Select Committee on Home Affairs Fifth Report


208. The third stage of immigration control applies to people who have been allowed to enter or remain in the UK. They can apply to the Home Office for permission to extend their existing leave on the same conditions, to 'switch' to a different category or to settle in the UK. If the application is made before their existing leave runs out, that leave will be deemed to continue until they receive a final decision on the new application. The application may be sent by post or, for an extra fee, some applicants may apply in person for a same-day service at one of IND's Public Enquiry Offices (PEOs) in Croydon, Birmingham, Liverpool and Glasgow.

209. The IND made 384,890 decisions on in-country immigration applications in 2004, a decrease of 21% on the previous year (485,860 decisions). This reverses the previous trend of rising numbers of in-country decisions. The percentage of immigration applications refused by IND has risen from 5.6% in 2001 to 8.4% in 2004.[231] There are far fewer in-country decisions than entry clearance decisions: the number in 2004 was only 15% of the number of visa applications in 2004/05.

210. We visited the IND in Croydon, meeting caseworkers and walking through the same-day application process from the queues outside, through the initial checks and subsequent interviews to the issuing of vignettes in passports. We also met staff who deal with enquiries and complaints, and caseworkers in the student and general teams who deal with paper-based applications and undertake background checks. In addition, there are caseworkers in other parts of the country who handle other types of application, for example work-based applications which are decided by Work Permits (UK) in Sheffield.

211. Many of the same issues arise with in-country decision-making as with entry clearance: the need for improvements to the application process, quality of decision-making, targets, and the need for more information on which to base decisions along with more confidence in the appeals system.

The application process

212. The queues at Lunar House in Croydon (the IND's main Public Enquiry Office (PEO), where applications can be made in person) used regularly to snake right around the block. Since the introduction of a new appointments system, they have become insignificant. When we visited on morning in March, there were perhaps 30 people waiting in the covered area outside the security checks.

213. The vast majority of people who make immigration applications in person under the 'premium service' now make an appointment first; their applications are checked before they pay the £500 fee; and in Croydon their cases are usually completed (i.e. passports returned or instructions issued to come back with further evidence) within four hours of their appointment time. This certainly seemed to be the case when we visited.

214. Like each of the four PEOs, Croydon handles only certain categories of case. Other applicants, including those whose applications are "of a complex nature" and most non-chargeable applicants, must apply by post. We are pleased to see that European citizens applying under European Community Law for a registration certificate can now apply in person in Croydon. The IND should look carefully at the categories of application it accepts at each of the PEOs and ensure that these are the categories most fitted to an accelerated process.

215. Unlike applications made in person at a PEO, or visa applications at an outsourced application centre overseas, there is no checking service for people in the UK who make an immigration application by post. If they fail to send the right documents, their application is likely to be delayed or rejected without a refund. Consideration should be given to introducing a network of immigration application centres in the UK, perhaps using Post Offices which already check passport applications. This would provide a local service checking that applicants have filled in forms correctly and submitted the right documents, and would also remove some of the administrative burden from the IND. Applicants could be charged a fee for using this service, to cover the costs.

Decision-making, training and monitoring

216. IND caseworkers, like ECOs, have to apply the Immigration Rules in making their decisions. But as we have discussed above (at paragraphs 120 to 125) we do not consider the Rules to be an effective aid to decision-making, and even if they are redrafted as clearly and comprehensively as possible, an element of judgment will always be necessary. Therefore, as with ECOs, a high standard of training and monitoring of IND caseworkers is essential. We were told that the IND College provides training programmes for non-asylum caseworkers lasting between four and 15 days, on a wide range of subjects, and that trainees are mentored and tested. The General Group Caseworker Course lasts for five weeks (two-and-a-half weeks' classroom training and the rest through mentoring) and there are various additional courses on reasons for refusal letters, work permits and other work-based schemes.[232]

217. Chris Randall, Chair of ILPA, did not consider this amount of training sufficient. He proposed that there should be some kind of testing "to see whether people have actually learnt from their training".[233] An obvious model is the system in place for immigration advisers and solicitors who receive public funding for immigration work. They have to be accredited under the Legal Services Commission's Immigration and Asylum Accreditation Scheme which has three levels: Accredited Caseworker (Level 1), Senior Caseworker (Level 2) and Advanced Caseworker (Level 3). People applying for accreditation have to pass an assessment, and after three years they have to apply for re-accreditation, which requires further assessment.[234] We believe that both IND caseworkers and ECOs should be regulated to a standard equivalent to that for advisers who do publicly-funded immigration work. This would ensure not only that they are competent to begin with but also that their competence is maintained.

