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Delegated Legislation Committee Debates

Draft Immigration (Leave to Enter and Remain) Order 2000

Second Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation

Tuesday 11 April 2000

[Mr. Eric Illsley in the Chair]

Draft Immigration (Leave to Enter and Remain) Order 2000

4.32 pm

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mrs Barbara Roche): I beg to move,

    That the Committee has considered the draft Immigration (Leave to Enter and Remain) Order 2000.

I am sure that I speak for all members of the Committee when I warmly welcome you, Mr. Illsley, to the chairmanship of the Committee.

The order covers an area that was discussed extensively when the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 was debated in Special Standing Committee and on Report. During the passage of that Act, the Government consulted widely and listened carefully to all the issues that were raised. Several amendments were made as a result of that consultation process. Indeed, one of them ensured that the order-making powers in certain sections of the Act would be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure, which is why we are in Committee today.

I wish to set out briefly the purpose of the order and its effect. Under current law, leave must be given in writing to all non-European Economic Area passengers arriving from outside the common travel area. In practice, that means stamping each passport on every occasion. In 1998-99, about 84 million passengers arrived at United Kingdom ports of entry. We estimate that that number will increase by about 5 per cent. each year over the next three years. About 11.5 million people were non-European Economic Area arrivals. I should say at the outset that the vast majority of passengers are genuine and present no threat to the integrity of immigration control.

The 1999 Act gives us the means to create a stronger, more focused immigration control. Greater operational flexibility, combined with a better use of information technology and inter-agency co-operation, will allow us not only to identify and therefore expedite the movement of the many millions of genuine visitors, business men and students who travel to the United Kingdom each year, but to free our resources to focus on the increasingly sophisticated methods now being used to try to circumvent immigration control. In accordance with a general commitment that we gave during the passage of the legislation, I wish to state formally that the provisions of the order are compatible with the convention rights, as defined under section 1 of the Human Rights Act 1998.

Part I of the order sets out the timing and gives definitions for some of the terminology used in it. Part II allows for an entry clearance to have effect as leave to enter. Provided that practical arrangements are in place, we intend that that will apply to entry clearances issued from 30 July 2000 onwards. At present, those applying for an entry clearance to travel to the United Kingdom have their applications considered by an entry clearance officer. That consideration usually takes the form of an interview. Having satisfied the entry clearance officer that they qualify for entry clearance under the immigration rules, the holders then travel to the United Kingdom. On arrival in the United Kingdom, they are interviewed again by an immigration officer.

Clearly, there is some duplication. By providing for the entry clearance to have effect as leave to enter, that will be eliminated. The entry clearance officer will still consider the application in exactly the same way as happens now and a check will still be made against the warning index. When the entry clearance is issued, however, the order provides that, if it contains the conditions under which the holder is allowed to enter the United Kingdom, it will have effect as leave to enter the United Kingdom.

The Foreign Office is also introducing new format entry clearances that will bear the conditions of entry on the face of the entry clearance. That leave will be effective for the period as specified by the entry clearance in its effective and expiry dates. For example, an entry clearance issued to a student intending to study at a United Kingdom university for three years will be valid for the full three years. Moreover, it will confer leave to enter for the full three years.

In recognition of the increased value being placed on the entry clearance officer's decision, systems will be put in place to monitor and evaluate the quality and integrity of the new arrangements. We are establishing a joint entry clearance unit that will help with the process. It is currently being formed in co-operation with the Foreign Office. I shall sit on the joint ministerial committee that supervises the joint entry clearance unit.

There are sound operational reasons why the holder of an entry clearance can be seen by an immigration official on arrival. We have sought to remove the requirement for that officer to second-guess the decision of the entry clearance officer. The immigration officer will be able to verify whether the passport and entry clearance are genuine, whether they are presented by the rightful holder and whether the purpose for which it was issued remains the same. If satisfied, the immigration officer will allow the holder to proceed. That will lead to a considerable improvement in processing times for genuine entry clearance holders through the ports, without any substantial loss to the overall integrity of the control. It will allow us to redirect resources, including the special skills of immigration officers, to areas of greater concern.

The immigration officer will lose none of his powers of examination on arrival. In fact, his powers will be extended to include cancelling leave to enter and entry clearance. Part III of the order enables immigration officers to grant or refuse leave to enter before a person arrives in the UK, request information to make that decision and give notice of that decision in a form other than in writing. Notices giving or refusing leave to enter may be given by fax, electronically, or, in the case of visitors, orally. The notice can also be given to a responsible third party such as a tour operator, an owner or agent of a ship, aircraft, train, hydrofoil or hovercraft, or to a port manager. How and when those provisions are used will be a matter for local immigration managers, in consultation with carriers and airport managers, and will reflect the needs of the port locally and daily. For example, the power to grant leave orally to a visitor, which is provided by article 8(3), could be used to clear coach passengers on board their coaches. That would mean an end to the need to offload passengers who present no risk to immigration control.

