Up to 15,000 families who sought asylum in the UK more than three years ago, the majority of whom are being supported by the taxpayer, will be considered for permission to live and work here.
New measures, also announced today, would end all future support for families who have been refused asylum if they refuse to take up the offer of a voluntary, paid route home. In addition, we are exploring how we might attach new conditions to Section 4 - 'hardcase' - support to ensure it is only paid to those who agree to comply with the removal process when it becomes possible for them to go home. These measures will send a clear signal that people refused asylum from now on must leave the UK.
The one-off exercise for families will apply to those who sought asylum in the UK before 2 October 2000, had children before that date and who have suffered from historical delays in the system. It is likely to include some families whose children have been in the UK for seven years, who are already entitled to apply for leave to remain here under an existing concession.
The exercise will apply, in addition, to cases where the final appeals process has not been exhausted and to those where final decisions were made but removal was not effected. People who have committed a criminal offence, lodged multiple asylum applications or whose cases are the responsibility of countries elsewhere in Europe will be excluded from the exercise.
Mr Blunkett said: 'Over the last few years, the government has delivered enormous improvements to the asylum system - speeding up decision making, introducing electronic fingerprinting, closing Sangatte and moving the UK's borders abroad to tackle illegal immigration and reduce the number of asylum claims.
'I have not been afraid to take the difficult decisions and we now have some of the toughest laws in Europe to deter abuse of the system. As a result asylum claims have halved and the backlog of cases is the lowest for a decade. And we are driving forward with legislation at the earliest opportunity to deal with the remaining parts of the system in need of substantial reform.
'However, the legacy of the historic inadequacies of the system is still with us. This does not manifest itself only in statistics but in the lives of real families in our communities. As the chief inspector of schools said earlier this week, children from asylum-seeking families are especially motivated and doing well in schools. MPs from all sides appeal to me for such families to be allowed to stay in the UK every week.
'Granting this group indefinite leave to remain and enabling them to work is the most cost-effective way of dealing with the situation and will save taxpayer's money on support and legal aid. These are difficult decisions but I do not believe it is the best use of taxpayer's money to take these expensive longstanding individual appeals through the courts. I want to ensure our relentless focus is on steadily increasing the proportion of failed asylum seekers
removed from now on.
'The applications of this group pre-date the introduction of a simplified appeals process to prevent people lodging new appeals against removal on human rights grounds. This additional layer of appeal has now been ended for new cases and we are bringing forward further measures to curtail the level of appeals and money spent on legal aid.
'This one-off exercise will enable those who have suffered years of uncertainty over their status to move off benefits and into work to fully contribute to society.'
The Home Office is currently supporting 12,000 families who applied for asylum before October 2000. It is believed that the vast majority will qualify for leave to remain in the UK under the terms of the exercise. Moving even 1,000 of them off support will save £15m in support costs in addition to any potential savings on legal aid. Up to 3,000 families who are self-supporting may also qualify.
The families will be given the immigration status of 'indefinite leave to remain' in the UK which means they are able to live and work here without restrictions.
The Home Office will write to those who are eligible for leave to remain under the exercise and is not encouraging people to enquire directly. It is expected to take about six months to assess the bulk of those who may be eligible.
The new power to withdraw support from families who fail to take up the offer of a paid, voluntary route home builds on existing powers to remove support from those who do not comply with enforced removal directions. It is designed to remove the current incentive for families to delay removal as long as possible and so save money in support and legal costs.
ASYLUM MEASURES TO BUILD ON SUCCESS IN HALVING NUMBERSHome Office 27 October announcement.
Many of the people whose claims were not initially dealt with in the first six months were, and remain, eligible to work and many of those will have jobs.
The Home Office removed almost 15,000 failed asylum seekers in 2002/03, an increase of 29% on the previous year.
In the same period, the Home Office exceeded targets to speed up decision making - with almost three quarters of new applications decided within two months. Two years ago, less than a quarter were decided in two months.
People with Indefinite Leave to Remain status who commit criminal offences can have their leave revoked and be removed from the UK.
These measures will cut overall costs to the taxpayer and the Home Office will work with other government departments and local authorities to manage any extra costs falling to them as a result.