218. Whilst UKvisas seems to be taking steps to address quality control issues following the National Audit Office report into the entry clearance operation, (see paragraphs 136 and 179 to 182), IND does not appear to be doing the same for most of its immigration caseworkers. Its efforts to raise the quality of decision-making have largely been focused on asylum caseworkers, for instance through the "quality initiative" project in conjunction with UNHCR.[235] However, a new independent quality team for Work Permits (UK) was established in April 2005. It carries out approximately 1,200 random checks each month and provides daily feedback as well as monthly statistical information and comprehensive quarterly reports highlighting the main areas requiring improvements.[236] We recommend that 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. It should gather information which can be used to gauge quality, assess the impact of targets, and use this information to develop training, mentoring and oversight of caseworkers. The quality control measures already in place in UKvisas, asylum casework and Work Permits (UK) may provide useful examples.

219. We were told that there is a new quality sampling system for immigration casework in the IND under which approximately 2% of cases are checked before being issued, and that in addition to this an applicant may ask for a decision to be reconsidered. However, the IND was able to provide figures on the outcomes of these reviews only for Work Permits (UK). They told us that reconsideration requests relating to other immigration applications are "dealt with as casework correspondence and no reliable statistics are available".[237] We have recommended above (paragraph 140) that all applicants be given the opportunity to challenge a refusal, perhaps through a "minded to refuse" stage. A meaningful internal review is likely to be cheaper and quicker for both sides than letting a refusal go to appeal. A strategy should be developed for when and how internal reviews of refusals take place. This should cover those undertaken following a request from an applicant as well as those undertaken as part of quality sampling. Statistics must be kept of the outcome of all these reviews.

IND targets

220. The IND has set targets for processing in-country applications which are very different from UKvisas' targets. They have recently been revised and now state that 90% of charged general casework and 30% of non-charged general casework should be dealt with within 14 weeks. 98% of applications made in person should be decided within 24 hours. The IND was on course to meet these targets in 2005/06.[238] Its website shows how long particular types of applications are taking,[239] and in June 2006 this suggests it was on target for many types of application:

Application type We are currently working on applications submitted in
Further Leave to Remain (Marriage)
April 2006
Settlement (Marriage)
April 2006
April 2006
Settlement (Other)
April 2006
Further Leave to Remain (Other)
March 2006
Indefinite Leave to Remain from Exceptional Leave to Remain
December 2005

221. IND caseworkers have far longer on average to make their decisions than ECOs do. For instance they handle 5.2 charged postal applications in a day (which equates to 1 hour 24 minutes per case), and 4.2 applications made in person per day (1 hour 42 minutes per case).[240] ECOs have under 10 minutes on average per application (see paragraphs 141 to 153)

222. A point which has been made repeatedly throughout the inquiry, and during our visits, is that the quality of decision-making falls if targets on speed are unrealistic. The 24-hour target for applications made to the IND in person is actually far exceeded: in Croydon most decisions are made within four hours, and the IND website suggests that in Birmingham, Glasgow and Liverpool the turnaround time is under two hours. Caseworkers clearly cannot be making detailed checks within these timescales, and indeed they raised this concern with us during our visit to Croydon. One told us that he tends to grant applications rather than refuse them, partly because by the time they reached him the documents have been checked: but the initial document checks are intended only to see if the applicant has brought the right documents with them rather than to make a judgment on their validity or evidential value. We recommend that IND managers monitor caseworkers' decisions under the same-day service carefully, and compare these decisions with those on postal applications in the same categories to see if the tight time targets make a difference to outcomes.

223. Another problem with IND targets appears to be that they result in difficult cases being left to the bottom of the pile. Witnesses expressed concern to us that although the targets might be being met, there is no target for the remaining 10% of charged applications and 70% of non-charged applications. They alleged that this meant the easy cases are handled within the time targets but the more difficult ones drag on for months, without affecting performance figures.[241] This is exacerbated by the difficulty of finding out about the progress of an application (see paragraphs 499 to 505). The IND told us that the longest processing time for a non-charged application in the last five years is 840 days (or 579 working days).[242] To avoid applications disappearing into 'black holes', the IND must introduce targets which cover the speed of processing all postal applications yet which take into account the need for rigorous checks.

