Home Secretary Priti Patel has unveiled plans to stop the abuse of the asylum process, while strengthening protection for those who are genuinely in need. The Home Office says criminals from overseas will no longer be able to lodge “endless claims for protection” as they try to avoid being removed from the UK. Instead they will be served with a new “priority removal notice” under which they should make their claims in one go.
People smugglers will face life behind bars, and the maximum sentence for illegally entering the UK will also be increased.
Meanwhile, the Border Force will be given new powers to search containers coming into the country.
A fast-tracked asylum appeals process is intended to reduce “time spent on meritless claims”, and under the proposals judges will be expected to give “minimal weight to late evidence” unless there are exceptional circumstances.
A higher standard of proof will be required in law for protection to be granted. These measures will be coupled with initiatives to help people who need to come to the UK for sanctuary.
Refugees who come through a legal resettlement route will be granted “indefinite leave to remain immediately upon their arrival”. Priority will be given to refugees from regions of conflict and instability, rather than those who are “already in safe European countries”.
The Home Office has pledged that refugees “will be helped to flee persecution, oppression or tyranny with the Government providing them a route to get here safely and legally”. Reform is also on the way so that displaced families will be reunited more easily.
Resettled refugees are currently allowed to stay for five years, after which they must apply for indefinite leave to remain. It is hoped that immediately giving permission to stay will provide “the stability they need to properly rebuild their lives in the UK”.
The Home Office also plans to end “anomalies in historic immigration law” which deny British citizenship to people from British overseas territories for “unfair and outdated reasons, such as someone’s parents not being married”.
Ms Patel stressed her determination to stop illegal entry to the UK.
She said: “Illegal immigration is facilitated by serious organised criminals exploiting people and profiting from human misery.
“It is counter to our national interest because the same criminal gangs and networks are also responsible for other illicit activity, ranging from drug and firearms trafficking to serious violent crimes. Our plan for immigration will make big changes, building a new system that is fair but firm.
“We will continue to encourage asylum via safe and legal routes while at the same time toughening our stance towards illegal entry and the criminals that endanger life by enabling it.”
She said not “all of these reforms will happen overnight” and described the need to “stick to the course” and see the plan through.
The new laws to reform the system will be outlined by the Queen at a slimmed-down state opening of Parliament on May 11.
Also on the agenda are plans to improve building safety regulation in the wake of the Grenfell Tower disaster and scrapping the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, which stipulated there should be a five-year gap between general elections.