What are the plans to reform the asylum system?

Flora Thompson, PA Home Affairs Correspondent
·4-min read

Home Secretary Priti Patel has 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.

The PA news agency takes a look at the plans:

– What has happened?

The Conservative election manifesto promised to change the immigration system, with the Government for some time vowing to reform the asylum system, having described it as “broken” and “overwhelmed”.

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Wednesday’s announcement is part of a swathe of policies the Government now plans to implement, focusing on how claims for asylum are processed and who could ultimately be granted protection and permission to remain in the UK.

According to the Home Office, there are 109,000 outstanding claims for asylum waiting to be processed, with 52,000 of those awaiting an initial decision.

Around 62% of all claims are made by people who have entered the UK “illegally”, and 42,000 failed asylum seekers are still living in the country, the department said.

Last year, about 8,500 people arrived in the UK by crossing the Channel in small boats and the majority claimed asylum, the Home Office said. Around 800 are estimated to have made the crossing so far this year.

– What are the key points of the plan?

Ms Patel put forward three “fair but firm 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

– How will this work?

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, the Home Office said.

Home Secretary Priti Patel
Home Secretary Priti Patel said the plans are ‘fair but firm’ (Aaron Chown/PA)

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.

– What has been the response so far?

Ms Patel described the system as “open to gaming by economic migrants and exploitation by criminals”, saying this was “eroding public trust and disadvantaging vulnerable people who need our help”.

But the plans have been condemned by campaigners and charities, with some branding the plans to judge asylum seekers on how they arrived in the UK, and not on merit, as “inhumane”.

Some immigration experts suggested the changes could “reduce” the amount of protection offered to “possibly the majority” of people who make asylum claims in the UK.

– What else is in the plans?

The proposals are wide-ranging and also include:

Efforts to speed up the removal of people whose claims are refused.

“Rigorous” age assessments to stop adult migrants pretending to be children.

Tougher laws against people who pretend to be victims of modern slavery.

Maximum life sentences for people smugglers.

Protection for vulnerable people in “immediate danger and at risk in their home country”.

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Addressing “historic anomalies” in the citizenship system under British nationality law dating back to the 1980s such as making sure the children of British Overseas Territories Citizen (BOTC) can acquire citizenship more easily and giving the Home Secretary the ability to grant citizenship in “compelling and exceptional circumstances”.

The Government also wants to waive some rules so “Windrush victims are not prevented from qualifying for British citizenship because they were not able to return to the UK to meet the residence requirements through no fault of their own”.

– What happens now?

A public consultation has been launched and is open until May 6.

After that, the Government is expected to bring forward a Sovereign Borders Bill for consideration in Parliament in order to put the plans into law.