The Government has vowed to reform the UK’s asylum system and has put forward a range of measures to be debated by MPs and peers.
The proposed legislation, under the Nationality and Borders Bill, was laid in Parliament on Tuesday and includes plans to try to tackle migrant Channel crossings and change the way asylum claims could be processed.
The measures include:
– Making it a criminal offence to knowingly arrive in the UK without permission, with the maximum sentence for those entering the country unlawfully rising from six months’ imprisonment to four years.
– Changes to rules so that, for the first time, how someone enters the UK – legally or “illegally” – will affect how their asylum claim progresses and on their status in the UK if that claim is successful.
– Introducing life sentences for convicted people smugglers, up from the current maximum of 14 years.
– Provisions for the UK to be able to send asylum seekers to a “safe third country” and to submit claims at a “designated place” determined by the Secretary of State – which officials believe provides the option of offshore processing centres to be set up overseas at a later date if required.
According to the papers setting out the legislation, a designated place in the UK could be an “intake unit”, removal centre, or port but also includes any other place asylum seekers have been directed to by the Government, a place where there is someone “authorised” to accept the claim on behalf of the state or any “such other place, or a place of such other description, as the Secretary of State may by regulations designate”.
– Powers for Border Force to intervene at sea to tackle people smugglers and turn migrant boats away from the UK but they would need the agreement of other states, such as France, to drive them back into foreign waters, according to the Bill.
The legislation would give immigration or enforcement officers specific “maritime powers” over ships and other boats or vessels in “United Kingdom waters, foreign waters or international waters” to “prevent, detect, investigate or prosecute offences”, the document said. They could be given the power to “stop, board, divert and detain”, including requiring the ship to “leave United Kingdom waters”.
But the Bill makes clear this could take place “only if the state, or the relevant territory” is willing to receive the ship”. It also suggests written notice must be given to the “master of any ship detained”, ie the captain or person navigating the vessel – which may prompt questions of how this could work in practice. Officers will be allowed to use “reasonable force, if necessary” and take “equipment or materials” – but it is not yet clear what this could entail.
– Stepping up efforts to remove “those who enter the UK illegally having travelled through a safe country in which they could and should have claimed asylum”. Only if removal is not possible “will those found to be in need of protection who have entered illegally receive a new temporary protection status rather than an automatic right to settle”.
This is set to be reassessed every 30 months, during which time such people will have limited access to benefits and family reunion rights – potentially prompting concerns that those with genuine need for refuge could become trapped in an indefinite limbo if, and until, they have the chance to be granted leave to remain through other avenues in the immigration system.
– Giving the Home Secretary the power to withhold or block visas for people coming from countries refusing to take back their own citizens who are failed asylum seekers and foreign criminals. The Bill highlighted proposals which could see the processing of applications “suspended or delayed”, treated as “invalid” or imposing “additional financial requirements for such applications”.
This would apply to migrants applying to come to the UK through legal immigration routes if the Home Secretary determines the government of that country “does not co-operate with the United Kingdom government in relation to the removal from the United Kingdom of nationals of that country who require leave to enter or remain in the United Kingdom but do not have it.”
The Cabinet minister would also have the power to grant British citizenship to those who would have become citizens if there were not “exceptional circumstances beyond their control”.
– Possibly using “scientific methods” as part of age assessments to stop people falsely claiming to be children, but also make sure minors are not wrongly taken into the adult asylum system.
– Efforts to prevent the need for last-minute legal claims so all asylum and human rights claims, as well as other protection matters, can be considered together and “provide a power for Tribunals to charge participants where their behaviour has wasted the Tribunal’s resources”.