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Four-year maximum sentences for visa overstayers


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The Nationality and Borders Bill 2021 has passed its third reading in the House of Commons and now goes to the House of Lords on 5 January. The Lords will very likely vote to remove some of the more egregious provisions, and it is always possible that the government will accept a few of those suggestions (it doesn’t have to).

The Bill has already been hacked around a fair bit since we did our in-depth analysis of the text as originally published. One change is to make knowingly overstaying a visa punishable by up to four years’ imprisonment (currently the maximum is six months, very rarely prosecuted). This is being done by adding a new subsection C1 into section 24 of the Immigration Act 1971:

(C1) A person who—

(a) has only a limited leave to enter or remain in the United Kingdom, and

(b) knowingly remains beyond the time limited by the leave,

commits an offence.

Someone convicted in the Crown Court will be liable to “imprisonment for a term not exceeding four years or a fine (or both)”. The same applies to various other new illegal immigration offences, including entering the UK without an electronic travel authorisation.

Silver lining: the government has conceded that the Bill as originally drafted did risk criminalising the RNLI for rescuing refugees in the Channel, as we warned. A new section 25BA says explicitly that any act “done by or on behalf of, or co-ordinated by Her Majesty’s Coastguard” will not count as assisting unlawful immigration.

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CJ McKinney

CJ McKinney is a specialist on immigration law and policy. Formerly the editor of Free Movement, you will find a lot of articles by CJ here on this website! Twitter: @mckinneytweets.


One Response

  1. If prosecuted, then imprisoned overstayers may get free accommodation and food. Who will pay for these costs? Wouldn’t the money be better spent elsewhere? It seems to be a waste of limited resources and at cross purposes? It seems to be a lose-lose idea.

    As a comparison, there’s no mention of imprisonment, if overstaying in the Schengen zone.