Select Committee on Home Affairs Fifth Report



Modern patterns of migration pose particular challenges for the Government. We believe that facilitating travel for tourists, family members, students, businesspeople and workers who meet labour needs that cannot otherwise be met is essential to our national interests. The Immigration and Nationality Directorate (IND) and UKvisas must offer these people a high level of service and cannot simply be organisations designed to exclude people from the country. At the same time, we share the public expectation that the Government must minimise the number of those able to abuse the immigration system.

Although the numbers are inevitably uncertain, it is quite clear that a substantial proportion of illegal migration arises from those who originally entered the country legitimately and legally but who subsequently failed to comply with their leave. As the immigration system aims, rightly, to facilitate legal migration for ever greater numbers of travellers, it is inevitable that illegal migration will continue to be fuelled by those who become illegal once in the country. This represents one of the more fundamental changes to the purpose of the immigration system in the twenty-first century. The focus can no longer remain so heavily weighted towards initial entry and border control. While these controls must be sustained and indeed improved, far greater effort will in future have to go into the enforcement of the Immigration Rules within the UK. A major test of the Government's new approach to the IND will be the extent to which it has recognised the importance and implication of this change.

It is clearly beneficial to everyone to invest in getting decisions correct at the initial stage. Refusing applications which should have been allowed is not good customer service, can have significant consequences for applicants and their family and friends, and can lead to increased costs further down the system (from complaints, appeals or fresh applications). On the other hand, allowing applications which should have been refused weakens the control and public confidence in it and may increase the risk of overstaying and other forms of illegal migration. Measures that lower the cost of front-line staff at the expense of quality are not likely to be cost-effective.

The Immigration Rules should be consolidated and redrafted to provide a clear, comprehensive and realistic framework for decisions. But it must also be recognised that there will always be questions of judgment over what weight to give pieces of evidence, as well as situations which are not precisely covered by the rules. Entry Clearance Officers and IND caseworkers must be supported with enough training, guidance and experience to exercise their judgment where this is required, and should be regulated to a standard equivalent to that for advisers who do publicly-funded immigration work. Whilst it is right to take pride in the speed of decision-making, there is evidence that this is happening at the expense of quality: targets must allow more time to make decisions and to justify them robustly. UKvisas should work with individual posts to determine local targets that are appropriate to the local situation and security risks and the demands of good customer service. The IND should ensure that a team of managers is given the task of focussing on quality of decision-making in all areas of casework.


We make recommendations in three specific categories where there are particular concerns: students, children and spouses.

We examined the evidential basis of decisions taken in the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal, the quality of Home Office representation and the clear lack of mutual confidence between decision-makers in the IND and UKvisas and the AIT. Taken together we do not feel that the appeals process as it currently operates provides a sound basis for this vital part of the immigration system. Thousands of immigration refusals being allowed on appeal might be better dealt with at an earlier (and cheaper) stage in the process. Introducing a "minded to refuse" stage into the application process both overseas and in the UK might dramatically reduce the number of non-asylum appeals going to the AIT, by allowing applicants to present further evidence to the original decision-maker rather than to an Immigration Judge. This, coupled with more robust internal reviews of refusals, should largely eliminate any real justification for the introduction of new evidence at appeal in the great majority of cases. If the Government is serious about defending appeals, the quality and skills of Home Office Presenting Officers must be improved and it must ensure that Presenting Officers attend every appeal.

The integrity of the entire immigration system depends on the effective enforcement of the Immigration Rules. Current enforcement efforts are clearly inadequate. It is difficult to reconcile the removal of vulnerable individuals or those with strong links in the UK with the principle of harm reduction set out by the IND; whilst continuing action to remove people already living in the UK illegally will of course be necessary, the first priority should be to align the removal system with the decision-making system. We understand that the introduction of e-Borders will effectively mean the reintroduction of embarkation controls: we welcome this development and urge its swift and effective completion, but the Government must also have a clear strategy for acting on the information collected. Anyone who has had to be forcibly removed from the UK because they did not comply with a notice to leave the country should be banned from returning to the UK for a set period.

The employment of illegal workers should be one of the main targets for action against illegal migrants who are already living illegally in the UK. Enforcement work on tax and national insurance should take place in conjunction with all the other legal measures available to tackle abuse in the informal labour market. As well as ensuring that employers complied with their legal obligations, it would reduce the financial advantages of employing illegal workers. There should be a single database which clearly shows a person's immigration status and right to work and claim benefits. We do not consider that an amnesty would be appropriate or helpful in the current situation.

The calculation of visa fees and in-country fees should be aligned. There is an unacceptable level of delay in the IND's immigration casework, which leads to tens of thousands of complaints every year to both the IND itself and Members of Parliament. We call for the Government to implement a single immigration complaints system.

We endorse the Government's moves to reduce the foreign national prisoner population at source. We do not see the benefit of court recommendations for deportation of foreign nationals, and recommend that they should be abolished, but support the proposal to create a presumption in favour of deportation of foreign nationals who are serious criminals.

Fragmentation and lack of communication is a systemic problem not just within the IND but within the entire immigration system which ought, ideally, to work as a whole. We believe that the failures of management seen in the IND's handling of foreign national prisoners and elsewhere are all examples of hard work being undermined by a failure to take responsibility for the performance of the system as a whole. There is little doubt that the great majority of those who are employed in the immigration system are working hard and diligently, often under trying circumstances. But the biggest single management challenge for the immigration authorities is to create clear lines of responsibility and accountability.

The various challenges of working across Government provide one incentive for having a Cabinet Committee which can take overall responsibility for the whole of the Government's efforts to run an effective immigration system. The evidence received in our inquiry on the need for migrant labour, and the economic benefits and drawbacks as well as the social advantages and stresses of migration, also highlighted the disadvantages accruing from the absence of any place within Government with overall responsibility for weighing up these factors and for determining the overall migration strategy for the UK. We therefore recommend that a Cabinet Committee with representatives from all relevant Departments should be established with overall responsibility for all aspects of immigration policy.

There is a serious problem with the way immigration statistics are compiled, presented and used to evaluate and improve performance. Written instructions, targets and performance indicators are certainly important but they must be very carefully set and monitored so that they deal with real issues of concern over immigration and do not have negative impacts on other parts of the system. All immigration guidance must be consistent and coherent across the various relevant authorities, and each section must always have a clear owner at a senior level.

We recommend that the Government establish an Independent Immigration Inspectorate with oversight of every stage of immigration control.

In our view, if the Government adopts these suggestions and builds on some undoubted areas of good practice and innovations—and uses properly the skills and experience of dedicated staff throughout the existing immigration system—many of the current problems may be overcome.

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