September 29, 2021
Government spending on immigration enforcement has fallen by £40 million since 2018/19, despite a rise in unauthorised entries.
The news was revealed by the latest Home Office spending statistics and is summarised in a new Migration Watch UK briefing paper (MW497 - Spending and staffing: UK immigration and asylum system).
The figures show that, in the midst of government promises of firmer immigration control and more secure borders,the number of Immigration Enforcement staff fell by 266 (from 5,121 in 2018/19 to 4,855 in 2020/21), and gross expenditure dropped by £42 million (from just under £462 million in 2018/19 to £420 million in 2020/21).
The government has admitted that the number of detected illegal entries (including those entering in small boats and in the back of lorries) increased between 2018 and 2020 (and illegal Channel crossings have more than doubled this year compared with reported arrivals by the same point in 2020, see our Tracker). There was also a serious rise of potential overstaying between 2015/16 and 2019/20.
In contrast to cuts in immigration enforcement, Border Force spent over £140 million more between 2018/19 and 2020/21 - annual gross expenditure rose from £558 million to £705 million while the department added over 1,100 more staff during the period - the numbers increasing from 8,197 to 9,328.
While the boost in Border Force resources is welcome, the Independent Borders watchdog reported in late 2020 that BF staff believed they were being misused as a ‘taxi service’ into the UK by those attempting to cross in small boats and the people smugglers that organise such trips.
The fall in immigration enforcement spending is concerning given that it forms a major part of the government's new plan - currently before Parliament - to tackle problems such as absconding and increase the removals of those who may pose a risk to the public.
There are concerns that the worsening Channel crisis - the escalation of which the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration suggested could have been avoided had firmer action been taken earlier on - has led to direction of resources away from other vital enforcement tasks.
Commenting, Alp Mehmet, Chairman of Migration Watch UK, said:
These figures help to underline how skewed the government's priorities have become. Even as illegal entries rose from year to year, there has been a drop in spending and staffing numbers for the very department tasked with enforcing the law. Especially in light of the worsening chaos in the Channel, there needs to be a huge boost in resources for this task.