UK immigration provides 'unacceptable service'

A committee of MPs has issued a report about the UK Border Agency (UKBA) which states that its already poor performance is getting worse. The report says that senior staff should not receive any performance-related bonuses until 'there is evidence that the backlog [of unresolved cases] is being substantially reduced and new backlogs are not emerging'.

The report, issued by the House of Commons' Home Affairs Committee, was split into two sections. In the first it dealt with the UKBA's disastrous handling of a historic backlog of 450,000 asylum cases. It says that the UKBA's handling of these cases has been appalling. It contains scathing criticism of the former chief executive of the UKBA, Lin Homer. You can read about this here.

The second part of the report, The Work of the UK Border Agency (July-September 2012) deals with the UKBA's day-to-day management of the UK's immigration system including issuing of visas, locating and removing foreign-born offenders from the UK and making decisions on fresh asylum claims.

The report finds that the UKBA is failing in almost all areas. It complains 'We report quarterly on UKBA's performance and with each quarter a new backlog is revealed'. It finds that in the processing of applications, in fighting court cases and in finding foreign criminals the UKBA has backlogs and is missing targets.

Small improvements in some areas but still missing targets

The Report found that there have been small improvements in some fields but, overall, it continues to perform poorly. Even where there were improvements, the UKBA continued to miss its performance targets. For example,
  • The UKBA processed a higher proportion of Tier 2 skilled worker visa applications and of Tier 5 temporary worker visa applications within its service standard target times (four weeks) in July to September 2012 than it had managed in the previous quarter. However, although it had improved, processing 79% of Tier 2 applications within 4 weeks, this still fell 11% short of its target of 90%.

The UKBA did not meet its target for processing any of the four active tiers of the UK's five tier immigration system. Its performance was particularly poor with the processing of postal applications for Tier 1 high value migrant visas and Tier 4 student visas. The UKBA service standard says that it aims to process 90% of Tier 1 applications within four weeks.

  • Between July and September 2012, it processed just 18% of postal applications for Tier 1 visas within four weeks.
  • Only 14% of Tier 4 applications made by post were processed within four weeks.

Three quarters of visas processed late

The measure of the UKBA's dismal performance in the processing of visas is perhaps best illustrated by these figures. In total, the UKBA succeeded in meeting its performance target in 10,842 cases between July and September 2012, 27.5% of the total. It failed to do so in 28,558 cases or 72.5% of cases, nearly three quarters. The report says that this must improve.

The UKBA also failed to deliver an adequate service for its premium customers. The UKBA offers a premium service to applicants who pay a hefty fee. It says that it 'aims' to process these applications within 24 hours. However, it failed to do so in many cases. it processed

  • only 73% of Tier 1 applications,
  • 72% of Tier 2 applications,
  • 73% of Tier 4 applications and
  • 75% of Tier 5 applications within the twenty-four hour period.

The report says 'This is an unacceptable performance considering that the Agency is charging main applicants between £661 and £1,800 for premium applications. In Tier 2, where a premium application costs £306 more than the postal route, the Agency processed more postal applications on time than premium applications. This is unacceptable'.

UKBA failed even to attend 10% of its own court cases

Turning to its performance in the courts, the report states that the UKBA had failed to improve its performance to any notable degree during the latest period for which figures are available. This period was April to June 2012. The report states that the UKBA did not even turn up to some court cases.
  • It had representation at only 90% of appeals in which it was involved.
  • It was only able to submit case bundles to court in accordance with the court's timetable in 66% of its cases.

There was little if any change in the number of cases the UKBA won.

  • It won 64% of its appeals between April and June 2012.
  • It won 60% of deportation cases,
  • 52% of family visit visa cases,
  • 38% of entry clearance cases and
  • 46% of managed migration cases.
  • There was no significant change in the number of appeals made against UKBA immigration decisions.

UKBA ignores Home Affairs Committee recommendations on unannounced visits

The UKBA delivered a worse performance for Tier 2 sponsorship visits too. Only 8% of Tier 2 sponsor applicants received a visit pre-registration. There was a decrease in the number of unannounced follow-up visits to Tier 2 sponsors, Tier 4 sponsors and Tier 5 sponsors. The Home Affairs Committee expresses its concern at these falls. The report says 'We reiterate the recommendation made in our previous reports that the majority of post licence visits should be unannounced'. The MPs said that unannounced visits would increase the confidence of the public in the system.

The report says that the UKBA had not managed to provide the MPs with figures about how many non-compliance notifications it had followed up during the quarter. When Tier 2, Tier 4 and Tier 5 sponsors receive information about a change of circumstances or a breach of the terms of a visa by an individual they have sponsored, they are obliged to contact the UKBA and inform it of the breach. The UKBA received approximately 25,000 notifications but could not say how many it had followed up. This failure is 'unacceptable' according to the MPs.

The report also states that the Migration Refusals Pool grew during the quarter by 12% to 181,541 cases. The Migration Refusal Pool is an archive of immigration and asylum applications which have been refused by the UKBA. The UKBA has then done nothing about these cases because it doesn't know where the applicant is. The committee expressed its dismay that the Pool was growing after it had said that it had claimed to be trying to reduce it for seven years.

The committee also said that it was concerned that the UKBA has appointed Capita, a private sector company to try to find people whose cases are in the Pool. It is concerned that this may be in breach of data protection legislation. It also says that the Capita contract involves Capita phoning or emailing the targeted individuals and asking them to leave. The MPs say they do not see why the UKBA was not able to do this itself nor why it paid Capita as much as it did for this service.

UKBA even late in responding to requests for information from MPs

The UKBA also missed its target of replying to 95% of emails from MPs within 20 working days. It did so in only 83% of cases. It also failed to meet its target of responding to queries made by MPs via the MP's inquiry line within 10 days. It did so in only 78% of cases. The report says that the UKBA was six days late in responding to its own request for data to be used in the compilation of the report.

The UKBA may take a small crumb of comfort from the fact that the worst of its criticism is reserved for Lin Homer who left the agency in 2010 but this cannot disguise the fact that the MPs report has found fault with virtually every area of the UKBA's activities.

The MPs cautiously welcome the decision of the new chief executive, Rob Whiteman, to establish a Performance and Compliance Unit to try to improve the quality of data that the UKBA produces and provides to parliament and the public. They say, that 'if indeed it will actually ensure that the data provided are robust and reliable and really can be relied on' then it is to be welcomed. They state that they have considerably more confidence in the Performance and Compliance Unit because its activities will be overseen by the Chief Inspector of Immigration, John Vine. The MPs conclude 'we expect this to mark the beginning of a move towards greater transparency on behalf of the Agency; transparency that is evidenced by accurate and clear information provided to Parliament in a timely manner.'

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