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400,000 migrants in UK could benefit from regularisation of their status

Around 400,000 'irregular' migrants living in the UK could benefit if a scheme were introduced to regularise their status, based on 5 years of crime free residence, according to LSE researchers.

The LSE London study was undertaken by Ian Gordon, Kathleen Scanlon, Tony Travers and Christine Whitehead for the Mayor of London. It estimates the current numbers of irregular migrants living in the UK – including failed asylum seekers, visa overstayers, illegal entrants and their UK-born children. The report then considers how many of these could be eligible under a regularisation scheme and the potential impacts this could have on GDP, tax receipts and the costs of public services.

The research estimates current numbers of irregular migrants across the UK at between 417,000 and 863,000 – although given the nature of this group firm data are limited. Despite the dispersal programmes in operation since 2000, some 70 per cent probably live in London.

The biggest group of irregular migrants is failed asylum seekers, who arrived mostly in the years around 2000. There have been  long delays in finally resolving their cases and they have not been deported. 

Available evidence suggests that only half of adult irregular migrants are in work at any time. It also suggests that – as has been documented in the US –  those in jobs are likely to earn only 80 per cent, or less, of otherwise comparable migrants. If regularisation eliminated these differentials it could add some £3billion (or about 0.3 per cent) to national GDP.

Regularisation would entitle migrants to some additional services. However they would not be eligible for social housing provision or benefits and welfare entitlements unless and until they are free of migration controls. Under current paths to citizenship plans this could take a long time.  

Allowing for increased take up following on from regularisation, likely additional public service costs could be of the order of £410 million per annum, rising to £1 billion as and when migrants receive indefinite leave to remain.

These would be balanced by additions to tax/social security payments. With a full take-up of regularisation and greater access to the job market, revenues might rise by some £850 million per annum.

The scale of these effects is less than might be supposed, because a proportion of formally irregular migrants are already operating on a quite 'regular' basis in relation to both tax payments and service use. 

The authors emphasise that all of their estimates are subject to substantial margins of uncertainty, both because of data gaps, and because outcomes would depend greatly on how a scheme was designed and implemented.