The Home Office is responsible for preventing abuse of immigration rules, tracking immigration offenders and increasing compliance with immigration law. A series of NAO reports have identified some of the long-standing challenges it faces in managing enforcement activity, removing foreign national offenders and overseeing the immigration detention system and facilities. The Immigration Enforcement directorate also depends on effective collaboration with other parts of the wider border and immigration system, as well as law enforcement and international partners.
The NAO’s report ‘Immigration enforcement’ examines whether the Department is achieving its aim to reduce the size of the illegal population and the harm it causes, and doing so in a way that delivers value for money.
It finds that the Home Office does not know how many people currently reside in the UK illegally: its last estimate, made 15 years ago in 2005, was around 430,000 people. More recent estimates from other organisations suggest that number might have doubled.
While the Home Office collects a large amount of performance data on its activities, these do not allow it to demonstrate the impact of its work or policies. For example, the NAO found that the Home Office is unable to assess whether its measures to prevent people from accessing government funded services – the “No Recourse to Public Funds” policy that is a central plank of the “hostile environment” - have any meaningful impact on how likely a person is to return to their country of origin.
The Home Office is stopping increasing numbers of people from entering the country illegally, but it doesn’t know if this is because it’s catching more of these attempts or there are simply more attempts.
The Home Office returned, or helped to return, just over 13,100 people without leave to remain in the year to November 2019, of which 5,600 people returned voluntarily: although the numbers returning voluntarily have dropped from an average of 1,200 a month in 2015 to approximately 460 a month in 2019.
The other 7,400 were enforced removals, of which 5,000 were foreign national offenders, but that was less than half - 48% -of the planned enforced removals for that period, often as a result of late legal challenges to removal.
As a result, the Home Office released 14,900, or 62%, of immigration detainees from immigration removal centres last year. It believes many of these late legal challenges are used to delay removal but did not provide any evidence that it has tried to actively understand and manage these challenges.
The Home Office is currently considering its response to the Windrush review and has commissioned a review of the wider border and immigration system. The NAO argues that these reviews give the Home Office an opportunity to address many of the issues identified in its report.
On Monday 13 July the Committee will question officials from the Home Office on the performance of its core immigration enforcement activity, to establish what progress the Department has made in dealing with these enduring, ongoing challenges.
If you have evidence on the questions raised in this inquiry please submit it here by 5.30pm on Thursday 9 July 2020.