What we’re doing to stop illegal immigration

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak delivering a speech.

When the Prime Minister outlined his priorities in January 2023, he made clear the importance of stopping small boat crossings.   

Since then, we have made considerable progress in tackling illegal immigration – with small boat arrivals to the UK down by 36% and 24,000 illegal migrants returned last year.   

We have made agreements with France, Italy, Turkey, Albania, Bulgaria, Georgia, Ethiopia and Moldova to help control our borders. 

And we have passed our Illegal Migration Act and introduced our Safety of Rwanda Bill, which will mean that anyone who arrives in the UK illegally will be sent back to either their home country or a safe third country, like Rwanda.    

Here is a rundown of the action we have taken and the obstacles we have overcome to tackle illegal immigration.  

Major milestones we reached in 2023

The action we’ve taken in the last year to stop the boats is working.    

  • We’ve now cleared the initial decision asylum legacy backlog.  
  • Small boat crossings are down in the UK by 36%, despite some European countries seeing arrivals surge by 80%   
  • Immigration enforcement raids are up 68%    
  • More than 24,000 people have been removed from the UK.  
  • 50 asylum hotels have been returned to their communities. 

1) Passed new laws to stop the boats 

Last year we passed new laws to stop illegal migrants coming to the UK on small boats. 

The change in law means that anyone who arrives in the UK illegally will not be able to stay. 

If it is safe to do so, illegal migrants will be sent back to their own country. If their home country is not safe, they will be sent to a safe third country like Rwanda – where they will be supported to rebuild their lives while any asylum claim is considered.  

Our new laws mean that the only way to come to the UK for asylum is through safe and legal routes, and that anyone who comes here illegally cannot settle here and has no right to re-entry or citizenship. 

What does the Illegal Immigration Act do? 

  • Gives Ministers power to remove anyone arriving in the UK illegally 
  • Strengthens detention powers so migrants can be detained for 28 days  
  • Stops illegal immigrants processing asylum claims in the UK 
  • Allows the UK to send illegal migrants to a safe third country 
  • Ends the use of last minute legal challenges as delay tactics  
  • Allows migrant appeals to be carried out outside of the UK 
  • Stops the abuse of our modern slavery support system  
  • Expands the list of countries that are considered safe in law 
  • Sets an annual cap on the number of refugees settled via safe and legal routes 

The Illegal Migration Act became law on 20 July 2023; however Supreme Court judgments over issues with Rwanda’s asylum system means the government cannot yet lawfully remove people to the country. 

That is why we have introduced a new treaty, which guarantees in law that illegal migrants sent to Rwanda will not be at risk of being sent on to other countries, where they could face persecution. 

The treaty also means that British judges will sit alongside their Rwandan counterparts to decide cases. 

Additionally, we are introducing emergency legislation which makes it clear in UK law that Rwanda is a safe country for asylum seekers and means that no domestic legal challenge can change that judgement.  

It also means that Ministers alone can decide whether to comply with blocking orders from the European Court of Human Rights, like the one that grounded the first Rwanda flight in 2022. 

2) Returns agreements with other countries  

We have secured various arrangements to help take back control of our borders.  

These include a new partnership with Turkey, which will help combat people smuggling networks by making it harder to source the boat parts used in illegal migration journeys.  

Arrangements with Georgia and Moldova will allow us to return foreign nationals who break immigration laws in the UK, and intelligence sharing with Bulgaria will help the country detect and disrupt people smuggling gangs. 

Other partnerships include: 


More than a quarter of the people who crossed the English Channel in small boats to reach the United Kingdom in 2022 came from Albania – a safe European country. 

In December 2022, the Prime Minister signed a deal with the Albanian Prime Minister to make it more difficult for illegal migrants coming from the country to arrive and stay in the UK. 

Since December 2022, we have returned 5000 Albanians, and Albanian illegal arrivals have fallen by 90%.  


In March, the Prime Minister agreed a new deal with France to reduce the number of small boats crossing the Channel into the UK.  

The deal included introducing hundreds of new French enforcements officers, who are using enhanced technology like drones to prevent crossings.  

The UK and France agreed to share more intelligence to identify trafficking routes, and a new detention centre will be built in France to house migrants who would otherwise have crossed the Channel into the UK. 

In 2022, France prevented 1,381 small boat crossings carrying 33,788 people – that is over 40% of all attempts to cross the Channel, and twice as many illegal crossings that were stopped as the year before.  

3) Illegal working crackdown 

We have increased raids to crack down on illegal working.  

The number is up by almost 70 per cent – with 5,000 arrests in 2023. 

As part of the push, the Home Office deployed a record 300 immigration officers on over 150 enforcement visits in one day. It led to the arrest of 105 foreign nationals who were illegally working in the UK. 

This surge has led to double the number of fines imposed on employers found to be hiring illegal workers, and triple those issued to landlords who knowingly rented their property to illegal migrants. 

4) Cracking down on rogue immigration lawyers  

We are cracking down on rogue immigration lawyers who coach illegal migrants to lie so they can stay in the UK.  

The government has set up a new taskforce to target the small minority of crooked lawyers who help migrants exploit the immigration system. 

The group, which will include regulatory bodies, law enforcement teams and government departments, will tackle the issue by improving how intelligence and information is shared by regulators. 

5) Tackling people smuggling content online 

We have agreed a new partnership with social media companies to stop people smuggling gangs luring people into crossings online.  

The voluntary partnership will crack down on criminals who share content about illegal Channel crossings on social media, including discount offers for groups of people, free spaces for children, offers of false documents and false claims of safe passage.