The Illegal Immigration Bill

Danielle Cohen
By Danielle Cohen Immigration Law Solicitor Linkedin
Danielle Cohen has over 20 years of experience as a lawyer and a reputation for offering professional, honest and expert advice.
27 April 2023

The Illegal Immigration Bill was announced on 7 March 2023. It aims to deal with challenges relating to the UK Asylum process, in other words a small boat crossing on the English Channel. The bill, which was not subject to a public consultation, makes the following proposal:

  • Remove those who enter the UK via an unauthorised route to their home country or a safe third country such as Rwanda.
  • People with modern slavery cases would be disqualified for protection against removal.
  • Widen the powers of detention for the purpose of removal, including detention of children.

The bill passed second reading in Parliament on 13 March and the committee stage on 27 March. It will enter the report stage on 25 April.

The Law Society is concerned that the bill may be incompatible with the UK’s international obligations under the European Court of Human Rights and the UN Refugee Convention. The bill contains limited safeguards but coupled with restrictive timescales for appeal are likely to diminish in the opinion of the Law Society, access to justice for everyone caught by its provisions. It is not clear where those in detention will be held and how they will have access to legal advice. The detention period could be indefinite and at extensive cost to the UK taxpayer. In other words, the Law Society is concerned that the bill is not workable on its own terms.

Some immigration lawyers have argued that the Illegal Immigration Bill is illegal itself. In what sense could a bill be considered illegal? Suella Braverman was unable to make the usual declaration under Section 19(A) of the Human Rights Act 1998 that the bill’s provisions were compatible with the Human Rights Convention. At Section 19(1)(b) it allowed for her to say she wanted Parliament to proceed with it anyway.

The Equalities Watchdog is also seriously concerned that the Government Illegal Immigration Bill could put the UK in breach of international law and expose people to serious harm. They said that the bill that allows detention of children and pregnant women and remove protection for trafficking and modern slavery victims were particularly worrying to them. Among the Watchdog key concerns is that the Bill undermines the core principles of human risk and mistreating the rights to asylum and penalising refugees. Under the new law the Home Secretary will be given the power to remove unaccompanied children from the UK once they turn 18. The Watchdog also expressed concern at the speed that the bill is being pushed through Parliament.

Our Opinion

This bill is the latest in a long line of attempts to deal with refugees arriving by making their life difficult. The real issue is the failure of the many measures over the past 20 years of various governments to handle the asylum issue. When the Rwanda scheme was suggested as providing an alternative solution, it to some extent made matters significantly worse. The reality is that refugees will continue to come as long as prosecution will exist and war will force people to flee. Most people flee to countries next to their own and the UK is not a special case because all countries receive refugees; some receive more refugees than the UK. Because states do not accept the obligation to share out refugees globally, the international refugee system is territorial and the situation for refugees who flee and the lack of availability of legal routes to travel to claim asylum means that refugees end up travelling by irregular means and routes. This is acknowledged by refugee law which prohibits penalising for illegal entry. Solicitors worry that the real effect of the bill in in the rhetoric and not in the long-term solution. Undermining the Refugee Convention and the Human Rights of individuals will not solve the problem. The Refugee Council provided statistics which state that the UK is home to approximately 1% of the 27.1 million refugees who are forcefully displaced across the world, that about 1200 medically qualified refugees are recorded on the British Medical Association database, that 75% of initial decisions on asylum applications made in 2022 resulted in grant of asylum under forms or protection.

Welcoming refugees generally implied an initial investment, typically public funds, but once a refugee starts working this investment may yield further dividends. Some refugees do the work that others don’t wish to do. Highly skilled refugees can fill gaps in the labour market. Enterprising refugees start businesses that create wealth and employ locals. Finally, refugees’ ability to contribute to the UK will depend partly on their characteristics and also on UK immigration policies.