200,000 'lost' asylum seekers may stay
By Philip Johnston,
Home Affairs Editor
Last Updated: 1:34am BST 02/04/2007
More than 200,000 failed asylum seekers may stay in Britain indefinitely because they cannot be traced.
Officials have conceded that nearly half of the 450,000 “legacy cases” in which the applicants are left in limbo may never be cleared.
Ministers have flatly ruled out an amnesty and have pledged to remove everyone not entitled to be here within five years.
Some “legacy” cases date back 15 years and experts believe the Government will not be able to fulfil its pledge to clear the backlog by July 2011. Officials attending a recent meeting to discuss the legacy policy were told that half of the 450,000 are “untraceable”.
They were also told that 18,000 foreign nationals who have committed crimes in Britain were earmarked for deportation, the first time an official figure has been given.
Damian Green, the Conservative immigration spokesman, said: “It is concerning that there may be such a large number of foreign criminals possibly at large and that the Government is admitting defeat by writing off up to 200,000 lost asylum seekers.”
Sir Andrew Green, the chairman of Migration Watch, said: “It is time they [the Government] came clean to the public about the possibly serious implication for the asylum system.”
A Home Office spokesman said: “We remain confident that we will be able to clear the entire current legacy of cases by July 2011.”
The Home Office is already reviewing the cases of 4,000 failed asylum seekers in Scotland after pressure from the executive in Edinburgh.
As immigration is not a devolved matter, this move could be significant for policy in England, where most of the unsuccessful asylum seekers live.
Many countries, including America, have regularisation programmes for failed asylum seekers or illegal immigrants. Spain has just completed its fifth amnesty.
But a Commons committee last year said an amnesty in Britain would encourage the view that breaches of the immigration rules may be rewarded and undermine confidence in the system.
Last week's Whitehall shake-up left immigration in the hands of the Home Office but day-to-day policy will be handed over to a new Borders agency which comes into being today.
Also from today, any foreign national wanting to settle here will be required to take tests in the English language and the British way of life. This brings long-term immigrants into line with people who seek UK citizenship, who already have to sit the tests.
Last year 180,000 people were granted settlement to stay. Some go on to seek British nationality but others may choose to retain their own while staying permanently.
The Government believes migrants wishing to live in the UK permanently should properly integrate and understand the society they are joining.
Applicants who already possess a good standard of English will take the existing Life in the UK exam. Immigrants with poorer English can take a specially developed English for Speakers of Other Languages course with a simplified citizenship course.
The Life in the UK test is aimed at those with a good grasp of English and their pass mark will be at least 75 per cent. Each applicant sits a 45-minute exam of 24 questions to show a basic knowledge of national culture.
Those less accomplished in English can attend a combined language and citizenship class instead. They will be expected to complete the course “successfully” but do not have to pass the exam to gain citizenship.
A government handbook, Life in the UK, contains much of the information that will feature in the tests, including what to do if you spill someone's pint in a pub (offer to buy another).
Some immigrants and asylum seekers have cheated their way to UK citizenship by buying answers to the Home Office “Britishness” test.
Mandarin-speaking Chinese have paid 150 for the list in London's Soho, so they know which boxes to tick when they take the exam.
Now the Home Office has changed the questions, although applicants who studied the previous handbook are still allowed to take an exam based on the old questions.
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7 March 2007: Reid gets tough on migrants – by text