Wednesday, February 15, 2017

How many illegal migrants and visa overstayers live in the UK?

The short answer is that nobody knows, even the Home Office can only estimate the number of visa overstayers, illegal entrants or undocumented migrants there are in the UK.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimated migration to the UK for just one year, ending June 2016, at over 650,000. Prior to the Brexit vote, immigration from the EU was the highest on record, while immigration from non-EU countries was similar to previous years, despite measures to curb it.

In another report, it has emerged that the number of EU nurses registering to work in the UK has dropped by 90% since the Brexit vote last June.

How do we work out the number of illegal immigrants?

Illegal immigrants in the UK exist largely as an unregistered collective, according to the New Statesman, because if the registered they would risk being deported and banned from returning to the UK for many years.

The ONS said that “by its very nature it is impossible to quantify accurately the number of people who are in the country illegally.” Population Surveys or the official Census figures are based on information provided voluntarily by householders.

The last official estimate was compiled in 2005 when the government assessed methods used by other countries to estimate their level of illegal immigration, and applied the finding to the UK. They predicted the number at 430,000, but the London School of Economics produced a report in 2007 estimating the number of ‘irregular’ migrants at 533,000. 

The Home Office collect “Immigration Enforcement Data”, such as number of enforcement raids based on tip-offs, number of people refused visa entry and number of overstayers deported from the UK.

In the second quarter of 2016 there were just 941 enforcement visit arrests. However, the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford said that 40,896 immigrants were deported in 2015, which would include migrants refused visa extensions or overstaying students.

At 40,000 removals a year it would take almost 11 years to remove all illegal immigrants based on the government’s own estimates and assuming no increase in numbers.

The ippr estimated that it would take 20 years to remove 500,000 illegal migrants at a cost of £5 billion. It costs an average of £10,000 to remove someone from the UK, so those figures are not so far fetched.

Other organisations, such as Migration Watch, estimate much higher numbers of undocumented migrants and the number could be between 750,000 and 1,000,000 people living illegally in the UK. This has prompted calls for an amnesty, which even Boris Johnson supported when he was the London Mayor.

The 2016 Immigration Act will make life harder for illegal as well as legal migrants wishing to work in the UK on a working or student visa.

Private property owning landlords can be fined up to £3000 for letting to anyone who does not have the right to reside in the UK and can face criminal charges and jail for knowingly renting to illegal immigrants.

The UK is still an attractive place to work, start a business and buy property – no restrictions on foreign buyers - a vibrant mortgage market with record low interest rates.

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