How many people overstay their visas?

30 January 2017
What was claimed

David Davis said last month that people overstaying their visa is the biggest problem the UK has.

Our verdict

We don’t know which comments by Mr Davis are being referred to. But this generally reflects the views of researchers that most people who live illegally in the UK have expired visas rather than because they snuck in illegally in the first place.

“David Davis made the point last month that the biggest [immigration] problem the UK has is people overstaying visas.”

Michael Russell MSP, Scotland’s Minister for UK Negotiations on Scotland’s Place in Europe, 30 January 2017

We can’t immediately find a record of the Brexit Secretary saying this so we’ve asked Mr Russell’s office for more details.

 Mr Russell was asked how travel in the UK would work if Scotland kept free movement after exiting the EU on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

The comments do reflect the general consensus of researchers that most people living in the UK illegally do so because their visa has expired, rather than sneaking in in the first place.

Are people who overstay their visa the UK’s biggest immigration problem?

We don’t really know how many people are in the UK without the proper permission. The Home Office doesn’t publish figures on this, so we have to rely on estimates.

The most recent estimate suggests that around 618,000 people could have been living in the UK without permission in 2007. But because this was an estimate, the study thought that in reality it could be anywhere between 417,000 and 863,000 people. Of these around 442,000 (72%) were thought to live in London.

These figures include an estimate of children who may have been born in the UK while their parents were here illegally. They were based on the 2001 census.

An earlier estimate from the Home Office, also using the 2001 census figures, suggested that there might be around 430,000 people, or between 310,000 and 570,000.

There has been a considerable rise in immigration since these old estimates were put together, so they should be treated with caution.

Whatever the number, “the consensus among researchers is that the majority of irregular migrants in the UK are likely to be visa over-stayers”, according to the Migration Observatory at Oxford University. This could include a tourist who has overstayed a short-term visa, or someone who has been living in the UK but hasn’t left before their longer-term visitors permit expired.

Why else might someone be in the country illegally?

If someone has broken the terms of a legal residence permit then they’re also technically in the country illegally. An example of this would be someone that came to the UK to work, but had a permit with limits on the number of hours they would work each week. If he or she worked for longer than this, they could be in the country illegally.

Others might have entered the UK ‘clandestinely’, meaning that they’ve snuck in, or as the Migration Observatory says, entered through ‘means of deception’for example, using forged documents.

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