The power to grant or refuse leave to enter before a person arrives in the UK has two benefits. Advance passenger information could pre-clear certain low-risk school groups and recognised reputable tour groups, thereby speeding their progress through immigration control and removing the need for detailed, individual examination on arrival. Alternatively, we might send immigration officers overseas, with the agreement of the Government concerned, to address particular pressure points. It also allows us to take advantage of future technological developments such as biometrics. Such measures will benefit the travelling public, carriers and the immigration service.

Advance passenger information is the key to such flexibility. Section 18 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, inserts new paragraph 27B into schedule 2 of the Immigration Act 1971. That extends an immigration officer's power to require carriers to provide certain information on passengers expected to be on their ships or aircraft, whether arriving in or departing from the UK. The Immigration (Passenger Information) Order 2000, which was laid before Parliament on 6 April, specifies the type of information that can be required. We have also consulted widely in the travel industry. Carriers have welcomed those aspects of flexibility that might allow them to develop a better service for their passengers. I am pleased that the British Tourist Authority has commented that

    they could not be more delighted

at the introduction of a more flexible arrivals control.

The order also provides for leave to enter or remain not to lapse on departure from the common travel area. That will apply to people given leave to enter for more than six months or holders of entry clearance other than a visit visa, which business people who hold work permits and long-term students will especially welcome. As I said, the role of the immigration officer is not diminished, as he or she can still examine a person with continuing leave. I apologise for the length of my explanation of this important provision, which I have great pleasure in commending to the Committee.

4.43 pm

Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire): Concern has been expressed about the order, and I want to ask the Minister some questions. First, the treatment of entry clearance as leave to enter has been criticised. Visa officers were never intended as the main line of control in seeking out illegal entrants. The visa system has not worked well in controlling false visitors, or at least its success has been variable between countries. Does the change not involve weakening a line of defence in favour of the visa process, which has up to now been treated merely as a preliminary check? Will all arriving passengers continue to be seen by immigration officers? There might be passengers whose entry clearance was justified, but whose circumstances change before they arrive. How will that be checked and verified?

Finally, will immigration officers still be able to question visa holders in detail? When the matter was before the Special Standing Committee on the Immigration and Asylum Bill, people from the Immigration Service Union gave evidence. Mr. Tincey, the research officer of the union, said that:

    A visa has always been seen as a second line of defence. There are certain things that you can ask a person, and certain things that you can do, when he or she applies for a visa, that you cannot do when he or she arrives in the country. However, on the other hand, there are many things you can do when someone arrives in the country that you cannot do when he or she applies for a visa.

He gives the example of looking into the suitcase to see what has been brought, and he said that:

    You can ask to see what money he or she has brought. It is common for visa officers to mark notes presented to them. The same five $100 bills appear time after time because a man outside is hiring that money for the purpose of the interview.

He went on to give another example. He said that:

    You cannot hide the fact that your baggage contains a letter from your brother, saying ``Your job is ready for you.'' That would all be lost if we simply relied on people on the visa issue.-[Official Report, Special Standing Committee, 22 March 1999;

c. 450.]

I have spoken today to Mr. Slade, the general secretary of the union, who very forcefully made the point to me that information found when suitcases are searched during a check for leave to enter is often useful and of benefit. Mr. Tincey was asked in the Committee how long he was given to check the identity, the purpose of the visit and so on. He said that the time that was being discussed for the new system was three seconds, which represents a big difference from the more rigorous process that exists now. Will immigration officers still be able to question visa holders as they have traditionally?

Forgeries of entry clearance often come to light through questioning, and through use of specialist facilities at the ports to test that the documents are genuine. How is that to be done on the fast-track procedure announced by the Minister today, and how does she square those changes with the number of visa nationals who come in on a visitor's visa and subsequently claim asylum? How many visa holders were refused entry last year?

In part III of the order, under the headings ``Grant and refusal to enter before arrival in the United Kingdom'' and ``Grant and refusal otherwise than by notice in writing'', it is suggested that the granting and refusal of leave can be done orally rather than in writing. Will the police or immigration officers check up on visitors and, if they do, how will they know that a grant of leave has been given if an oral permission alone is given at the port? Mr. Slade, the Immigration Service Union general secretary, asked me, ``What am I to do? Am I to ask if they still have their ticket stub?'' Is there going to be a record kept at the port by officials whose job it is to deal with it?

Finally, Mr. Slade tells me that the provision about people moving in and out of the country, extending the common travel area, is going to make life difficult and will interfere with immigration control. Will the Minister answer those points?

4.50 pm

 
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