The Government gave £6 million in “bounty” handouts to asylum-seekers in the first four months of the year under a scheme to encourage migrants to leave Britain.
Figures issued yesterdayshow that the £3,000 cash-and-training package prompted a surge in applications from people wishing to depart.
A total of 1,956 asylum-seekers took up the offer in the first four months of the year, more than double the number who left on voluntary departure schemes in the same period of 2005.
The huge increase in numbers accepting £2,000 in cash and a further £1,000 worth of job training and education has resulted in the Government extending the scheme for a further six months.
Liam Byrne, the Immigration Minister, said in a written statement: “A significant amount of work continues to promote voluntary returns, and there is a high level of interest to take up the scheme.
“We have decided to extend the scheme for a further six months, during which time the Immigration and Nationality Directorate and International Organisation for Migration will undertake additional analysis of the results of the pilot scheme to assist in developing the most appropriate level of incentive in future voluntary return programmes.”
The scheme applies only to those who applied for asylum before January 1 and they must leave the UK between July 1 and the end of the year.
In 2005-06 there were 3,887 voluntary assisted returns, compared with 2,783 the previous financial year. The Home Office advertised the scheme with mailshots to all 54,000 people receiving benefits and accommodation from the National Asylum Support Service.
The scheme was also publicised in asylum detention centres and reporting centres.
Tony McNulty, the former immigration minister, said that the £3,000 cost was “good value for money” compared with the £11,000 average cost of a forced deportation.
Some asylum seekers who have taken advantage of a previous voluntary return deal have returned to the UK between 2000-2005.
Nine asylum seekers—four Albanians, three Kosovans, a Pole and a Nigerian—had returned and then had to be flown out of the UK a second time. Only one of them received reintegration support—a business grant worth £797.
The National Audit Office and Commons Public Accounts committee have urged ministers to encourage more people to leave voluntarily because of the costs of forced removals.
But Sir John Gieve, a former permanent secretary at the Home Office, warned MPs that increasing payouts might encourage people to come to Britain.
He told MPs last year: “If the worst thing that is going to happen to you if you come and claim asylum when you are not due asylum in Britain is that someone gives you a few thousand pounds and sends you home, that may not look like a very big downside.”