Warning over illegal immigrants
At least 150,000 migrants have been refused permission to stay in the UK but the authorities do not know how many have left, a watchdog says.
John Vine, chief inspector of the UK Border Agency (UKBA), said there is no clear strategy to find out what proportion of this growing number of migrants is still in the UK illegally.
Tracking these absconders down and removing them from the country is not seen as a priority for the agency, and there is no clear plan to ensure the cases do not just become another backlog to deal with, said Mr Vine.
He added: "There are over 150,000 cases nationally of migrants who have been refused an extension of stay in the UK. The agency does not know how many of these individuals have left the country or who are waiting to be removed.
"I also saw no evidence that there is a clear plan in place for the agency to deal with this stream of work to ensure this does not become another backlog. I believe it can and must do more to demonstrate it is dealing with this issue in a more proactive manner."
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.
Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: "The damning conclusion from the Government's own immigration inspector has concluded that the Government is giving a very low priority to finding and removing people who have been refused permission to stay. Out of 150,000 people refused leave to remain, the Government seems not to know or care how many are still here."
Keith Vaz, chairman of the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, said: "I am astonished that the UKBA has no idea where 159,000 individuals, the size of a city like Oxford, have gone since their application was rejected.
"The committee has not been given this information despite asking for the number of migrants who are untraceable."