A report published on Thursday claims that an effective amnesty has been granted to more than 160,000 asylum seekers over the past five years by a UK Border Agency.
The Commons home affairs select committee report says it is indefensible that officials have been unable to trace a further 74,500 asylum seekers, among a total of 450,000 unresolved legacy cases, and say the UKBA simply had no idea about the location of the applicants.
The agency has been working through these cases since it was first declared not fit for purpose by then Home Secretary John Reid in 2006.
The MPs maintain that fewer than one in 10 of those caught up in this large backlog of asylum cases has actually been removed from the country but they add that since many of the cases had started more than 20 years ago, it would be now difficult to do so.
The cross-party committee regards what it describes as an amnesty policy, alongside the constant announcements of delays regarding the implementation of the e-borders system to count people in and out of the country as evidence that the agency is still not working effectively.
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The report says that work has at last been concluded on 403,000 of the 450,000-strong backlog of cases. Just over 38,000, or 9%, had their claims rejected and have been removed from Britain. Just over 161,000, or 40%, were granted leave to remain and 74,500 another asylum seekers have had their cases concluded simply because the applicants cannot be found and it is unknown whether they are in the UK, have left the country or are dead while a further 129,000 cases are officially classified as errors.
MPs say the 161,000 who were granted leave to remain concerns such a large amount of people that this amounts in fact to an amnesty. They also deplore the fact that apparently ministers have allowed agency caseworkers to grant permission to stay to applicants who have been in Britain for six to eight years, rather than the ten to 12 years that should apply at the start of the programme.
Also, they are also accused of allowing cases involving people who could not be traced to be parked in a controlled archive.
We understand that ministers would have been unwilling to announce an amnesty for the applicants caught up in this backlog, not least because it might be interpreted as meaning that the UK was prepared more generally to relax its approach to migration; but we consider in practice an amnesty has taken place, at considerable cost to the taxpayer, conclude the MPs.
However when questioned on the subject, while inaugurating a new detention centre at Morton Hall in Lincolnshire, immigration minister, Damian Green denied there was an amnesty.
There's absolutely no amnesty. What we've done is get through to the bottom of that huge problem we inherited. The main thing is we've now eliminated this backlog from the system so that we can get on with the everyday job that the previous government couldn't because they had that backlog, he said.
The MPs insists the backlog clearance will be completed within its original five-year target but critics warn it will only be achieved as a result of major redeployment of permanent staff and significant extra expenditure on temporary staff and the agency has yet to publish the cost of the programme. Meanwhile the report also points out that a backlog in new asylum applications is developing although its extent is not fully indicated.
Also, following the publication of the report, MPs insist it is understandable that fewer than one in 10 asylum seekers have been removed from Britain, as the longer a case is left the more likely it is that the asylum seeker will have married and had children and will be allowed to stay for family reasons.
The coalition government has continued the last Labour government's ban on low-skilled workers from outside Europe, but has also introduced a cap on non-EU skilled workers as part of a pledge to bring net migration down to tens of thousands by the end of the Parliament.
However, the committee report denounces the fact that the UKBA had not carried out checks on all those employers registered as sponsors of skilled migrants and there were grave doubts about whether it even had the capacity to do so.
Keith Vaz, the committee's chairman, said: Though progress has been made, it is clear that the UK Border Agency is still not fit for purpose. He further explained that perhaps the most worrying factor was that the agency had been without a permanent head since Lin Homer moved to the Department of Transport five months ago.
Labour's immigration spokesman, Gerry Sutcliffe, said: This is a scathing report ... which illustrates the gap between what this government promised and what it is delivering. Following the government's decision to cut over 5,000 staff from [the agency], we have repeatedly warned the Home Office that enforcement will suffer as a result. This report shows that managers and staff consistently say there are not sufficient resources to track and return illegal immigrants.
In addition, the report states that legacy asylum applications are increasingly being given permission to stay rather than the government seeking their removal. In the last few months there has been a significant decrease in the percentage of applicants and dependants sent home.
Keith Best, Former Chief Executive of the Immigration Advisory Service, commented:
While there is no doubt that individual caseworkers are dedicated and hard-working, there are serious concerns over the agency's ability to deal with cases and respond to intelligence swiftly and thoroughly.
On the other hand, Mr Sutcliffe added: Following the government's decision to cut over 5,000 staff from the UKBA, we have repeatedly warned the Home Office that enforcement will suffer as a result.
This report shows that managers and staff at UKBA consistently say there are not sufficient resources to track and return illegal immigrants.
In addition, the report states that legacy asylum applications are increasingly being given permission to stay rather than the government seeking their removal. In the last few months there has been a significant decrease in the percentage of applicants and dependents sent home.