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Paddington the illegal immigrant: Would the UK accept him now?

As an illegal immigrant with no papers, Paddington would face the full force of UK asylum rules. Immigration barrister Colin Yeo leads him by the paw

Step 1: Arrival

In the original film, Paddington stows away on a ship bound for London. Undetected on entry, he is homeless when the Brown family encounter him at Paddington Station and take him in.

Under section 24 of the Immigration Act 1971, Paddington is an illegal entrant and has committed a criminal offence. Assisting unlawful immigration is also a criminal offence, but having assisted Paddington only after his arrival in the UK the Brown family would probably escape prosecution.

Under the 1971 Immigration Act, Paddington is an illegal entrant and has committed a criminal offence

If or when detected by the authorities, Paddington will somehow need to fit himself within one of the various narrowly predefined immigration categories or face removal. His most likely way forward is to make an asylum claim as a refugee. But this is not the easy option portrayed in some media outlets.

Step 2: Asylum decision

Paddington in asylum detention

If he claims asylum (whether voluntarily, or involuntarily at a police station after he is detected, arrested and detained) Paddington’s first problem will be trying to convince the authorities that he really is a child. Given that immigration officers and social workers often take into account facial hair, Paddington has a real problem here.

Paddington will be interviewed by the authorities about his asylum claim. It will quickly emerge that Paddington does not fall within the legal definition of a refugee as set out in the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees because he is not fleeing treatment that would amount to persecution and he left his home because of an environmental disaster [an earthquake that killed his parents], which is not recognised by the Convention.

Paddington’s asylum claim will be refused, therefore. He has a right of appeal but good luck trying to find a legal aid solicitor to help with that.

Step 3: Illegal working

In Paddington 2, our ursine hero takes different cash-in-hand odd jobs, including cleaning windows. Without permission to work, though, Paddington is compounding his unlawful residence by committing a further criminal offence under section 24B of the Immigration Act 1971.


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Any employer also risks a fine of up to £20,000 for employing an illegal worker and any money Paddington does earn can potentially be confiscated. If he banks his earnings in an actual bank rather than a piggy bank then under new powers that came into effect this autumn he may find his account closed down and the money lost.

Step 4: Foreign National Offender

Living as an illegal immigrant is a risky affair. There is a constant risk of the authorities being tipped off by a malicious, jealous or plain xenophobic informer. Joint working between the police and immigration authorities in Operation Nexus means that even victims of crime have been handed over for deportation.

As Paddington discovers, if he is in the wrong place at the wrong time then the authorities will be unsympathetic. Thus Paddington becomes a Foreign National Offender, a group making up 14 per cent of the prison population. Convicted, he faces automatic deportation if his sentence is 12 months or more.

Step 5: Family members

Aunt Lucy

Paddington dreams of bringing his Aunt Lucy to London, but she is unable to travel. The situation is not unusual. Since 2012 it has been virtually impossible for elderly dependent relatives to enter the UK. Similarly, tough new rules for spouses and partners require earnings considerably in excess of the minimum wage, creating thousands of “Skype families” in which young children think one of their parents live in a computer or phone.

Like Paddington, many families face separation from an elderly relative in their declining years

If Paddington is an unaccompanied minor – the film and books imply this but are never explicit – then in common with other refugee children, Paddington would not be allowed to sponsor other family members to join him in the UK. For some reason the UK forbids child refugees from being joined by their parents or carers.

Like Paddington, many families face separation from an elderly relative in
their declining years, when they most need the care and love of their younger relatives. Either that or the migrant must return to care for the elderly relative in the country of origin.