Higher deportation rates don’t necessarily demonstrate ‘disproportionate targeting’ of Jamaicans

12 August 2021
What was claimed

People from Caribbean countries such as Jamaica appear to be disproportionately targeted for deportation from the UK if they commit crimes.

Our verdict

The data alone does not provide an entirely reliable ‘deportation rate’. Nor can it indicate the reasons why the deportation rate may vary. There may be many reasons why criminals from some countries are more likely to be deported than others.

“People from Caribbean countries such as Jamaica appear to be disproportionately targeted for deportation from the UK if they commit crimes”

The Guardian recently reported that data it had obtained via the Freedom of Information Act suggested that people from Caribbean countries like Jamaica appear to be disproportionately targeted for deportation from the UK if they commit crimes. 

Disproportionate targeting might be a reason Jamaicans appear to be deported more frequently than other foreign nationals. But there are also other possible reasons for the variance which aren’t addressed in the article.

For example, nationals of some countries may be more likely to qualify for exemption from deportation under human rights and refugee law.

The Guardian’s use of the data does not reliably tell us what the rates of deportation to different countries are, nor is it evidence that people from certain countries are disproportionately targeted. That is possible, although the Home Office denies it.

Deportation law

The Immigration Act 1971 says foreign nationals are liable to deportation from the UK if the Home Secretary deems their deportation to be “conducive to the public good”.

The UK Borders Act 2007 says the Home Secretary must make a deportation order on foreign nationals who are jailed for a single offence for at least 12 months—this is made when they are released, unless an exception applies.

These exceptions include, but are not limited to, where deportation would breach the person’s human rights or the UK’s obligation under the Refugee Convention, or when the person has leave to remain in the UK. 

While the UK was in the EU, there were additional restrictions on deporting EU citizens, and post-Brexit these still apply to those who have leave to remain in the UK.

The data

The Guardian obtained data by country on the number of foreign nationals sentenced to 12 months or more between May 2015 and September 2019, and the number of foreign nationals deported from the UK, under the UK Borders Act 2007, between May 2015 and February 2020.

Dividing one by the other gave the Guardian a ‘deportation rate’. It then compared the deportation rate of each country to the average deportation rate for non-EU countries.

There is a problem with this sort of calculation. The people sentenced in the first dataset are not going to be exactly the same set of people eligible for deportation in the second dataset, either because they had not been released by February 2020, or because they were deported after serving less than a year in prison, which is the law under the Borders Act for ‘serious criminals’.

So, many factors, including changes in the level of offending by certain foreign national groups, or changes in the number of these foreign nationals in the UK, could skew and muddy the data.

You can see that this creates problems in the data for, say, China, where the Guardian’s method would give a ‘deportation rate’ of 101%. Obviously more people cannot be deported than were sentenced in the first place. 

Ideally, to calculate the deportation rate, you would track individuals through the justice system to see how many were deported, rather than comparing two snapshots of sentencing and deportations. 

The Guardian’s method is therefore not entirely reliable, and the article did not explain this, although without better data we can’t say exactly how wrong its numbers are.

Other factors

The Guardian suggests the data is evidence of disproportionate targeting. This is a serious accusation which warrants consideration, but the data alone does not give us clear evidence of this, and there may be a number of other factors at play which affect the deportation rate for each nationality. 

For example, the Guardian acknowledges that deportation rates for non-EU countries may differ to the rates for EU countries, as the UK typically doesn’t deport EU citizens under the 2007 Borders Act, which was the scope of the data (though it does deport EU citizens under other legislation). 

So it adjusts for that factor by comparing the deportation rate for Jamaicans to the average deportation rate across non-EU countries. 

There are other reasons in law to exempt someone from being automatically deported, which the data doesn’t adjust for.

For example, Article 33 of the Refugee Convention says states should not return a refugee to a place where “his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.”

Some of the countries with particularly low deportation rates, which bring the overall average down, include Iraq (24%) and Iran (44%). Many Iraqis and Iranians in the UK are refugees

While we can’t say for certain, it is possible that nationals of some countries have more grounds for exemptions than others when it comes to automatic deportation.

The reverse may also be the case. The Guardian claims that Jamaicans may be more likely to have a case against deportation on family grounds. But without the data either way, we can’t make firm comparisons between each nationality’s deportation rate and the extent to which grounds for exemption affect this, so we can’t isolate the possible impact of disproportionate targeting on the variance.

Researcher at the University of Oxford’s Migration Observatory, Dr Peter Walsh, told Full Fact: "The data in and of itself isn't evidence for disproportionate targeting which suggests some sort of racial discrimination.

"People can raise legal claims on a number of grounds against automatic deportation, including that deportation might affect their rights to life and liberty, so that may explain some differences in deportation rates.

"Also, deportation relies on the country of origin being willing to accept these people back, which may not be consistent between countries and could also account for some of the variance."

Last month the Guardian reported on government plans to block visas for nationals of countries which refuse to take back offenders. 

It said: “It is understood that countries such as Iraq, Iran, Eritrea and Sudan are reluctant to cooperate with the UK on such matters.”

All of these countries had ‘deportation rates’ far below the average. 

The Guardian’s method of calculation would give the following ‘deportation rates’ for various regions of the world. Non-EU Europe (81%), Asia (73%), Central and South America (94%), North America (98%) and the “West Indies”, which was listed as a separate category in the Ministry of Justice’s data, (76%), were above the total non-EU average deportation rate of 66%. Africa (50%), the Middle East (31%) and Oceania (55%) had deportation rates below the non-EU average. 

Asked to comment on the story, a Home Office spokesperson told Full Fact: “We do not target specific countries.” 

This is not proof that disproportionate targeting plays no part in determining why individuals from some countries appear to be deported more than others. But it is important to acknowledge which other factors may be at play.  

We approached the Guardian for comment and a Guardian News & Media spokesperson said: "The Guardian readers' editor's office will review the article and come to a conclusion about the issues raised."

Since publication the Guardian has edited its article to say the claim of targeting has been made by campaigners.

Correction 25 August 2021

We have clarified that when talking about the deportation rates among people from the EU, we were referring to the number of EU criminals who were deported under the 2007 Borders Act, not the total number of EU criminals who were deported which is far higher.

Update 25 August 2021

We have updated this piece to clarify that we do not know whether Jamaicans have greater or fewer grounds for exemption than people of other nationalities. We have also acknowledged the Guardian edited its article after publication.

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