UK signs landmark agreement with Pakistan for removal of overstayers and criminals

By Amer Zaman

on September 29, 2022

Read Time: 7 Minutes

In one of her most eye-catching moves during her final few weeks as Home Secretary, it was confirmed on Wednesday 17th August that Priti Patel had put her signature to a “major new agreement” geared towards returning overseas criminals and immigration offenders in the UK to Pakistan.

The deal was the latest in a series of returns agreements that the then-Home Secretary had signed over the preceding 15 months under the Boris Johnson Government’s New Plan for Immigration policy.

In the Home Office’s news release confirming the UK-Pakistan deal, the department said that Ms Patel had met with Pakistan Interior Secretary, Yousaf Naseem Khokhar, as well as the country’s High Commissioner to the UK, Moazzam Ahmad Khan, in order to sign the “reciprocal agreement”.

What did the now-former Home Secretary say about the agreement?

Ms Patel said at the time of the deal’s unveiling in August: “I make no apology for removing dangerous foreign criminals and immigration offenders who have no right to remain in the UK. The British public have quite rightly had enough of people abusing our laws and gaming the system so we can’t remove them.

“This agreement, which I am proud to have signed with our Pakistani friends, shows the New Plan for Immigration in action and the Government delivering. “Our new Borders Act will go further and help end the cycle of last-minute claims and appeals that can delay removals.”

Why have the UK and Pakistan agreed this returns deal?

In its announcement of the UK-Pakistan agreement, the Home Office linked the arrangement to the UK Government’s broader New Plan for Immigration, previously described as being based on “fairness”.

In the words of a policy paper on the New Plan for Immigration strategy: “We have taken back control of our legal migration system by ending free movement and introducing a new points-based system… we will welcome those who are returning to the UK or arriving to support our prosperity. We will strengthen our border against those who should not be in the UK.”

In its press release announcing the new agreement between the UK and Pakistan, the Home Office set out some of its reasoning for the deal. The department said that Pakistani nationals constituted the seventh-largest number of foreign criminals in prisons in England and Wales, accounting for nearly 3% of the foreign national offender population in the UK.

The Home Office added that the deal “underlines both countries’ ongoing commitment to tackling the issue of illegal migration and the significant threats it poses to both nations. The agreement also includes ongoing work to improve and expanded UK-Pakistani law enforcement cooperation.”

What has been the response to the UK-Pakistan returns agreement?

There has been some positive response to the deal in the United Kingdom. The MP for Wycombe, Steve Baker, a fellow member of Ms Patel’s ruling Conservative Party, said that the returns agreements reached between the UK and various other countries would “see the UK and co-signatories benefit from enhanced arrangements on migration issues. They will support ordinary people living and working in the UK and co-signatory countries and continue to assist people coming to the UK through legal routes.”

However, questions have been asked about whether the agreement represents the best deal for Pakistan, with some lawyers having suggested that the country may now be subject to an influx of deported criminals from the UK.

One UK-based expert in immigration law was quoted as saying to Pakistan’s English-language Dawn newspaper: “This is a very negative step for Pakistan. Last year, the Pakistani Government was presented with this deal and refused to sign it, because fundamentally it will allow serious criminals to be deported to Pakistan without critical information sharing. This will present huge problems for Pakistan.” He said that the UK was “the only beneficiary” of the deal.

How might the new arrangement between the UK and Pakistan affect you?

It has been reported that the new plan could lead to Pakistani nationals who do not have the legal right to remain in the UK – including criminals, failed asylum seekers, visa overstayers, and immigration offenders – being removed from the UK and taken to Pakistan.

Another of Pakistan’s English-language newspapers, Pakistan Today, reported that the new policy’s implementation would not focus on dual nationals who held both Pakistani and British identities.

The newspaper said diplomats had been informed the policy would “affect those Pakistani passport holders who are either involved in immigration offences or organised crimes, including sex grooming and paedophilia.”

With or without this latest agreement between the two countries, it is hardly a new phenomenon for the UK to send foreign criminals to Pakistan. A Pakistani diplomat who took part in negotiations with the UK Government was cited as saying by Pakistan Today that the UK had already been doing so for about a decade under Mutual Legal Assistance (MLA), as well as on an individual case basis.

However, the latest agreement is said to be the first formal state-to-state level deal between the two countries to be signed in relation to this matter.   Regardless, it remains to be seen precisely what is likely to change between the UK and Pakistan on the subject of the handling of criminals and overstayers who may be affected by this deal.  

Can Pakistanis move to the UK?

The UK-Pakistan returns agreement focuses on a specific subset of Pakistani nationals in the UK who may have committed immigration or other offences or who do not have the right to remain in the UK. For other Pakistani nationals for whom the above is not the case, it remains perfectly possible to apply for – and potentially be approved for – a visa to the UK.

Whether you are a Pakistani citizen interested in applying for a UK visa in order to visit the country for a short time, or instead to work or join family members here for a longer period, our team at Cranbrook Legal can project-manage your case for a pre-agreed fixed fee.

Please feel free to call 0208 215 0053, or to complete and submit our online contact form, to discuss our service and how we could help you.

Following Priti Patel’s resignation as Home Secretary, what does the future hold?

On 5th September, Ms Patel quit her post as Home Secretary following Liz Truss’s win in the Conservative Party leadership contest, which also made the latter Prime Minister.

In her resignation letter – addressed to outgoing Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and shared on social media – Ms Patel said it had “been a great honour and privilege to serve the country with you during your premiership.”

She said that in her years in the role since July 2019, the Government had “used our Brexit freedoms to take back control of our immigration laws with a new points-based immigration system… our New Plan for Immigration means that at long last, what the British public want is reflected in immigration policy, ending abuses of the immigration and asylum system.”

Ms Patel also referred in her resignation letter to the “international returns agreements” she had signed with Pakistan and other countries including India, Albania, Serbia, and Nigeria, which she said had supported the Government’s work to be “tough on foreign national offenders”.

It is fair to say that not all observers agreed with Ms Patel’s characterisation of her tenure in the role as a success.

In an article for the Free Movement website entitled “Priti Patel: an unparalleled record of failure”, barrister and writer Colin Yeo declared that “to cut a long story short, she announced much and achieved nothing. Patel failed at everything, leaving the Home Office in a far worse state than she found it.”

Mr Yeo drew attention to the explosion in small-boat arrivals from across the Channel during her time in the job – from “almost no one” in 2018, to an average of 3,000 people per month by June 2022.

And, in a comment that would not seem to augur well for the latest UK-Pakistan deal or any of the other returns agreements signed by Ms Patel as Home Secretary, Mr Yeo observed that “the reality is that enforced removals and voluntary departures are at almost unprecedentedly low levels.”

He said that while the total number of enforced returns was nearly 14,000 a year in 2010, this had halved to just over 7,000 by the time Ms Patel became Home Secretary. By 2021, the number was a mere 2,761 – and only 113 failed asylum seekers in total were removed in the whole of that year.

It is not an enviable inheritance to pass on to her successor as Home Secretary, the former Attorney General Suella Braverman. With Ms Braverman herself being a hardened Brexiter and having expressed her strong support for the Johnson Government’s controversial Rwanda policy – which the new Prime Minister has also backed – questions remain as to whether the Home Office’s general direction of travel will be greatly different in the months and years ahead.

In the meantime, our own immigration experts in central London here at Cranbrook Legal stand ready to continue serving your needs in relation to immigration to the UK. Please call 0208 215 0053 to arrange the free consultation that would enable us to assess how we can best help your case.

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