Up to 54,000 migrants who entered the UK illegally are to get new rights to live in Britain after Rishi Sunak ditched a key plank of Priti Patel’s flagship immigration law.
The move, announced by Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick, is part of an attempt to slash the backlog of 137,600 asylum applications and cut the £6 million-a-day bill for housing them in hotels.
They will be allowed to remain in the UK for five years, instead of 30 months, if their asylum claims are successful. They will then be able to apply to settle in the UK
It means they will have the same five-year rights as those who came to Britain through legal and safe routes despite the Prime Minister’s pledge to crack down on illegal migration.
The move abandons the two-tier, differentiation system introduced by Boris Johnson and his then home secretary, Ms Patel, which was designed to deter illegal migrants from crossing the Channel.
Their Nationality and Borders Act stipulated that any migrant arriving illegally from a safe country like France could only be able to claim temporary permission to remain for 30 months and would have to wait 10 years before seeking the right to settle.
In a separate move, ministers are also expanding the number of migrants eligible for what critics have claimed are “amnesty” applications.
Under the scheme, up to 12,000 more migrants from six countries with the highest asylum grant rates will get the right to live in the UK without having face-to-face interviews to check their claims as part of the effort to reduce the backlog of cases. This comes on top of 12,000 already going through the fast-track scheme.
Asylum seekers from Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, Eritrea, Yemen and Sudan will have their applications processed on paper, with the “vast majority” given the green light to stay in the UK without an interview.
Ministers are, however, likely to face a backbench backlash.
A senior Tory MP said: “Losing the differentiation aspect between those who come through safe routes and those who do not does not look like getting a grip of the system. And the fast-tracking of applications looks like a de facto amnesty.”
The changes will apply to anyone already in the queue from June 2022, to when the new migration rules will start from March 2023 - which stood at 54,000 according to Home Office figures.
But they will not cover the 90,000 legacy cases that the Prime Minister has pledged to abolish by the end of 2023. Mr Sunak said this week the numbers have been slashed by 17,000 so far, which could put him on track to miss his target.
Announcing the moves, Mr Jenrick said the “differentiation” policy had been the right approach to “disincentivise” Channel migrants from crossing but said that since then, the challenge had grown. This was why the Government had introduced its Illegal Migration Bill, currently before the Lords.
“The Bill goes further than ever before in seeking to deter illegal entry to the UK, so that the only humanitarian route into the UK is through a safe and legal one,” he said. The legislation gives ministers powers to detain any migrant who arrives illegally and deport them to a third safe country such as Rwanda or their home nation.
Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said: “The Nationality and Borders Act hasn’t deterred desperate men, women and children from taking dangerous journeys but has simply led to unnecessary misery for many refugees leaving them stuck in limbo unable to move on with their lives.”
It came as Labour revealed that asylum hotels have cost the taxpayer £1.54 billion since Mr Sunak came to power.
Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, said: “The Conservatives have today quietly ditched the flagship policy they introduced last year to tackle the small boats crisis because, as Labour warned, it has only made the bureaucracy and chaos worse.”