 26,000 refugees, including 20,000 Syrians. (This looks impressive by European standards but most EU countries receive far higher numbers of in-country asylum seekers.) The United Nations estimates that there are 26 million refugees around the world, and they cannot in any case apply directly for resettlement in the UK, instead being selected by NGOs.

At any rate, the strategy is to contrast refugees who have arrived through “illegal” routes with those who have travelled via “safe and legal routes”. The latter are to be treated better than the former, creating a sort of two-tier asylum system.

Bones thrown to the “safe and legal” cohort include:

  • Indefinite leave to remain on arrival for resettled refugees, rather than five years’ temporary permission leading to ILR as now.
  • A possible tweak to the family reunion rules such that “unmarried dependent children under the age of 21”, rather than under 18 as now, can come to the UK if both their parents are here as refugees already.
  • A bit of extra funding for integration programmes, already announced, “tailored and flexible employment support arrangements” and improved English language teaching.
  • Some chat about reopening resettlement schemes, but with no timetable nor numerical target akin to the “20,000 Syrians in five years” in place between 2015 and 2020.

Punishment of clandestine entrants

By contrast, people who have entered the UK illegally to claim asylum, or who have travelled through a “safe third country” such as France, will be have fewer rights than before.

Rules allowing the Home Office to refuse even to consider an asylum claim where the person has come via a safe third country are already in place but get another airing. We are told that “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”.

There will be a “rebuttable presumption” that people can be returned to EU and other developed countries, and sections 77 and 78 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 amended so that people can be removed despite having a pending asylum claim or appeal. This is all academic given that punting asylum seekers to other countries is admitted to be “contingent on securing returns agreements”, which do not exist (but will be pursued).

So instead, people in this position will be punished with a new “temporary protection status” instead of refugee status. This is for people with inadmissible claims but who cannot be returned. It will be a grant of permission to remain in the UK for no longer than 30 months, with no recourse to public funds and “restricted” family reunion rights.

There will be an increase in the maximum sentence for entering the UK illegally. The maximum currently is six months, but the document does not say what this would change to. The separate “facilitation” offence of assisting unlawful immigration will now attract a maximum of life in prison, up from 14 years (in reality the average sentence is three and a bit years).

Tweaks to British nationality law 

Finally there are to be some changes to nationality law. This has nothing whatever to do with the main themes of the policy statement.

The nationality measures mostly concern niche scenarios (nevertheless very important to those affected). One is where someone is unable to inherit British citizenship from their father because their mother is still married to someone else, in which case the law deems the husband to be the parent for citizenship purposes. Such children will in future be entitled to register as British, rather than registration being at the discretion of the Home Office.

Children of British Overseas Territories citizens who did not inherit that citizenship because of discriminatory rules (e.g. against unmarried fathers) will also get new routes to citizenship via registration. Such routes were introduced in respect of full British citizens years ago — sections 4C and 4F of the British Nationality Act 1981 — and these are essentially being extended to British Overseas Territories citizens too. 

As a general backstop, there will be a “new discretionary adult registration route”. This will allow adults, not just children, to get citizenship at the discretion of the Home Office “in compelling cases”. The existing equivalent for children is section 3(1) of the 1981 Act.

There will be more flexibility introduced on the residence requirements for citizenship, essentially in response to this case.

However, officials think that the route to citizenship for stateless children — paragraph 3 of Schedule 2 to the 1981 Act — is being abused. As a result, there will be extra “requirements and actions parents are required to follow before their children are able to benefit from statelessness provisions”.

Consultation with the public

A consultation on many of the proposed measures will run until 6 May 2021.

Posted in English on Mar 24, 2021.