Asylum reforms: What do we know so far?

Earlier this year, Home Secretary Priti Patel 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 what we know so far about the plans:

Asylum graphic
(PA Graphics)

– 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”.

On Tuesday, proposed new laws were introduced to Parliament under the Nationality and Borders Bill as part of the Home Office’s “new plan for immigration” after a public consultation took place.

Previously known as the Sovereign Borders Bill, it is part of a swathe of policies the Government is now planning to implement, focusing on how claims for asylum are processed and who could ultimately be granted protection and permission to remain in the UK.

Priti Patel
Home Secretary Priti Patel (Victoria Jones/PA)

– What are the key points of the plan?

Ms Patel has 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, according to the Home Office.

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.

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– What has been the response so far?

Ms Patel previously 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 so far been widely condemned by campaigners and charities, some of which have branded it the “anti-refugee Bill” and accusing it of being “inhumane” as it plans to judge asylum seekers on how they arrived in the UK, and not on merit.

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

A group of people thought to be migrants crossing the Channel in a small boat headed in the direction of Dover, Kent
A group of people thought to be migrants crossing the Channel in a small boat headed in the direction of Dover, Kent (Gareth Fuller/PA)

– What else is in the plans?

The proposals are wide-ranging and, according to the Home Office, also include:

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

– More 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”.

– 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 Citizens (BOTC) can acquire citizenship more easily, and giving the Home Secretary the ability to grant citizenship in “compelling and exceptional circumstances”.

Napier Barracks
Napier Barracks in Folkestone, Kent has housed asylum seekers (PA)

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”.

The Bill includes provisions which could give the Government the option to set up offshore processing centres for asylum seekers at a later date, but no further detail or firm proposal has been set out so far on how and where this could happen.

– What happens now?

The proposals will be debated in Parliament, in order to put the plans – and any amendments which may be made to it – into law.