The troubled UK Border Agency is bringing in a private firm to track down a backlog of at least 150,000 missing migrants who have been refused permission to stay in the UK, the Immigration Minister has said.
Damian Green said the firm would try to contact all those migrants in the backlog of cases who have been refused permission to stay in the UK but who may still be in the country illegally.
It comes after John Vine, the chief inspector of borders and immigration, said last week that tracking down absconders and removing them from the country was not seen as a priority for the agency.
At least 150,000 migrants have been refused permission to stay in the UK but the authorities do not know how many have actually left, the watchdog said. But Mr Green admitted that this figure could be growing by up to 100 a day as more and more visas expire.
A summer enforcement campaign has so far removed more than 2,000 people in the last two months and a separate pilot scheme using Serco has already started to tackle the backlog, he added.
"We are in the middle of a procurement exercise to employ a private provider to deal with all these migration refusal cases. Everyone in this pool will be contacted to alert them to the requirement to leave the UK. We have been running a pilot in parts of the country to do this and, interestingly, we find that when you contact them, between 17% and 20% go straight away, or we discover they've already gone.
"What we want with this contract is first to do the contacting, which will slice a chunk off the problem, and then to go on to do the caseworking because there will clearly be a lot of people left who will need to be told."
The system will help ensure everybody in the so-called migration refusal pool "has either left or has some valid reason still to be here".
The extent of the problems emerged in an inspection of the Hampshire and Isle of Wight local immigration team at the end of last year. Cases involving migrants in the UK, such as students, who had been refused an extension of stay were put in a so-called migration refusal pool and told they must leave within 28 days, the report showed.
Migrants in the pool who were still in the UK included those who should have left but had not done so, those who had applied for leave in another category, who had outstanding appeals or other legal barriers, or who had left the UK voluntarily by a route not captured by e-borders. Staff underestimated the scale of the problem by about two thirds, gauging there were between 400 and 600 cases when there were 1,893 in the area on December 12.