Does Immigration Enforcement Matter (DIEM) project news

Franck Düvell

This blog series by Franck Düvell, Myriam Cherti and other project staff provides news and comment on the ESRC-funded project Does Immigration Enforcement Matter (DIEM). Further posts and publications can be found on the project page.

13 March 2017

How do irregular immigrants in the UK compare with British irregular immigrants abroad?

In the UK ‘illegal migration’ is high on the list of public and policy concerns. In the British media, ‘illegal’ has been the top most often used term when reporting about immigrants (30%, trend decreasing) (Migration Observatory 2016). ‘Illegal migrants’ are usually associated with ‘the other’ and thought of, for instance, as Indians, Brazilians or Albanians. The media would typically report matters like “the nation with the highest number of [detected] illegal workers in Britain was Bangladesh, at 3,574. There were 3,568 illegal workers from Pakistan; 2,782 from India; 1,310 Chinese; and 458 Nigerians. Other nationalities working illegally in large numbers include Albanians, Turks and Ukrainians” (e.g. The Times 2016).

Meanwhile, it is usually overlooked that in other countries it is actually British nationals who also violate immigration law and stay as ‘illegal immigrants’. In the United States, British nationals were found to be the sixth largest nationality of visa overstayers, 18,950 in 2015, whilst Indians came only ninth (Department for Homeland Security 2016). In Australia, the media identified Brits as the fourth largest nationality of visa overstayers, ranking after Chinese, Malaysians and Americans, and just ahead of Indians (Sydney Morning Herald 2014). They represented 3,786 or 6% of the total. The media reported, ‘There are enough illegal immigrants living in Australia to populate a large regional city. [They are] hiding illegally in the community. …[T]he biggest groups of illegals are Chinese, American, Malaysian, British and South Korean’ (The Courier Mail 2011). And in New Zealand, British nationals are recognised as the fifth largest group of visa overstayers – 495 in January 2016 (New Zealand Immigration 2016) – ranking before China or Brazil. No figures could be found for Canada, another popular destination for British migrants. And in Turkey, British nationals have for long resided in an irregular fashion in significant numbers, exploiting an inconsistency in the migration legislation that allowed them to leave and re-enter the country in order to obtain a fresh visa (own observation) (the law changed in 2014 so that this practice is now longer possible).

This demonstrates that violating immigration legislation is not limited to certain nationalities; instead, Brits abroad may do more or less the same. It also illustrates some element of reciprocity as some of the countries of origin of irregular migration in the UK themselves host irregular Brits.