People crossing the UK border illegally do not automatically get jobs and benefits

17 March 2023
What was claimed

People arriving illegally in the UK will get a job, benefits, driving licence and a tax-free business.

Our verdict

This is misleading. People arriving in the UK illegally must apply for the right to remain in order to be able to work, apply for a driving licence or claim benefits. There is no such thing as a business tax exemption.

What was claimed

People arriving illegally in the UK will get food, a place to live, healthcare and education.

Our verdict

People who have claimed asylum are entitled to basic support while their claim is being processed, but do not have access to all the same benefits as legal UK residents.

A Facebook post that makes misleading claims about immigration has been shared more than 570,000 times. Originally posted on social media in 2012, it has been shared widely in recent weeks.

The post makes several claims about the outcome for someone crossing the border illegally into the UK, compared to other countries such as North Korea, Afghanistan and Iran. 

It says: “SO LET ME GET THIS STRAIGHT… If you cross the North Korean border illegally, you get 12 years. hard labour. If you cross the Afghanistan border illegally, you get shot. Two Americans just got eight years for crossing the Iranian border. [sic]

“If you cross the U.K. border illegally you get a job, a drivers license, food stamps, a place to live, healthcare, housing & child benefits, education, & a tax free business for 7 years.”

The post appears to be based on an email that was sent to the Cannon Courier, a local news outlet in Tennessee, in 2010. The email’s text, which appears elsewhere online, refers to the US rather than the UK but has many similarities

Full Fact has written many fact checks about immigration, including false claims that £7 million a day is spent on hotels for people who cross the channel illegally and that half of unaccompanied children seeking asylum are found to be adults

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Arriving in the UK illegally 

The claim that someone arriving in the UK illegally will automatically get a job, benefits or a tax free business for seven years is misleading. This is the case both today and when it was originally posted in 2012.

Although some people who arrive illegally do eventually get some of these things, this only happens if their application to stay is approved by the government. Some very basic support is potentially available, to provide essentials like food and shelter while people wait for a decision, but not the normal “housing and child benefits” that are available to legal residents of the UK.   

What are the rules?

If someone doesn’t have a right to be in the UK, either because they arrived illegally or overstayed a legal visa, they are not allowed to claim public funds

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR)’s 1951 Refugee Convention states that those arriving through both legal and illegal routes can apply for asylum in order to be granted a legal leave to remain.

Some people may be eligible for Legal Aid to help with their asylum claim, while the government may help to pay for a voluntary return journey when people can’t stay in the UK legally. 

Only if and when an application for asylum is accepted will someone be given refugee status, which means they’re eligible to work and claim benefits in the same way other UK residents are. People granted refugee status can apply for tax credits, but there is no such thing as a business tax exemption. 

The only specific form of government help available to refugees is a refugee integration loan, which can help pay for things such as a rent deposit or rent, household items or education or training for work. 

If the asylum claim is rejected, the person will be expected to leave the UK and could face being detained and deported. 

For people who have entered the UK illegally, their asylum claims may not be considered if they travelled through other “safe countries” before arriving in the UK.

The government’s new Illegal Migration Bill plans to make the asylum claims of people arriving in the UK illegally on small boats “inadmissible in the UK system”. The bill would see them deported to a “safe third country”, where their claim for asylum would be processed, and banned from returning to the UK. 

If someone claiming asylum has a valid foreign licence, there is no evidence to suggest they are not able to drive a registered, insured vehicle for up to 12 months in the same way other foreign nationals can. Although, access to or ownership of a vehicle may affect someone’s asylum support claim or ongoing support payments.

However, after 12 months, they would need to apply for a UK driving licence to continue to drive. Asylum seekers are not entitled to apply for a UK driving licence.

In 2012, only those with a leave to remain in the UK could apply for a UK driving licence following “tougher immigration checks” first introduced in 2010. From 2014, the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) only issued driving licences to UK residents, which does not include asylum claimants.

If someone does not apply for legal permission to stay in the UK, or their leave to remain has expired, they are staying in the UK illegally. In this case, it is a criminal offence to work and, if caught, they could face up to 6 months in prison and any wages will be seized. 

It is also a criminal offence for landlords and agents to knowingly let properties to an illegal migrant, so they may struggle to find housing. People in the UK illegally will be charged for hospital treatment or secondary health care whilst in the UK. A criminal record or outstanding medical bills may affect a person’s immigration application if they claim in the future.

Asylum support

The post also refers to asylum seekers being offered “food stamps, a place to live, healthcare, housing & child benefits, education”.

The term “food stamps” may refer to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) which is provided in the US, not the UK. 

However, under Section 95 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, all asylum seekers are entitled to food, housing, education and healthcare while their claims are being processed. Financial assistance and accommodation can also be provided to “destitute” asylum seekers during this period. 

In 2012, adult asylum seekers received £36.62 a week and £43.94 for a lone parent over the age of 18. Today, this amount is £45 a week per person, or £9.10 if the accommodation provides meals.

Pregnant women and mothers with a child between one to three years old get an extra £3 a week. This rises to £5 if the child is under one year old. There is also a one-off £300 maternity payment if a woman is due to have a baby in 8 weeks or less, or if a baby is under 6 weeks old. 

People arriving in the UK illegally may initially be held in detention facilities while their immigration status is resolved and their asylum claims are filed. They are then placed in accommodation that ranges from a shared flat, house, hostel, hotel, or bed and breakfast. Both in 2012 and 2023, asylum claimants have to accept the accommodation they are assigned and have no choice over its location.

Asylum support also includes access to NHS healthcare, as well as free prescriptions, free dental care, free eyesight tests and help paying for glasses. Asylum seekers between 5 and 17 must also attend school and may apply for free school meals. Healthcare and education were also provided in 2012. 

This support is temporary and dependent on the status of someone’s application. 

If their claim has been rejected, and they’ve lost their right to appeal, Section 95 support will end within 21 days of the decision. However, both in 2012 and today, the person may have access to reduced support until they are able to leave the UK. 

Full Fact has recently fact checked many claims about the extent of asylum support. This includes false claims that asylum seekers receive £175 a week in addition to free meals, are entitled to more benefits than pensioners and that they fast-track NHS waiting lists.

Crossing other borders

The Facebook post also claims: “If you cross the North Korean border illegally, you get 12 years. hard labour. If you cross the Afghanistan border illegally, you get shot. Two Americans just got eight years for crossing the Iranian border. [sic]”

This may be referring to the arrest of two US journalists who faced 12 years’ hard labour after crossing illegally into North Korea in 2009. Their return to the US was negotiated by the Clinton administration after 140 days of imprisonment

Similarly, the post may refer to two US men who were arrested in 2009 while hiking along the Iraq-Iran border and sentenced to eight years in prison on charges of espionage. The pair were released from prison and returned to the US two years later. 

Iran is listed as having a punishment of one to three years, or a fine, in the Law Library’s 2019 list of countries criminalising illegal entrants. However, reports suggest Iran has taken a “hardline stance” against Afghans seeking asylum there since the Taliban takeover in 2021. 

North Korea and Afghanistan are not listed but it is difficult to obtain information about their approach to illegal immigrants under their political regimes. 

Full Fact has not found a specific incident of people being shot at the Afghanistan border. However, it may be referring more generally to the Afghanistan war between 2001 and 2014. 

Image courtesy of Raimond Spekkin

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