Illegal immigration to the United Kingdom

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Although it is difficult to measure how many people reside in the UK without authorisation, a Home Office study based on Census 2001 data released in March 2005 estimated a population of between 310,000 and 570,000.[1]

More recently, a study carried out by a research team at LSE for the Greater London Authority, published in 2009, estimated the illegal migrant population of the UK by updating the Home Office study. The LSE's study takes into account other factors not included in the previous estimate, namely the continued arrival of asylum seekers, the clearance of the asylum applications backlog, further illegal migrants entering and leaving the country, more migrants overstaying, and the regularisation of EU accession citizens.

The most significant change in this estimate is however the inclusion of children born in the UK to illegal migrants. For the LSE team illegal migrants oscillate between 417,000 and 863,000, including a population of UK-born children ranging between 44,000 and 144,000. Drawing on this and taking stock of the outcome of the recent Case Resolution Programme, a University of Oxford's study by Nando Sigona and Vanessa Hughes estimate at end 2011 a population of illegal migrant children of 120,000, with over half born in the UK to parents residing without legal immigration status.


Illegal (sometimes termed irregular) immigrants in the UK include those who have:

  • entered the UK without authority
  • entered with false documents
  • overstayed their visas
  • worked or studied on a tourist visa/ non-immigrant visa waiver
  • entered into forced or fraudulent marriage[2][3][4]

Political reaction

Migration Watch UK, a think-tank that claims to be neutral, but has been characterised as a right-wing lobby or pressure group by some commentators[5][6][7] and academics,[8][9][10][11] has criticised the Home Office figures for not including the UK-born dependent children of unauthorised migrants. They suggest the Home Office has underestimated the numbers of unauthorised migrants by between 15,000 and 85,000.[12]

Jack Dromey, Deputy General of the Transport and General Workers Union and Labour Party treasurer, suggested in May 2006 that there could be around 500,000 illegal workers. He called for a public debate on whether an amnesty should be considered.[13] Former Home Secretary David Blunkett suggested that this might be done once the identity card scheme is rolled out.[14] However the scheme was scrapped due to its widespread unpopularity by the coalition government in 2010.

London Citizens, a coalition of community organisations, is running a regularisation campaign called Strangers into Citizens, backed by figures including the leader of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, the Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor.[15] Analysis by the Institute for Public Policy Research suggested that an amnesty would net the government up to £1.038 billion per year in fiscal revenue.[16] However, analysis by MigrationWatch UK suggests that if the migrants granted amnesty were given access to healthcare and other benefits, the net cost to the exchequer would be £5.530 billion annually.[17]

It has since been suggested that to deport all of the irregular migrants from the UK would take 20 years and cost up to £12 billion.[18] Current Mayor of London Boris Johnson has commissioned a study into a possible amnesty for illegal immigrants, citing larger tax gains within the London area which is considered to be home to the majority of the country's population of such immigrants.[19]

In February 2008, the government introduced new £10,000 fines for employers found to be employing illegal immigrants where there is negligence on the part of the employer, with unlimited fines or jail sentences for employers acting knowingly.[20]

In July 2013, the Home Office introduced an advertising lorry in London with its billboard saying "In the UK illegally? — GO HOME OR FACE ARREST — Text HOME to 78070 for free advice, and help with travel documents. We can help you return home voluntarily without fear of arrest or detention." This campaign was criticised from various quarters: Vince Cable, a prominent minister in the governing coalition, called it "stupid and offensive";[21] some on the left said that "go home" evoked an old National Front slogan.[22] Nigel Farage of the UK Independence Party criticised the campaign as "nasty" and suggested that its real message was "Please don’t vote UKIP, we’re doing something".[23]

In 2015 the newly elected Conservative Government announced it would be requiring Landlords to confirm the immigration status of tenants. Those failing to do so, or knowingly or unknowingly housing illegal immigrants could face criminal prosecution.

In 2015 a large number of migrants had set up a camp at Calais in the hope of entering the UK. This sparked a large political debate in the UK. The UK government responded by funding additional security measures in Calais including a £7 million fence to prevent migrants entering the UK.

See also


  1. The thorny issue of illegal migrants BBC News, 17 May 2006 The methods used are also much debated Problems arise in particular from the very nature of the target population that is hidden and mostly wants to remain as suc;jsessionid=D55A99859E2D8DB93182491C55168A04.d01t02?globalMessage=0. The different definitions of ‘illegality’ adopted in the studies also pose a significant challenge to the comparability of the data.
  2. "Woman with IQ of 49 ‘was targeted for sham marriage’". The Independent. 
  3. "Sham marriage gang jailed". 
  4. "Couple jailed over South London sham marriage". 
  5. James Smith, David (25 February 2007). "In search of a ticket home". The Times. London. Retrieved 28 October 2009. 
  6. Doward, Jamie; Arie, Sophie; Hinsliff, Gaby (22 February 2004). "Can a bigger Europe work for Britain?". The Observer. London. p. 20. Retrieved 28 October 2009. 
  7. Pallister, David (21 March 2007). "The numbers game". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 28 October 2009. 
  8. Boswell, Christina (2009). "Knowledge, legitimation and the politics of risk: The functions of research in public debates on migration". Political Studies. 57 (1): 165–186. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9248.2008.00729.x. 
  9. Hampshire, James (2008). "Disembedding liberalism? Immigration politics and security in Britain since 9/11". In Givens, Terri E.; Freeman, Gary P.; Leal, David L. Immigration Policy and Security: US, European, and Commonwealth Perspectives. London: Routledge. pp. 109–129 [119]. ISBN 0-415-99083-1. 
  10. De Zoysa, Richard (2006). "Immigration: Europe and the USA – common cause or American exceptionalism?". Contemporary Politics. 12 (3–4): 261–285. doi:10.1080/13569770601086188. 
  11. Threadgold, Terry (2006). "Dialogism, voice and global contexts: Asylum, dangerous men and invisible women". Australian Feminist Studies. 21 (50): 223–244. doi:10.1080/08164640600731762. 
  12. The illegal Migrant Population in the UK Migration Watch UK, Briefing paper 9.15,Migration Trends.
  13. Amnesty call over illegal workers BBC News, 20 May 2006.
  14. Blunkett: Immigration amnesty on cards, 14 June 2006
  15. Joe Boyle, Migrants find a voice in the rain, BBC News, 7 May 2007, accessed 21 May 2007
  16. "Jacqui Smith should back amnesty for illegal workers". Institute for Public Policy Research. 2007-07-15. Retrieved 2009-05-05. 
  17. "The true cost of an amnesty for illegal immigrants". MigrationWatch UK. 2007-08-30. Retrieved 2009-05-05. 
  18. "Tighter immigration controls could enable an amnesty for illegal immigrants say IPPR". Institute for Public Policy Research. 2009-05-03. Retrieved 2009-05-05. 
  19. "Johnson ponders immigrant amnesty". BBC News. 2008-11-22. Retrieved 2008-11-24. 
  20. Richard Ford (2008-02-29). "£10,000 fines for employing illegal migrant without check". London: The Times. Retrieved 2008-03-22. 
  21. "Vince Cable attacks crackdown on illegal immigrants as 'stupid and offensive'". Metro. Retrieved 7 August 2013. 
  22. Hundal, Sunny. Liberal Conspiracy Retrieved 7 August 2013.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  23. Dominiczak, Peter (2013-07-25). "Nigel Farage attacks 'Big Brother' Government immigration campaign". Telegraph. London. Retrieved 7 August 2013.