Recent research claimed that there could be as many as 1.1 million illegal immigrants in the UK. However, these figures were published by a lobbying group who favour greater control over immigration. In 2005 the UK’s Home Office released a survey which suggested that there were between 310,000 and 570,000 illegal immigrants in the UK at that time. Research carried out in 2009 on behalf of the Mayor of London gave a figure of up to 863,000.
It is almost impossible to get an accurate figure for illegal immigrants who will be largely undocumented and likely to want to avoid detection. There are many ways in which an individual could end up in this nebulous category.
People Who Remain in the UK after Their Visa Expires
Not all illegal immigrants in the UK start off as illegal immigrants. Many will have entered the UK legally, having obtained a visa to do so. However, some will have then remained in the country after their documents expired or after the circumstances entitling them to be in the UK changed.
As with all statistics relating to illegal immigrants the numbers for this category vary hugely. Estimates for “visa over-stayers” tend to range between about 10,000 and 60,000 each year depending on the source of the statistics and the method of calculation used. The majority of illegal immigrants in the UK at any one time may well have initially entered the country legally.
People who Obtain Visas Under False Pretences
The UK’s student and marriage visa systems appear to have been particularly prone to abuse. The student visa system has already been substantially overhauled. However, concerns remain about the number of foreign students who remain in the UK after their period of study has ended.
“Sham marriages” have been the subject of many stories regarding abuse of the UK’s immigration system. In 2005 a new rule was introduced which meant that a certificate of approval was required before a foreign national could marry a UK resident. This led to an immediate drop in the number of sham marriages being reported – from over 3500 in 2004 to fewer than 500 in 2005. The numbers have stayed at around that level since then although a significant increase was reported in 2009.
Failed Asylum Seekers
The UK authorities’ failure to implement a systematic process for dealing with failed asylum seekers is often criticised. In the year from mid 2009 to mid 2010 there were nearly 17,000 applications made for asylum in the UK compared to over 25,000 during the preceding year. Despite the drop in asylum seekers there still remains a huge backlog of earlier applications.
Over that same two year period, on average, over 70% of applications were refused at first instance. Even after exhausting the appeals process many applicants are refused asylum. However, they will remain in the UK until they leave voluntarily or are deported. The immigration authorities may lose track of some of these failed asylum seekers and they could remain in the UK illegally. Fears that this is a common occurrence are compounded whenever a story hits the headlines about a failed asylum seeker who has been convicted or accused of a serious crime.
Attempting to Enter the UK Illegally
Many illegal immigrants in the UK will have entered Europe via another country before making their way across the continent towards Britain. Even if they are picked up en route, the immigration authorities who patrol Europe’s borders may do little more than question them before asking them to leave Europe voluntarily. This enables some illegal immigrants to head towards the UK’s borders. The Channel ports in the south of England are an obvious target. Illegal immigrants may attempt to stow away in vehicles carrying freight across the border or even attempt to walk through the Channel Tunnel. Calais has been the scene of unrest as the French authorities attempted to deal with the large number of illegal immigrants camped there, waiting for a chance to get across the Channel.
Tighter border controls have led to increased checks on vehicles entering the UK at Channel ports, which in turn has led to a surge in the number of illegal immigrants being picked up as they try to enter the UK. In 2008 border authorities intercepted nearly 20,000 illegal immigrants trying to enter the UK via Calais as opposed to 7500 in 2004. However, it is impossible to say how many people still manage to enter the UK using this method and whether the increase simply reflects a rise in the total number trying to enter the UK.