Implemented by the Home Office and Home Secretary Priti Patel, the “landmark” Borders Bill entered parliament on July 6. Set to face scrutiny from peers and MPs in the House of Commons later this year, the new legalisation will “set out the most radical changes to the broken asylum system in decades,” according to the government, and is said to “prioritise those most in need of protection while stopping the abuse of the system.”
As BBC News reports, more than 36,000 refugees applied for asylum in the UK last year, with only a fraction of those being offered refugee status, or other protections. If this new legislation is passed later this year, it could signal a determinate change for those who have entered the country illegally.
Opposition leaders, campaigners and charities are critical of the proposed bill, saying it will cause more harm than good for those seeking a better life in the UK.
What is the Nationality and Borders Bill?
Formerly known as the Sovereign Borders Bill, the government says the proposed legislation aims to crack down on people-smuggling, and to simplify the immigration process by creating a system that is “fairer with faster access to justice to help prevent the need for last-minute legal claims.”
Those caught people-smuggling could face prosecution with a maximum life sentence, and a new criminal offence will also be introduced for those who enter the UK illegally. Refugees that have entered the UK knowingly without permission will “receive a new temporary protection status rather than an automatic right to settle,” the government writes, “and will be regularly reassessed for removal from the UK.” They will also have limited family reunion rights, as well as limited access to benefits.
The proposal also includes plans to place asylum seekers in offshore centres “where they can be housed while their claims, or appeals, are being processed,” according to the Guardian. Leaked reports have revealed that disused ferries and abandoned oil rigs have reportedly been considered as possible locations, as well as Ascension Island – a British territory 1,000 miles off the coast of Africa.
- New age assessment to prevent adults falsely claiming to be minors.
- Making it easier to remove someone to a safe country while their asylum claim is being processed.
- Giving the Home Secretary power to control visa availability for countries refusing to take back their own citizens.
The Borders Bill will also strengthen ways in which people can legally enter the UK, including through the UK Resettlement Scheme that was introduced in February 2021. However, according to iNews, the scheme has yet to produce any numerical targets for rehoming refugees.
How will this affect migrants living in the UK that entered the country “unknowingly”?
Patel has said measures in this law will make it easier to remove migrants who reside in the UK unlawfully. “Those who have successful claims having entered the UK illegally will receive a new temporary protection status rather than an automatic right to settle and will be regularly reassessed for removal in the UK,” the Home Secretary said, per the Daily Mail. “And, for the first time, whether someone enters the country legally or illegally will impact how their asylum application is dealt with.”
Patel goes on to explain that asylum seekers that have applied in advance and come to the UK through legal routes, like the United Nations’ refugee agency, “will win permission to come to Britain immediately, and will be allowed to stay indefinitely.”
What has Priti Patel said about the new plan for immigration?
Described as a bill centred around “fairness for those who are fleeing persecution, oppression or tyranny and fairness for the British taxpayer,” Patel’s main goal with this proposed legislation is to crack down on the “vile criminals” who run smuggling operations. “This isn’t fair to the vulnerable people who need protection or the British public who pay for it,” she said in a statement (via the Guardian). “It’s time to act.”
Patel continued: “This legalisation delivers on what the British people have voted for time and time again – for the UK to take full control of its borders. It paves the way for a fair but firm system that will break the business model of the gangs that facilitate dangerous and illegal journeys to the UK while speeding up the removal of those with no right to be here.”
What have campaigners said about the proposed reforms?
Campaigners have said that these proposals “could see thousands of refugees turned away and vulnerable migrants criminalised for seeking a better life”. Through analysing Home Office data, the Refugee Council concluded that 9,000 refugees may no longer be given protection due to how they arrived in the country.
Tim Naor Hilton, chief executive of Refugee Action, agrees with the Refugee Council’s conclusion. Hilton told iNews that the “bill flies in the face of decency and international law”, an accusation rejected by the Home Office. Hilton said that this bill would be “met with fierce resistance by campaigners, faith groups, lawyers, and MPs from all political parties.”
Labour’s Shadow Home Secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds claims that the proposals would “reduce support” for victims of human trafficking, and “potentially break international law.” The Law Society of England and Wales agrees with this sentiment, adding that they warned the government that these “plans were likely to breach UK obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention, the cornerstone of international asylum law,” per BBC News.