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UK immigration savaged by MPs

The Home Affairs Committee of the Westminster Parliament has issued its final report on the activities of the now defunct United Kingdom Border Agency. The report deals with the operation of the UKBA in its final three months of existence between January and March 2013, before it was abolished by Home Secretary Theresa May.

The report makes 39 criticisms and recommendations. Among them it says;

  • despite promises from former chief executive Lin Homer and her successors as head of the UKBA since the UKBA was founded in 2008, nothing was being done to try to find asylum seekers whose claims had been rejected and to remove them from the country.
  • The UKBA had supplied wrong and misleading statistics to the Home Affairs Committee since it was formed in 2008; The most recent chief executive, Rob Whiteman, had failed to inform the Committee that this was the case.

Senior UK staff 'misled' the Committee

  • The UKBA's senior staff misled the Committee on so many occasions that it was clear that senior staff were either deliberately misleading the Committee or thoroughly incompetent.
  • Files were so poorly compiled and were missing so much information that it was impossible to carry out security checks on applicants for asylum. Progress in dealing with historic cases had been slow and poorly performed.
  • The Committee expressed doubt that checks on archives of historic cases to try to determine whether the applicants were still in the country were carried out properly.

UKBA failed to work with police to find criminals

  • The UKBA is not working properly with the police to find and detain foreign nationals who are awaiting prosecution for criminal offences.
  • The Committee is especially scathing in its criticism of Lin Homer. It accuses her of trying to 'evade responsibility for her failings'. Ms Homer told the committee in January that she had always given the committee all the figures that had been requested as soon as she had them. The committee refutes this. They say that the fact that Ms Homer has since been promoted to run Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs 'raises serious concerns about the accountability of the most senior civil servants to Parliament'. It further states 'the current system where catastrophic leadership failure is no obstacle to promotion is totally unacceptable'
  • It accuses the UKBA of 'having no intention of taking a more transparent approach to terminology and reporting'. The main failure was the failure to clear a backlog of some 350,000 asylum cases, some dating back over ten years. Rather than clear the backlog, the Committee says, the UKBA moved the cases between various different 'archives' without making any genuine attempts to find the claimants or to properly determine the claims.

Number of asylum seekers waiting 6 months for decision has risen

  • It says that the number of asylum seekers waiting six months for an initial decision has increased.
  • The UKBA provided poor customer service.
  • Very poor notes are kept by UKBA staff on files so that it is almost impossible to see why any decision, whether to grant or refuse asylum, had been made.
  • The UKBA failed to respond to complaints from members of the public who reported finding illegal immigrants in the country

The Committee suggested that there should be no bonuses for senior staff at the UKBA, and its successor organisations, until case backlogs have been significantly reduced.

UKBA functions now fulfilled by Home Office

The UKBA has now been abolished and its work has been taken back into the Home Office. Its functions have been housed in two directorates; the visa ad immigration service and the immigration law enforcement division.

On 26th March 2013, Mrs May announced that the UKBA would close on 1st April 2013. She said that it had developed a 'secretive and defensive culture' and was simply 'not good enough'. She announced that the functions of the UKBA were to be taken back into the Home Office and would therefore be subject to direct ministerial oversight.

This decision reversed the decision of the then Home Secretary John Reid in 2006 to create the UKBA to run the UK's visa and immigration enforcement operations. Dr (now Lord) Reid said that independence would enable the UKBA to deal with the problems facing the UK's immigration regime free from ministerial interference.

'Not fit for purpose'

Mr Reid was responding to the failure of the Immigration and Nationality Directorate, which was then responsible for UK immigration, to deal with a backlog of immigration cases. Dr Reid found that the Immigration and Nationality Directorate was 'not fit for purpose'.

It has now come full circle. UK immigration is again part of a UK Government Department, The Home Office. It remains to be seen whether bringing the UK's immigration regime back into the Home Office will make any real difference.

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