What counts as ‘Illegal Immigration’?

What counts as ‘Illegal Immigration’?

Every year thousands of people flee their home countries to migrate to the UK. Often people will have to enter through unsafe routes such as small boats and this will likely cause them to have a traumatic journey before they arrive.

Those who leave their home countries often do so to escape from war, violence and the threat of persecution. The urge to find a better and safer life fuels people to take these risky journeys even without the correct legal authorisation to do so.

“In the year ending June 2023, there were 52,530 irregular migrants detected entering the UK, up 17% from the year ending June 2022. 85% of these arrived via small boats.”

Irregular Migrants

  • Those who had a visa but it has now expired.
  • Those who may enter the UK through safe routes using a tourism visa but remain in the UK for alternative purposes.
  • Children of undocumented migrants because the UK does not have a birthplace right.
  • Those who enter the UK without any documentation to authorise their entry.


Once people arrive in the UK they can apply as an asylum seeker, however, this is not possible until they are physically in the UK, leaving no legal, safe way to migrate. The government estimates that in the year ending, June 2023, 90% of arrivals from small boats had an asylum claim recorded as a main applicant or dependent. The process could take years until people receive the authorisation to be a resident in the UK.

74% of all small boat asylum applications since 2018 are awaiting a decision and only 1% of the arrivals in the year ending June 2023 have received an initial decision. People will remain detained until a decision has been made.

If permission is denied to stay in the UK this would make someone an irregular migrant in the UK which makes it more difficult to acquire regular status again. A person could be removed from the county and banned from re-entering for 1-10 years.

The Illegal Migration Act

In July 2023 the UK government passed the Illegal Immigration Act which restricts those who enter the UK without the correct documentation.

This act means that irregular migrants will be detained and then removed to their home country or a safe third country such as Greece or Rwanda. This process could take years whilst the families and individuals will have to remain detained and unable to work, generate an income, receive access to education, and proper healthcare and be witness to potentially scarring scenes.

The Government have laid out the aims for this act…

  • Remove the incentive for people to make dangerous small boat crossings which will put a stop to illegal migration.
  • Speed up the removal of those who have not received the correct authorisation and documents to remain in the UK.
  • They hope to free up the space and resources to support those who require asylum through safe and legal routes.
  • Prevent the misuse of the modern slavery safeguards to be able to support those in genuine need of these resources.
  • Be able to commit to resettle a specific number of the most vulnerable refugees in the UK each year.

The Rwanda Policy

If irregular migrants are forced to relocate from the UK they will either be sent to their home country or a safe third option.

In 2022 Boris Johnson agreed to a Migration and Economic development partnership whereby those who enter the UK illegally and who are not granted authorisation to stay will be relocated to Rwanda.

Only a small number of people will be accepted into Rwanda each year due to what their system can handle.

The Supreme Court ruled against this policy stating that Rwanda was not a safe option due to inadequacies in their asylum system. In response, the UK Government agreed to a new treaty to update and replace policies in order for Rwanda to be declared a safe country for asylum seekers.

Rwanda is now stated as safe and there would be no argument for irregular migrants to stand on unless they in particular would be unsafe there. The treaty aims to deter people from making the unsafe journeys to the UK as they could be sent to Rwanda once they arrive.


Illegal immigration is an act of seeking protection and refuge from another country without legal documents when one’s own is unsafe. It can be difficult to acquire the correct authorisation to legally stay in the UK and the process could last years before a decision is made. This often leads to people being unable to work and receive the resources needed for healthy wellbeing. The immigration laws in the UK are often changing and for those who seek asylum, it could become more challenging to receive a positive outcome.


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