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Returns and Charter Flight Factsheet (Nov 2021)

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The purpose of this factsheet is to provide information to explain the deportation and enforced removal process and use of charter flights and to explain the checks and balances in the system to ensure our work is carried out both fairly and in accordance with the law.

·      Since April 2020 we have used 95 charter flights * to return people to countries including Albania, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Hungary, Jamaica, Lithuania, Nigeria, Poland, Zimbabwe, Romania and Spain.

·       In the year ending March 2021 there were 2,420 enforced returns, of which 1,723 were to EU countries.

·       In the year ending March 2020 there were 6,654 enforced returns, of which 3,300 were to EU countries.

·      For certain countries we will ensure all persons being returned are not eligible for support or compensation from the Windrush Schemes. We will also confirm that they have no entitlement to British citizenship.

·      In some countries we provide funding for multiple charities and non-government organisations, like Zimbabwe and Jamaica who help people to re-integrate upon their return. We are one of the few countries in the world who provide this support.


Charter flights are sent to different countries around the world, we utilise them where there is a lack of scheduled routing via commercial airlines to a particular country or where it is most cost effective. We use them to return people under different pieces of legislation and we use different language to describe the type of return:

  • ‘Returns’ is the language we use when referring to ALL types of removals from the UK.
  • ‘Administrative Removal’ is where a person has breached UK immigration laws, and those removed under other administrative and illegal entry powers that have declined to leave voluntarily.
  • ‘Deportation’ is a legally-defined subset of returns, which are enforced either following a criminal conviction, or when it is judged that a person’s removal from the UK is conducive to the public good.

The Legislation

The power to remove a person who requires leave to enter or remain in the UK but does not have it, is contained in section 10 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 (as amended by the Immigration Act 2014). This provides for removal directions to be issued for:

  • The removal of a person, and their family members, under Schedule 2 to the Immigration Act 1971 by ship or aircraft to:
    • a country of which they are a national or citizen
    • a country or territory in which they have obtained a passport or other document of identity
    • a country or territory to which there is reason to believe that they will be admitted
    • a country or territory from which they embarked for the UK
  • The deportation of a person under Schedule 3 to the Immigration Act 1971 by ship or aircraft to:
    • a country of which they are a national or citizen
    • a country or territory to which there is reason to believe that they will be admitted.

The Home Secretary is required by law (UK Borders Act 2007) to issue a deportation order to any non-British or Irish citizen who has been convicted of an offence in the UK and received a custodial sentence of at least 12 months, unless an exception applies.

Under the Immigration Act 1971, a foreign national may also be deported where it is “conducive to the public good”. Typically, this will be a person who has been convicted of an offence that has caused serious harm, is a persistent offender or who represents a threat to national security.

Commonwealth and Irish citizens who were ordinarily resident in the UK before 1 January 1973 and ordinarily resident five years before the decision to deport them are exempt from deportation.

The Process

If a foreign national is convicted of a crime and the court sentences them to serve a prison sentence, the prison and probation service is required to inform the Home Office. The police also carry out checks for overseas criminal convictions on those who are arrested.

The UK only ever returns those whom the Home Office – or when legal claims are raised, the courts – are satisfied do not need protection and have no legal basis to remain in the UK.

Legal challenges

We have received criticism due to the low number of people that are returned on charter flights to some destinations. We always intend to ensure that the process of running charter flights is cost effective and aim to maximise capacity on the flights. However, we do see a large number of last-minute legal claims from those who are detained for these flights and to ensure that we are meeting our lawful obligations, we must ensure that we carefully consider those claims fully before removal. Where claims cannot be resolved in time for the flight’s departure this can act as a barrier to removal and the person will not be returned on that flight. If you wish to read more about the issues raised by people facing return in immigration detention you can find a Home Office report into this issue here.

Those being returned are provided with the opportunity to raise claims, including claims that they have been victims of modern slavery and trafficking, prior to their return. All claims raised are fully considered and decided upon before return including, where applicable via the courts.

All legal claims raised are fully considered and decided upon before return, first by the Home Office and then, if the individual is not satisfied with the decision and pursues a legal challenge or appeal, by the courts.

Every person who meets the threshold for deportation is given access to legal advice and support and has an opportunity to challenge their removal through the legal system.

A right of appeal to the First-Tier (Immigration and Asylum) Tribunal is available in most cases where the Home Office refuses a human rights or protection claim or where the individual’s protection status is revoked.

When a person makes a claim against deportation under Article 8 (right to private and family life) of the European Convention on Human Rights, a range of factors are considered when assessing the public interest in deportation, in line with the Immigration Rules. The Immigration Rules state that where a person is liable to deportation the presumption shall be that the public interest requires deportation.

In the case of those who have received a prison sentence of between 12 months and less than four years and claim private life the factors will include the length of time the individual has lived in the UK, as well as the strength of their social and cultural integration in the UK and very significant obstacles to integration in the destination country.

Where the person has claimed family life in the UK, the Immigration Rules state deportation is in the public interest unless the person has a genuine and subsisting relationship with a qualifying partner, or a genuine and subsisting parental relationship with a qualifying child, and the effect of deportation on the partner or child would be unduly harsh.

In cases where a person has been sentenced to a period of imprisonment of at least four years, they will need to demonstrate very compelling circumstances over and above these factors.

Immigration Removal Centres

In most cases those awaiting removal will be detained in an Immigration Removal Centre.

All individuals in Immigration Removal Centres are provided with a mobile phone and have access to landline telephones on request, fax machines, email and video calling facilities which can be used to contact legal advisers and family and friends.

Additionally, face-to-face legal visits are now being facilitated where other means of contact (Skype, telephone, email) are not feasible and safe systems of work are in place to ensure the safety of detained individuals, onsite staff and visitors during these visits.

Those detained are able to contact friends and family to arrange visits or to facilitate their personal belongings being delivered to them. If you want further information on this process you can find it here and here if you wish to know more about the management of property belonging to those who are detained.


The COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact on returns. However, we have continued to remove individuals where flight routes are available.

The High Court ruled that the Home Office is taking sensible, precautionary measures in relation to COVID-19 and immigration detention. This is in line with the Public Health England (PHE) guidance and these measures are in place to protect staff and detainees during these unprecedented times.

The safety of detained individuals and staff is of vital importance. The Home Office has robust contingency measures in place and basic hygiene has been enhanced. All individuals due to be on charter flights will be assessed by a healthcare professional before they leave the immigration removal centre.

Public health guidance is adhered to on all removal flights and transport arrangements will continue to be reviewed in line with Government advice.

Re-integration support

We provide funding for returns to Jamaica; the Home Office supports two non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Jamaica who provide re-integration support to those who are deported. They provide initial support to those who may not have anyone to meet them at the airport or who need transport. They are also able to help with short-term accommodation for those without a place to stay.

In the longer term they can provide training, including recognised qualifications, to enable them to find employment and help with obtaining documentation. They can also provide emotional and wellbeing support to those who need it.

We also provided funding for those who were deported to Zimbabwe earlier this year. The Home Office funded re-integration support provided by the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

The IOM provide initial support upon arrival to help those returning to re-integrate into Zimbabwe society. They provide initial accommodation for those who may need it and transport across Zimbabwe to their final destination. They also provide health packs with all necessary PPE. Additionally, they assessed what further support may be needed, including health and mental health requirements and referred them to their local IOM funded projects across Zimbabwe.

Full published data on our returns figures can be found here:

*As of 25 October 2021.

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