BRITAIN may allow nearly half a million failed asylum seekers to stay here under a back-door amnesty scheme.
Ministers are attempting to clear a backlog of 450,000 cases of immigrants who were turned down for refugee status but not expelled from the country.
Many will be granted “indefinite leave to remain” because of the time they have spent living in the UK.
The revelation last night led to accusations that the Government is operating an amnesty policy for newcomers and continuing Tony Blair’s policy of allowing the UK to be seen as a soft touch for illegal immigrants and asylum seekers.
Yesterday, the Home Office confirmed hundreds of thousands of claims would be looked at on a “case-by-case basis”.
The move angered the Tories. Shadow Home Secretary David Davis said: “The Government is effectively offering an amnesty via the back door.”
It emerged yesterday that a 1,000-strong Home Office team has been set up to work through the list of failed asylum seekers to assess whether or not individuals and families should qualify for UK residency rights because such a long time has passed since the rejection of their asylum claims.
Last month, the first 6,000 families on the list were sent questionnaires asking about their current circumstances.
Insiders close to the scheme said those who gave the “right” answers would be granted “leave to remain”. Asylum seekers who cannot be traced by immigration officials are expected to be simply struck off the “legacy” list to ease the backlog.
They would no longer be actively sought for removal, even though they would stay illegal immigrantsMPs are to be informed about the progress in dealing with the list when the House of Commons reconvenes in October.
Yesterday, Immigration Minister Liam Byrne said: “We have no plans for an amnesty, which I have condemned as wrong. This has always been our position and remains the case. In fact, we are doubling the budget for enforcement and we now remove a failed asylum seeker every half an hour. That is why the number of people claiming asylum in the UK is the lowest since 1993.”
A spokeswoman for the Border and Immigration Agency said: “At the Home Affairs Select Committee evidence session on July 24, the Home Secretary stated that Lin Homer, chief executive of the Border and Immigration Agency, would provide an update on the legacy programme in due course.
“The top priority in dealing with these case records has always been those that pose a risk to the public.
“In addition, we will focus on those who can be easily removed, those receiving support and those who may be granted leave to stay.
“In February, Lin Homer confirmed the Case Resolution Directorate had been established to deal specifically with legacy cases, with case-working capability.”
Several Labour MPs—including senior backbencher John Cruddas—and church groups have been calling for an amnesty for Britain’s illegal immigrants.
They claim the move would curb the growing black market of illegal working and tax dodging but opponents argue an amnesty would simply encourage more migrants to head for the UK.