Are only 1% of illegal immigrants deported?

18 July 2013

"Only 1% of all illegals are told they must go"

Daily Star, 18 July 2013

Illegal immigration is an issue never far from the headlines, but as Full Fact has seen in the past, it is also one that suffers from some dogged inaccuracies.

Reading the Daily Star's headline would lead us to believe that only one in a hundred who had entered the country without permission, or who had stayed longer than they were entitled to, was removed by the authorities.

But is such a claim borne out by facts?

The whole picture

Readers making it further than the Star's headline might begin to suspect that this claim is problematic. The article states that:

"Thousands of foreigners are living in Britain without proper visas. A new Home Office hotline was swamped with 49,000 tip-offs from members of the public alerting immigration officials to suspected illegals. But after nine months just 2,695 were followed up with a knock at the door from an immigration enforcement officer. And of those, only 660 resulted in deportation — just 1.3%."

Reading this, we can see that the 1% figure quoted in the headline is in fact the proportion of 'tip-offs' from the public, which may or may not actually involve an illegal immigrant, which led to a removal, as opposed to confirmed cases in which an immigration offence had taken place.

The figures reported in the story come from a House of Commons Home Affairs Committee hearing this week, and were initially released earlier this month by Immigration Minister Mark Harper in response to a Parliamentary Question.

This noted that 48,660 allegations were recorded by the authorities between 30 September 2012 and 30 June 2013, of which 2,695 cases led to visits by Immigration Enforcement officers, and 1,840 arrests and 660 removals ensued.

What's in a headline?

As the first (and often only) thing which people read in a newspaper article, inaccuracy in a headline can have an important effect on people's understanding of the rest of an piece. We might therefore wonder how close a link there is between tip-offs and immigration offences, and whether conclusions about one can in fact be extended to the other.

Data recorded in the UK Border Agency's Allegation Management System - the dataset the Star refers to as a "hotline" -  is "the public's perception of the crime that they are reporting and does not necessarily re?ect any actual offence committed", as a letter from Rob Whiteman, Chief Executive of the Agency confirms. There could be many reasons why people suspect an immigration offence without one actually having occured.

This is actually something that's acknowledged in the Star's article itself, which quotes David Wood, the UK Border Agency's interim Director General of Immigration and Enforcement, as saying: "The intelligence we get from the allegations often does not provide information likely to lead to an arrest."

Equally problematic, though, is the fact that there may well be double-counting of possible offences in the figures on allegations released. The Home Office confirmed to Full Fact that, in the Allegation Management System figures, no account had been taken of tip-offs relating to the same issue, meaning the number of reported offences recorded in the system is potentially inflated by the same suspected offences being counted multiple times.

Better data?

So are there any reliable statistics on the proportion of people staying illegally in the country who are subsequent deported? 

In short: no, and in fact, there isn't even an official estimate of the number of illegal immigrants in the country, as the Home Office confirmed to Full Fact.

The only relevant data which is available is Home Office statistics on removals, with the latest figures showing there to have been 14,120 enforced removals in the year ending March 2013, with a further 28,309 voluntary removals, including those who had claimed asylum.

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