A crackdown on illegal immigrants in the UK has seen almost 27,000 drivers have their licences revoked since 2014.
The figures also found a 22% rise in voided licences in 2016, compared to the year before.
Some people caught had entered the UK illegally, but most obtained a licence while on a legitimate visa and had then illegally overstayed.
However, critics say the “small” number of licences that actually go on to be surrendered “undermines” the system.
The Home Office gave the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) the powers to revoke licences in July 2014.
That month more than 3,500 licences were revoked. In 2015 it was 9,700 and in 2016 that number rose to 11,900, the figures released under the Freedom of Information Act to BBC South East show.
The driving licence is the second most recognised form of ID after the passport, so can be used by illegal immigrants to secure work, open bank accounts or sign tenancy agreements.
To make it harder for them to do any of these things, the UK Immigration Act 2014 created “hostile environment” measures for migrants in the UK.
As well as revoking licences, it introduced:
- Right to Rent checks by landlords, to ensure tenants were in the country legally
- A “health surcharge” to the NHS for migrants staying in the UK more than six months of between £150 and £200 a year
- The ability to remove “harmful” individuals facing deportation before any appeal
In 2015, five times more people had their licences revoked in the UK on medical grounds than those suspected of being illegal immigrants.
Foreign drivers banned
How immigration status compares with other reasons for losing licences
licences revoked because of immigration status in 2015
- 47,000 car and motorcycle licences revoked on medical grounds in 2015
- 98,000 drivers disqualified by the courts in 2015
How does revoking a licence work?
- The Home Office notifies the DVLA when somebody is living illegally in the UK.
- That person receives a letter stating their licence is being revoked. They have 10 days to object.
- A licence is revoked and the holder’s details go on the Police National Computer.
- Any PC doing a licence check will be made aware, can make an arrest and call immigration enforcement.
Chris Hobbs, a former special branch officer in border controls, said: “How likely is it for that driver to be stopped bearing in mind the number of traffic police has been hugely reduced? There are all sorts of issues around stopping vehicles and asking for details, you have to have a valid reason to do that.”
Asked why, on having the person’s address, immigration enforcement officers did not doorstep them instead of waiting for police to pick them up during routine checks, the Home Office has yet to respond.
In the most recent report from David Bolt, the chief inspector of borders, he raised concerns over the measures.
He criticised the small number of deportations as a result of the crackdown – of the thousands who had their licences revoked, 583 people left the UK in the 2015-16 tax year.
Mr Bolt also said the small number of people physically surrendering their licences “undermines” the new system.
Since then, the Home Office has announced plans to allow police and immigration officers to search for and seize these documents.
A Home Office spokeswoman said: “This will help ensure revoked licences are removed from circulation. We are making it harder for illegal migrants to live in the UK – as these figures show.”
Mr Bolt’s report also stated the Home Office’s database was incomplete and incorrect and its failings meant “some people without leave to be in the country were being missed”, while others were “wrongly flagged” as being here illegally.