Thousands of foreigners given New Year's Day as date of birth
Thousands of asylum seekers, illegal immigrants and other foreigners arriving in Britain every year are being given New Year's Day as their date of birth because officials don't know when they were born.
By Tom Whitehead, Home Affairs Editor
Last Updated: 7:36PM GMT 29 Jan 2009
More than 24,000 people were allotted January 1 for their birthday in the last year alone for immigration records.
In 2007, one in seven asylum seekers were handed the same date.
But police warned the default date was causing confusion in dealing with cases, especially if people they pick up have the same year of birth as well.
Sources also warned attempts to judge years meant some adults are being classed as children and therefore cannot be deported immediately if they are in the country unlawfully.
One police officer said: “The amount of asylum seekers we pick up with the same birthday is ridiculous. It's not just the fact that they are all, pretty much, born on New Year's Day, it's the year they were born in too.
“We arrest some asylum seekers with full beard and they are obviously not 16, but it says so on their papers and so they are convicted as minors and so can't be deported.
“It makes a complete mockery of the system.”
Figures show some 24,437 people had January 1 entered as their birthday on immigration databases in 2008.
The majority are foreign nationals such as asylum seekers, illegal immigrants, those arriving on marriage visas or work permits as well as visitors who are subject to immigration controls
The Home Office said it was necessary because some do not know their date of birth, although they often know the year, or have lost documents while others come from countries which operate on different calendars. Officials are often able to calculate the year of birth using other documents or health records.
A spokesman insisted many already arrive with the default date because officials in their home country have already assigned them it in documents.
Others on the system include British nationals who act as sponsors for immigrants whose birthday is genuinely January 1.
In 2007, some 21,652 were given the date, representing around 4 per cent of the 539,791 names entered on the system that year. It included around 3,000 of the 23,430 people who claimed asylum in that year – or one in seven.
Comparable figures for 2008 are not yet available.
An immigration source said: “The fact that we don't even know asylum seeker's date of birth gives you an indication about how little information we have on them.
“The simple fact is that we cannot process everyone who applies properly and the language barrier can be a major problem.
“We are told to hurry things along and that, of course, means we can't process people properly.”
Shadow home secretary Chris Grayling demanded that the UK Border Agency (UKBA) find out more about the people that it lets into the country.
He added: “This is an extraordinary situation, and underlines the fact that we have very little information about the people who are being allowed into the country. “It beggars belief that the Border Agency is doing so little to find out more.”
Sir Andrew Green, chairman of MigrationWatch, said: “It is no surprise that asylum seekers, many of them bogus, are queuing up in Calais.”
A UK Border Agency spokesman said: “The vast majority of people on our systems come here to work, study or visit with passports issued by their own national Governments which confirm their date of birth. Some are British citizens sponsoring applications.
“Anyone applying for asylum is fingerprinted and their details are checked against watch-lists.
“Where there are doubts about an applicant's age, independent age assessments are conducted by the local authorities and where necessary x-rays and paediatrician reports can be used to verify an individual's age.
“We are also rolling out ID cards for foreign nationals which are linked to their fingerprints and tie them to one identity. One thing is clear people can not hide their identity by giving their date of birth as 1 January.”