Cash incentives to get foreign prisoners serving jail sentences to return to their home countries tripled from last month, the UK Border Agency has revealed.
The overall value of the packages for foreign offenders have been cut "due to the current economic situation", but the amount of cash those currently serving sentences will receive increased from £500 to £1,500, said chief executive Lin Homer.
The money is designed to be used to help cover expenses such as accommodation, business or medical treatment, she said.
Ms Homer said the amount of cash given to foreign offenders who have served their sentences also rose from last month, up from £500 to £750. But, under the changes, returning foreign nationals will no longer receive any assistance in kind, which was worth between £2,500 and £4,500 under the old arrangements.
All foreign prisoners taking advantage of the scheme are given a £500 pre-paid card when they leave the UK. But under the new plans, which came into force on October 1, they will now be able to contact the International Organisation for Migration within a month of returning to their home country with evidence of how they intend to use the money to claim the balance. This will vary between an extra £250 and £1,000, depending on whether they have already served their sentence or are still behind bars.
Foreign nationals leaving under the facilitated return scheme accounted for more than 30% of the 5,535 foreign offenders removed last year, said the Home Office.
It follows reports on Monday that Prime Minister David Cameron will spearhead an initiative to send thousands of foreign prisoners back to serve their sentences in their own countries.
With more than 11,000 foreign inmates in a prison population of about 85,000 in England and Wales, as many as possible should be transferred to serve their sentences in their own country, said the Ministry of Justice. The move is part of plans to cut the prison population by 3,000 by 2014-15, but could be hampered by prisoner transfer agreements which require the consent of the prisoner and by human rights objections from inmates.
In a letter to the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, Ms Homer said: "Due to the current economic situation it has been decided to reduce the amount of assistance given to those who leave the country under the facilitated return scheme.
"The facilitated return scheme is a practical solution that not only saves the taxpayer money in the long run, but also means foreign criminals are removed as soon as possible, denying them the opportunity to reoffend or drag out the removal process with frivolous judicial challenges."