Thousands of known illegal immigrants STILL got National Insurance numbers, admit ministers
By JAMES SLACK
The Daily Mail
Last updated at 01:24 13 May 2008
Tens of thousands of illegal immigrants were knowingly given National Insurance numbers over the past decade, it emerged last night.
The Department for Work and Pensions handed over the prized number – vital for securing a job – to any illegal immigrant so long as they had a partner who was a British citizen.
Despite the authorities having the illegal immigrant's full name and address, they gave them an NI number rather than tracking them down and deporting them.
Thousands of illegal immigrants were knowingly given NI numbers
The justification was that it allowed the Government to prevent benefit abuse, as NI numbers are needed for tax credits and other handouts.
But opponents said the simplest way to prevent fraud would have been deportation.
The department refused to give the number of illegal immigrants who had been issued numbers, but sources suggested it was in the “lower region of the tens of thousands” over ten years.
Shadow Home Secretary David Davis said: “It is outrageous that so many illegal immigrants were given NI numbers and that the Government were happy to sit idly by while it happened.
“If they had NI numbers the Government would have known their whereabouts. Why hasn't the Government acted to remove so many of these people?”
Sir Andrew Green, chairman of Migrationwatch UK, said: “This is a breathtaking situation.
“It seems that the Government have been knowingly dishing out tens of thousands of NI numbers to people who admit they were illegally present in the country. You could not make it up.”
Two years ago, a leaked memo revealed officials were issuing NI numbers to immigrants who they suspected might be here illegally, without further checks.
But it is the first time details have emerged of a deliberate policy of giving out the numbers to people who the Government knows for a fact have no right to live in the UK.
A statement was slipped out to Parliament on Friday, after most MPs had left for the weekend.
It did not reveal the scale of the fiasco, or give many details. It simply said the policy was being scrapped.
NI numbers are accepted as proof of identity, and can also be used to secure work.
Employers are supposed to carry out checks on a candidate's immigration status, but many simply take the NI number as proof of a person's status and identity.
The department said the policy, introduced in November 1997, was designed to prevent benefit fraud.
For example, it would prevent someone falsely claiming a couple's allowance by alerting benefits workers to the fact that the claimant's partner was an illegal immigrant.
But, by ordering the policy should now be scrapped, critics say it is an acceptance it was a huge mistake.
However, there will be no attempt made to recall any of the NI numbers, or check whether any of the illegal immigrants have used them to find work.
A Home Office spokesman said: “As soon as the Home Office is given information from DWP on potential immigration offenders, that information is passed on to local enforcement offices to investigate and take action where appropriate.”
Employment minister Stephen Timms said a new system would be introduced, adding: “The new rules will mean anyone who shouldn't claim benefits won't be able to get a NI number.”