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Irregular Migration

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Irregular Migration

Randall Hansen

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The United Kingdom is a country of immigration. Yet, not all immigrants reside in the country legally. Since 2005 this situation has provoked much controversy and the country took on a tougher stance on irregular migration.

Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre / West Drayton 2010: The UK Borders Act, 2007 introduced the concept of automatic deportation. Non-EU citizens are to be deported if they are convicted of a crime with a sentence of twelve months or more or if they commit another serious crime. (© picture alliance / empics)

In 2005 the issue of irregular migrants made headlines when David Roberts, Head of Removals at the Immigration and Nationality Directorate (IND) provoked an uproar by admitting that he did not have the “faintest idea” how many immigrants were illegally living in the UK. The Home Office quickly released an estimate of approximately 500,000. Other organizations cited a higher figure, ranging upwards of 800,000.

In 2007, Home Secretary John Reid tabled proposals designed to make life difficult for those illegally in the country, and he reiterated the government’s commitment to “throwing out” as many as possible. The punitive rhetoric and targeting of “foreigners” who “steal our benefits” provoked alternative proposals.

Growing civil society resistance to these measures included calls for regularization of some 500,000 illegal residents and anti-deportation activism supported by the National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns (NCADC). In 2007, 65 Labour party backbenchers led by Jon Cruddas signed a motion lending their support to the Strangers into Citizens regularization proposal put forward by a coalition of faith-based and community organizations. The Labour government rejected the proposal and expanded deportation instead. The UK Borders Act, 2007 introduced the concept of automatic deportation, which meant that the Home Secretary is under an obligation to deport non-EU citizens convicted of a crime with a sentence of twelve months or more or if they commit another serious crime (as specified by the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act of 2002). In 2013 a total of 45,712 persons were deported (13,051 enforced removals, 32,661 voluntary departures).

This text is part of the Interner Link: country profile United Kingdom.



  1. Ford (2006).

  2. BBC News (2006).

  3. (2007).


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Dr. Randall Hansen is Full Professor at the Canada Research Chair in Immigration and Governance, and Director of the Centre for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies at the University of Toronto, Canada. E-Mail Link: