The number of Indians illegally crossing over into the United Kingdom across the English Channel has increased sharply to 683 last year from 67 in 2021, data from the British government has shown.

The UK Home Office said that no Indians had crossed over into Britain in 2018 and 2019. This saw an increase in 2020 when 64 Indians crossed over followed by a small rise to 67 in 2021.

The figures were part of the United Kingdom Home Office’s “Irregular Migration to the UK” statistics for 2022.

On February 2, a report in United Kingdom-based newspaper The Times quoted unidentified officials from the Home Office as saying that Indian students may be using a loophole in the law that allows asylum seekers to pay much lower fees than international students.

The officials also noted that till the end of 2022, Indians were able to enter Serbia without a visa for up to 30 days. They were quoted by the newspaper as saying that this may have “led to some Indians travelling onward to the EU [European Union] and subsequently to the UK in small boats”.

Serbia had withdrawn the arrangement of visa-free entry for Indians on January 1.

The total number of persons who were found to have illegally entered the UK from across the English Channel in 2022 was 45,755, according to the Home Office report. The top five countries that accounted for such arrivals were Albania, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and Syria.

On March 7, the UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak had said that migrants attempting to illegally enter the country will not be allowed to claim asylum and will be banned forever.

The prime minister had said that such migrants will be detained and removed from the country within weeks and added that they will either be sent back to their own country or to a “safe third country like Rwanda”.

Sunak made the announcement after his government introduced the “Illegal migration Bill”, a draft law aimed to stop those reaching the UK through irregular means such as in the back of a lorry or crossing the English Channel on small boats. It was presented in Parliament by Home Secretary Suella Braverman.

On March 8, the prime minister had noted that the United Kingdom has an agreement with India to return those who enter the country without documents back to the home country.

“We have returns agreements with India, Pakistan, Serbia, Nigeria and – crucially – now with Albania, where we are returning hundreds of people,” Sunak had told the House of Commons during a Prime Minister’s Questions session.