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No Way Out, No Way In: Irregular migrant children and families in the UK

Author(s): N. Sigona V. Hughes

An estimated 120,000 irregular migrant children live in the UK, and a large majority of these are either born in the country or migrated to the UK at a very young age. Successive British governments have provided irregular migrant children with some entitlement to public services; however, contradictory and frequently changing rules, cuts to public spending and broader reforms in the provision of services mean that even when legal provisions still exist, access to public services has become limited in practice, which can lead to destitution and social exclusion. Given the hidden nature of this migrant population and the limited knowledge on their profile and situation in the UK, this study is exploratory in nature and relies on the analysis of in-depth qualitative interviews with migrant children and families and stakeholders. The report consists of three main sections: Part One looks at definitions, numbers and public policies associated with irregular migrant children; Part Two explores the everyday lives of children and families and brings to the fore their ‘irregular voices’; and Part Three looks at irregular migrant children’s access to public services. The study concludes that securing irregular migrant children’s access to public services is essential in order to address issues of vulnerability, and that increasing cooperation between the UK Border Agency and public service providers is currently undermining access to these services. The study shows the de facto non-deportability of children who were born or spent most of their childhood in the UK and highlights the potential negative impacts for society of a long term excluded population, recommending that proposals should be developed to provide effective pathways for irregular migrant children to regularise their legal status.

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Document information

Author(s): N. Sigona V. Hughes


COMPAS, University of Oxford


May 2012

Main theme(s):

Migration with Families

Sub-theme(s): South - North

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Keywords: Citizenship Country - UK Deportation Education Healthcare Policy Region - Western Europe