Home Secretary Proposes "New Plan for Immigration"
On 24th March 2021, British Home Secretary, Priti Patel, spoke to parliament regarding the ‘New Plan for Immigration’. The focus of the speech by Ms Patel was on the Home Office’s assessment of the UK’s current system for asylum seekers, its weaknesses, and the changes they are planning to implement over the coming months. In this article, we will discuss the Home Secretary’s statement to parliament on the New Plan for Immigration and what this means in real terms.
What Did Priti Patel Tell The UK Parliament?
In her speech to parliament on 24th March 2021, Ms Patel made it clear that she wants to radically shift British policy towards asylum seekers. She said, “I am introducing the most significant overhaul of our asylum system in decades”. In the next few sentences, she justified the need for a radical overhaul by reminding parliament that people are dying and that they have a “responsibility to act”. She stated, “People are dying - at sea, in lorries and in shipping containers - have put their lives in the hands of criminal gangs that facilitate illegal journeys to the UK. To stop the deaths, we must stop the trade in people that cause them”.
Ms Patel then reminded parliament how much immigration enriches our country and that we “celebrate those who have move to the UK lawfully and helped build Britain. We always will”. She also outlined how many people have been resettled in the UK (25,000) and that “nobody can say that the British public is not fair or generous when it comes to helping those in need”.
At this point, it was clear that a ‘but’ was coming. Indeed, the next part of her speech shined a light on the abuse by some of the British immigration systems, explaining:
- Our asylum system should be based on the need of immigrants rather than their ability to pay people smugglers
- Our system is collapsing under the pressure of parallel illegal routes to asylum, facilitated by criminal smugglers
- Asylum seekers should claim asylum in other safe countries through which they pass
- 8,500 people arrived by small boat in 2020
- The system is almost overwhelmed – 109,000 claims are sitting in the asylum queue – 52,000 awaiting an initial asylum decision. Almost three-quarters of those waiting a year or more.
- 42,000 failed asylum seekers have not left the country, despite having their claim refused
What Is The Home Secretary’s New Plan For Immigration?
Having explained the premise for change to the asylum system in the UK, Ms Patel went on to outline the objectives of the New Plan. These are 1) fairness to others who need protection, 2) to deter illegal entry and to break the ‘business model’ of people smugglers and 3) to make it easier to remove those with no right to remain.
The Home Office intend to achieve their New Plan for Immigration by incentivising migrants to use government-approved resettlement routes, such as the Syrian Resettlement Programme. Those who enter the UK and have their application approved will be given indefinite leave to remain. In addition, they will be offered support to adjust to their new lives and find employment.
On the flip-side, it sounds like the Home Office will reject applications made by those who claim asylum after arriving through non-approved routes; “For the first time, whether people enter the UK legally or illegally will have an impact on how their asylum claim progresses, and on their status in the UK if that claim is successful”. She then stated, “We will deem their claim as inadmissible, and make every effort to remove those who enter the UK illegally having travelled through a safe country first in which they could and should have claimed asylum”. She also made it clear that anyone who cannot be removed and their claim is successful will only receive ‘temporary protected status.
Ms Patel further explained that the Home Office intends to:
- Implement new maximum life sentences for people smugglers and facilitators.
- Introduce new rules to stop asylum seekers posing as children.
- Strengthen enforcement powers for the UK’s Border Force.
- Rapidly remove those with no right to be here in the UK.
- Establish a fast-track appeals process.
- Streamline the appeals system and making quicker removal decisions for failed asylum seekers and dangerous foreign criminals.
Is The New Plan For Immigration Likely To Happen?
The main problem with the ‘New Plan’ is that it risks breaching the 1951 UN Refugee Convention (the 1951 Convention). While the UK is now no longer a member of the European Union, we are still very much signed up to the 1951 Convention. One of the main areas of concern with the ‘New Plan’ is that it draws a faulty distinction between legal and illegal modes of entry to the UK. Under the law, everyone has a right to claim asylum in any country which has signed up to the 1951 Convention. Arriving on a small dinghy from Northern France after paying money to a people smuggler does not make a person an ‘illegal asylum seeker’.
Another concern is that under the government’s plan, they will only assist those who arrive under a resettlement programme they have approved. Anyone else may simply be refused because they do not tick one of the government’s boxes, even if they are desperately in need. In addition, sending people back to a safe country through which they have already travelled ignores the fact that many migrants choose the UK because they have familial connections here.
We will need to wait for the final version of the ‘New Plan for Immigration’ in the coming months. As we have written in previous articles, the challenge the government is going to have is how to implement their ideas without breaching international law. People smugglers do need to be put out of business, but the focus needs to be on the protection and welfare of highly vulnerable men, women, and children fleeing violence and persecution. This should be the primary focus of the Home Office.