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Controlling Britain’s Borders: The challenge of enforcing the UK’s immigration rules

David Wood, January 2019

The UK receives tens of thousands of asylum applications ever year. Usually less than half are found to be valid, even at the end of lengthy appeal processes, and yet only a minority of those subsequently leave the country. As a result there is a mounting backlog of illegal immigrants waiting to be removed. Most never will be.

David Wood, Theresa May’s former Director General of Immigration Enforcement at the Home Office, here sets out the challenge of maintaining Britain’s border controls and shows how the system largely fails to deal with those who are here illegally. One of the central difficulties revolves around the asylum system, and the scope for its abuse by those who are not refugees but submit applications as a last-ditch bid to avoid deportation.

This risks overwhelming resources and lengthening the time it takes to process the claims of genuine asylum seekers who are fleeing persecution and war. It also helps undermine voters’ trust in the system and fuels anger that the rules are not enforced properly.

‘It is essential that the UK’s asylum system is nothing but supportive of those who are genuinely fleeing persecution,’ Wood writes. ‘But where asylum processes are being used as a way of facilitating economic migration it is essential to be able to quickly and efficiently distinguish between the two, in order to ensure those entitled to help receive it quickly, and to ensure that UK citizens do not lose faith and support for a system that is rife with abuse.

‘It ought to be possible to do better in enforcing immigration rules than we have been doing, and that must start with a better understanding of the challenges we face.’


In the Media

The Times: Home Office has failed to send back over 50,000 rejected asylum seekers

Daily Mail: Only one in three failed asylum seekers end up leaving Britain as the others vanish into the ‘black economy’, damning report reveals

The Daily Telegraph: Half of failed asylum seekers remain in UK illegally, says ex-immigration chief

BBC News: Home Office urged to use lie detectors

The Sun: UK encouraging illegal immigrants by not deporting bogus refugees in the tens of thousands, bombshell report claims

Metro: Most who fail to win asylum ‘just carry on living in UK’

Sky News: Fewer than half of failed asylum seekers are removed from the UK, study says

ITV News: Abuse of asylum system is ‘rife’, report claims

Daily Express: Half of rejected asylum seekers remain in the UK illegally, shock report finds


About the Author

David Wood worked for the Home Office for nine years between 2006 and 2015, including as Deputy Chief Executive of the UK Border Agency and then as Director General of Immigration Enforcement. Before that he spent 31 years with the Metropolitan Police, specialising in tackling organised crime and corruption, and rising to the rank of Deputy Assistant Commissioner. He is now a Director of BGS Ltd, a global security company.

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