The claim
“We are starting the deportation process earlier and removing foreign criminals quicker than ever”
Immigration Minister Damian Green, 27 October 2011

The background

After Theresa May’s catgate, you would think MP’s might tread more carefully on the thorny issue of immigration.

Less than a month ago Ms May was complaining that all too often foreign criminals are allowed to stay in the UK – and for the most ludicrous reasons. Yet today, immigration minister Damian Green said the government is removing foreign criminals quicker than ever.

So what’s it to be – are they staying or going?

The analysis

Between 1996 and 2006 the number of foreign national prisoners in English and Welsh prisons doubled, and according to the Home Office has remained relatively constant over the last five years.

They now represent around 13 per cent of the overall prison population – which overall is sitting at an all-time high.

And while the number of foreign prisoners remains static, the number leaving the country is dropping.

In 2010, 5,342 foreign national prisoners left the country. That’s down on the previous two years, albeit by a few hundred, and the lowest number since 2007 when 4,200 were removed.

But this downward trend looks set to continue, with quarterly figures from 2011 so far showing that in Q2 – April to June – just 936 prisoners were deported, down from 1,264 in the same quarter last year.

Indeed, the Home Office admits that overall number of enforced removals and voluntary departures between April and June was “the lowest figure since quarterly data first became available in 2001”.

So they’re not doing too well on volume, but how about speed – are we slinging criminals out faster than ever?

The Home Office told FactCheck that the average length of time between a foreign prisoner finishing a sentence and being deported has been reduced to 77 days this year.

This is down from 95 days last year, and 119 days in 2009.

While today’s independent report on the UK Border Agency found this encouraging, it also discovered that there are still 1,600 people who’d finished their sentences but were still being detained awaiting deportation.

Plus, it found that the average length of detention pending deportation has climbed from 143 days in February 2010, to 190 days in January 2011 – with 27 per cent of all those detained being held for more than a year. It also expects this percentage to continue to rise because of difficulties with travel documentation.

What’s more, the UKBA told the Independent Chief Inspector John Vine that there are currently 3,775 people awaiting deportation who have done their time in jail, but haven’t been deported – and instead have been released back into the community.

The report said: “There were a growing number of people whom the Agency had decided to deport, but had not done so, primarily because of difficulties in enforcing returns to particular countries, including the availability of travel documents.”

The verdict

Of the foreign criminals that the government has managed to deport this year, Mr Green is right that they’ve been booted out more quickly. Home Office figures show that this year prisoners are being deported 20 per cent faster than last year.

But what about those that we haven’t managed to get rid of? While the number of foreign criminals in our prisons remains the same, the number being deported once they’ve completed their sentences is dropping.

Instead, they are being detained, and detained for longer. Or they are being released back into the community.

Overall, there are 5,000 people here now that shouldn’t be in the country – more than double the 2,275 who were deported in the first six months of this year.

Mr Green blames the Human Rights Act, but actually only 425 cases out of the 5,000 have been allowed to stay in the country on the basis of human rights.

By Emma Thelwell