The shambles in the British Border Agency, which was brought directly under the Home Office after a series of scandals rocked the institution, were exposed last week in a report by the Public Accounts Committee of the House of Commons.
The figure of 3,000 Sri Lankans is speculative as the immigration authorities have no clear idea of how many are here illegally. The figure of 3,000 has been suggested to Sri Lankan consular officers as a minimum they think are evading arrest and deportation.
Immigration authorities who carry out raids on shops, restaurants and other business places have picked up Sri Lankans who have overstayed after their student or holiday visas had expired or in violation of their student visa conditions which limit the number of hours they are entitled to work. Those caught are usually deported as soon as possible after their Sri Lankan status is established.
But unless such raids result in illegal workers being picked up or Sri Lankans arrested for criminal offences, immigration officials do not seem to have the resources or the data to round them up.
While the mess in the immigration system continues to bedevil the authorities, Sri Lankans still arrive in Britain seeking asylum and compounding the problem. But the number of persons seeking asylum has dropped sharply during the past few years.
Last month a Tamil youth from Bandarawela arrived at Heathrow without any valid documentation. His agent who came on the same flight left him there.
He is said to have claimed asylum on arrival. His family is said to have paid Rs. 2.5 million to an agent who had only asked him to provide four photographs of himself.
According to information available to the Sunday Times he had travelled directly from Sri Lanka and was to say he is going for studies. But immigration officials at Heathrow were not offered any documents to prove this. The agent had left him at the airport and decamped with what are believed to be doctored travel papers.
It is understood that Sri Lankans living here illegally belong to all three major communities — Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim — a conclusion based on the names of those who have already been deported to Sri Lanka in the past three to four years.
In September, the Border Agency deported about five Sri Lankans who had overstayed their visas and were working illegally. Authorities believe that many of those sought by immigration officials are overstayers who arrived on student visas and dropped out of the educational institutions after registering themselves or continue to live here and work illegally after their visas expired.
They are said to be mainly Sinhala youth, some of whom had obtained entry to dubious educational institutions in Britain. This loophole has been largely covered with British authorities now scrutinising the authenticity of the institutions and restricting the number of institutions than can accept overseas students.
Some students have been duped by dubious institutions which closed down forcing some of the students onto the streets as they could not afford to pay rising fees to join other institutions.
Among those illegally here are asylum seekers, mainly Tamils, whose claims have failed and should be deported but cannot be traced as they are not at the addresses they are supposed to be living at.
In 2012/13, the immigration authorities sent deportees on charter flights to Colombo. Sometimes as many as 30-40 were sent on one flight accompanied by security guards.
But after the British media gave prior publicity to these planned flights and lawyers intervened on behalf of some failed asylum seekers and secured court orders to stop the deportation, these flights were suspended at the end of 2013.
Now Sri Lankans, like other illegal foreigners here, are deported as and when they are taken into custody once Sri Lanka accepts them as its citizens and provide them with one-way travel certificates.