Paddington Bear is a much-loved children’s character from deepest, darkest Peru. He’s also an illegal immigrant.
According to Michael Bond’s classic books, Paddington is an illegal stowaway who entered Britain with no partner or means of supporting himself, then adopted a different identity before staying in the UK indefinitely.
Politicians are keen to tell us that British immigration law has been toughened up since Paddington first arrived in the 1950s, so what would happen if he tried to enter the UK today?
Prominent lawyer Philip Trott of Bates Wells Braithwaite – whose previous immigration clients include Snoop Dogg, Busta Rhymes and P Diddy – told BuzzFeed how Paddington would be treated under the current law.
1. Paddington may be able to get into the UK on a tourist visa using a false passport.
“The biggest challenge would be getting entry to the UK, explains Trott. “If [Paddington] had a valid passport then he’d probably get in. If his identity is real then he would carry on and go through immigration.”
“If [his identity] is not real – but he’s not on a watch out list for immigrants using false identities – then he’ll probably get leave to enter as a tourist. But of course tourists can’t work.”
2. Paddington would still be advised to head straight back to Peru and find a UK employer to sponsor a visa.
“The next bit of advice is that he should go out and come back in again with a visa to work. There may be schemes that allow people from Peru to come in for the purpose of work – there are loads of exchange schemes between various countries of the world.”
“He’d have to find himself an employer and they’ve got to wish to partake in the exchange scheme. He’d usually be required to leave and come back in after applying.”
3. But he could try and find a job on the black economy, probably in manual labour and working for less than the £6.31/hour minimum wage.
“If someone says they want a job and are prepared to accept a low enough wage then there are employers who will employ and turn a blind eye to the restrictions.”
“It’s unlikely to be a professional job, primarily because such employers have a reputation to lose, can be fined up to £20,000 and could lose their licence to employ foreign workers.”
4. As things stand, Paddington’s status as an illegal worker would not stop him renting a property.
“There’s a consultation paper at the moment which says that residential landlords have got to check people’s right to live in the country. That consultation is going to be completed at the end of the year.”
“At that point if the person doesn’t have the right to live here then there will probably be an obligation to report the migrant. Currently he can just walk into any residential accommodation and as long as he’s got the money he could rent it.”
5. But he would run the risk of being caught on an immigration raid.
“An immigration officer would look at his passport and if he didn’t have his passport, the immigration would tell him to go and get a passport. If he didn’t have it he might do a runner.”
“If he had [the passport] on him and it shows he’s got a tourist visa valid for six months then they would ask him a load of questions. If he says he’s working, which he probably is, he’d be arrested and taken to a police station and possibly then an immigration detention centre, depending on who’s on the raid and what transport they have available.”
6. Once he’s in an immigration centre then, unless he’s got a Human Rights Act defense or a family reason to stay, then he could be flown home within days, unless he claims asylum or has strong family connections.
“[Deportation] can be pretty swift unless you’ve got cause to argue. He’s come here, he’s worked illegally. He might be able to claim asylum if things have changed in his country of origin since his arrival, in which case he needs to claim it immediately.”
“He might say that he’s married an EU national and he has a right to remain with his spouse, providing it’s a genuine marriage.”
“Once he’s in an immigration centre then, unless he’s got a family reason to stay - perhaps marriage or ancestral - then he’s likely to be deported, often within a couple of days. It’s a fast process providing you’ve got a passport that’s valid. He could say that he’s got a completely false passport and therefore they don’t know where to return him to.”
7. Marrying a Briton would provide one route back into the country – but there are high income thresholds.
“If Paddington had married a British spouse he would not be able to remain but would have to go back home and then claim the right to come back.”
“The sponsoring spouse would need to have an income of £18,600 a year. He could then come and seek work once he’s got the visa. But if he’s deliberately tried to circumvent border control then questions may be asked about the veracity of his marriage.”
8. Paddington would struggle to re-enter the UK as unskilled worker, while his previous escapades would count against him.
“‘There are no work permits for unskilled workers anymore and the most significant thing is that he’ll have worked in breach of conditions and that could result in a ban on entry, even if you’ve got a work permit. The main issue is whether you have a sponsor.”
“When applying for a visa an individual has to describe their immigration history and if that includes a series of working illegally then the officer could reject the application.”
“[Working illegally ] is a one year ban, unless the immigration officer accuses you of gaining entry by deception. There is a risk that Paddington will be accused of that – because he provided a false identity – in which case it’s a ten year ban.”
9. Instead, one option would be to stay in his native Peru until he finds a wife with European ancestry.
“He might get married to his Peruvian sweetheart who has an EU mother or father. Providing she has a European passport then he could enter as the spouse of an EU national and have the freedom to work in the UK.”
Philip Trott is critical of the Conservatives’ election pledge to reduce net immigration to the “tens of thousands” per year.
“It’s dealing with the public perception. They tried to cut the numbers down to the tens of thousands. So the civil servants aimed for 99,999 but they haven’t succeeded because of the EU issue.”
“[The immigration cap] only relates to 1,750 skilled workers a month but has never been reached. It’s a window dressing exercise to deal with the people who read the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph.”