Immigration – Illegal Entry Offence

The Nationality and Borders Act 2022 created a new offence contrary to section 24(D1) Immigration Act 1971.

The provision states that:

A person who—

(a) requires entry clearance under the immigration rules, and

(b) knowingly arrives in the United Kingdom without a valid entry clearance, commits an offence.

The offences created by the 2022 Act modify existing offences, and there has been a steady stream of people prosecuted for the offence under s 24(D1), which deals with people entering via “small boats”.

At present there is no definitive sentencing guideline for this offence, which carries a maximum penalty of four years’ imprisonment, but a recent Court of Appeal case established the following principles:


(1) The statutory maximum sentence for this new offence is four years’ imprisonment. So too is the maximum sentence for an offence under section 24(B1) of the 1971 Act (knowingly entering the United Kingdom without leave). Before the amendment, the maximum penalty for the predecessor of that offence was six months’ imprisonment.

It is clear that Parliament regarded that previous level of sentence as insufficient, both for the existing offence of entering without leave and for the new offence of arriving without a valid entry clearance. The four-year maximum is also longer than some other immigration and asylum offences.

The new offence is inherently less serious than an identity document offence of the kind for which the court in R v Kolawole [2004] EWCA Crim 3047 indicated would attract a sentence in the range of 12 to 18 months, even on a guilty plea and even for a person of previous good character.


(2) The predominant purpose of sentencing in cases of this nature will generally be the protection of the public. Deterrence can carry only limited weight as a distinct aim in the sentencing of those committing this type of offence. Their circumstances, as opposed to those who organise them, will usually be such that they are unlikely to be deterred by the prospect of a custodial sentence if caught.


(3) The following considerations are relevant as to culpability and harm:


(4) The seriousness of this type of offence is such that the custody threshold will generally be crossed and that an appropriate sentence (before considering any additional culpability or harm features, any aggravating and mitigating factors and any credit for a guilty plea) will be of in the region of 12 months’ imprisonment.


(5) Culpability will increase if the offender plays a part in the provision or operation of the means by which he seeks to arrive in the United Kingdom, for example by piloting a vessel rather than being a mere passenger; or if he involves others in the offence, particularly children; or if he is seeking to enter in order to engage in criminal activity (for example by joining a group engaged in modern slavery or trafficking). Culpability will be reduced if the offender genuinely intends to apply for asylum on arguable grounds.


(6) Consideration of aggravating and mitigating factors will be case-specific, but the following may commonly arise and will call for either an upwards or downwards adjustment of the provisional sentence:

Possible aggravating features


Possible mitigating features


(7) Some offenders may have been misled as to what would await them in this country if they paid large sums of money to the criminals who offered to arrange their transport. Some may have suffered injury or come close to drowning in crossing in a dangerously overcrowded vessel. It will be for the sentencer to evaluate what weight to give to circumstances of that nature in a particular case.


How can we help?

We ensure we keep up to date with any changes in legislation and case law so that we can give our clients the best possible advice. If you would like to discuss any aspect of your case, please contact Tarsem Salhan on 0121 605 6000 or at