Proposed new laws will be introduced to Parliament on Tuesday under the Nationality and Borders Bill as part of the Home Office’s anticipated “new plan for immigration".
Earlier this year, Home Secretary Priti Patel vowed to tackle “illegal migration head-on” as she announced the “most significant overhaul of our asylum system in decades”.
The government insists the plan will be “fair but firm” and will put those with a genuine need for refuge at the heart of proposals, as well as pledging to tackle people smugglers and remove people from the UK who have “no right” to be there.
However, ahead of the plan being introduced to Parliament, campaigners have dubbed it the “anti-refugee Bill”, claiming it will penalise those who need help the most and arguing that thousands of refugees could be turned away under the stringent reforms to immigration laws.
What are the key points of the plan?
Priti Patel has put forward three objectives:
1. To support those in genuine need for asylum.
2. To deter “illegal” entry into the UK.
3. To remove more easily those with “no right” to be in the country.
The exact details of the proposals are wide-ranging, but some of the plans highlighted by the Home Office so far include:
Making it a criminal offence to knowingly arrive in the UK without permission, with the maximum sentence for those entering the country unlawfully rising from six months’ imprisonment to four years.
Increasing the tariff for people smugglers, with those found guilty facing maximum life sentences – up from the current maximum of 14 years.
Efforts to speed up the removal of people whose claims are refused.
Change the way someone’s age is assessed to protect children from being wrongly moved into the adult asylum system and “stop illegal entrants falsely claiming to be children”.
Tougher laws against people who pretend to be victims of modern slavery.
The laws would give the Home Secretary the power to “control visa availability for countries refusing to take back their own citizens”.
The plans will also include details on the removal of asylum seekers to offshore centres where the will remain while their claims or appeals are being processed.
For the first time, whether someone enters 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, according to the Home Office.
The government has insisted that safe and legal routes will still be made available to refugees, and those coming to the UK in this manner will be granted immediate indefinite leave to remain.
Listen to our politics podcast, Calling Peston
Why is the plan being introduced?
The Conservative election manifesto promised to change the immigration system, with the government for some time vowing to reform the asylum system.
The stricter rules under the proposed new Bill are part of Home Secretary Priti Patel’s pledge to “fix” the UK’s “broken asylum system”.
Previously known as the Sovereign Borders Bill, it is part of a swathe of policies the government is now planning to implement, focusing on how claims for asylum are processed and who could ultimately be granted protection and permission to remain in the UK.
Tougher punishments are in a bid to prevent “asylum shopping”, the department said, as it accused some migrants of “picking the UK as a preferred destination over others” when asylum could have been claimed earlier in their journey through Europe at another “safe” country.
The Bill’s unveiling comes after record numbers of people made the perilous journey across the English Channel in small boats so far this year, with nearly 6,000 reaching the UK in the first six months of 2021.
The total figure for 2020 – 8,417 – could be eclipsed within two months if the number of crossings seen in July and August last year are repeated, according to analysis by the PA news agency.
Writing for the Daily Mail, Ms Patel said: "Whether it is economic migrants trying to game our system, or genuine asylum seekers, it is always the same vile criminal gangs, exploiting vulnerable people like human cargo for a quick payday."
Writing about the new plan's "rigorous" age assessment, Ms Patel said: "Daily Mail readers will know that not all crossings are families with young children – 74 per cent of those arriving by small boat in 2020 were aged 18 to 39, and 87 per cent were male. "This cannot go on and as Home Secretary I will not allow this to continue".
She added that the "common-sense measures" are about "fairness" and said that tackling illegal migration was the way to stop the trade in people and reform the country's "broken asylum system".
"And we will stop people, who have come here illegally, being able to stay with endless appeals against their removal. It is sickening that so many people who have no right to be here are able to play the system and stop us removing them. Our one-stop process will stop this cycle of appeals," she wrote.
Home Secretary Priti Patel spoke to ITV News in March 2021 about the proposals
What has the response been?
Charities and campaigners have widely condemned the plans accusing it of being “inhumane” for judging asylum seekers on how they arrived in the UK, and not on merit.
More than 250 organisations – including the Refugee Council, the British Red Cross, Freedom from Torture, Refugee Action and Asylum Matters – have joined to form the coalition Together with Refugees to call for a more effective, fair and humane approach to the UK’s asylum system.
Some immigration experts have suggested the changes could “reduce” the amount of protection offered to “possibly the majority” of people who make asylum claims in the UK.
Analysis of Home Office data by the Refugee Council suggests 9,000 people who would be accepted as refugees under current rules – those confirmed to have fled war or persecution following official checks – may no longer be given safety in the UK due to their method of arrival under the reforms.
The charity’s executive Enver Solomon said for decades people had taken “extraordinary measures to flee oppression” but had gone on to become “law abiding citizens playing by the rules and paying their taxes as proud Britons”.
He accused the government of “choosing to not only turn away those in need of safety but also treat them as criminals”, adding: “This anti-refugee Bill will drive an already inefficient and ineffective system into disarray with even worse delays and far greater expense.