224. Delays in decision-making lead to 90% of the 26,000 "operational" complaints to IND every year. The IND receives a further 40,000 letters a year from Members of Parliament arising from constituents' dissatisfaction with its service, many of which are also about delays.[243] The level of complaints about delays in decision-making indicates a serious problem which belies the impression given by the fact that targets on speed of processing have been met. We look at delays and the complaints system in chapter 9 below.

Access to information

225. Like ECOs, IND caseworkers do not have access to a full range of information to inform their decision. Their caseworking database, the Case Information Database (CID) is different from that used by UKvisas, which is the Central Reference System (CRS), although IND staff do apparently have access to the CRS through a restricted Government Intranet. Caseworkers cannot themselves make checks against criminal records held by the police, but some of this information may be put onto the Home Office Warnings Index, a database containing a 'watchlist' of people of interest to the border agencies.[244]

226. Again like ECOs, IND caseworkers have little sense of connection with the appeals system and low confidence in it, and are not given the opportunity to learn from it. Home Office Presenting Officers will rarely contact the caseworker who made the initial refusal, so they do not have any chance to explain their decision further, influence the way the appeal is defended or learn from the result of the appeal. Indeed, one counter officer told us that he is never informed of the outcomes of appeals against his decisions. We look at the appeals issue in more depth below (paragraphs 332 to 348).

Management and structures

227. On our visit to Croydon in March, Paula Higson (Senior Director of Managed Migration) told us that the IND recognised the need to improve management competence, especially junior management, from its current low base, and that it is looking at the levels of managerial competence required. In May, Lin Homer, the Director General of the IND, told us that the business is "under-managed", but that the problem was at a more senior level.[245]

228. The management structures for non-asylum casework teams in IND are set out in written evidence from the Home Office. "General group" in IND, which deals with non-work-based applications for leave to remain or settle in the UK, is organised into four groups in Croydon and two in Sheffield, each of which has an Assistant Director, a Chief Caseworker, a Team Leader and between eight and 20 caseworkers.[246]

229. It seems to us that the IND recognises there is a problem with management, but is not entirely clear where the problem lies or what to do about it. We recommend that an outside body assess the management structures in the IND to determine how many managers are needed, and at what level, to provide an adequate level of support and control for the number of caseworkers. It should also look at whether managers have the right competencies and priorities.

230. Many IND caseworkers deal with a wide range of applications rather than specialising in any particular type of case. We can see that this provides useful flexibility but it may also risk a lack of expertise.

231. There are some specialist teams of caseworkers who deal with specific types of postal application. For example in Croydon there is a 'student batch' team which handles applications submitted by college co-ordinators and appears to have developed an expertise which allows them to deal more effectively with applications; it also seems to have more 'ownership' of the cases it handles which means that applicants can contact the person in charge of their cases. Teams in Sheffield and Croydon are being reorganised so the all student cases are dealt with by dedicated teams, and there are teams in both places who specialise in interviewing techniques, who have particularly been used in marriage applications and applications from unmarried partners, cases of domestic violence and also recently for applicants for a UK ancestry visa. There is also a specialist team in Croydon who deal with applications to remain in Britain for medical reasons. [247] Four new Managed Migration Intelligence Units have been created to help with different types of application (we visited the student Unit in Croydon): caseworkers can contact them if they are concerned about an application. There do not appear to be any dedicated teams for applications from people in other categories such as spouses or children. The use of specialist teams of IND caseworkers who can develop expertise in particular types of application should be extended further.

232. IND has introduced a range of measures for improving the way it deals with asylum applications, under the "New Asylum Model". These measures are described in the February 2005 white paper and include assigning a case manager to each applicant. The case manager is responsible for ensuring the management of asylum applicants and their cases through the system from when their claim is first made right through to either integration or removal.[248] This is intended to help with maintaining contact with the applicant throughout the process, which has advantages to both sides. However, the New Asylum Model has not yet been fully applied: at the moment it applies only to about 10% of new asylum claims though the IND aims to apply it to all new non-detained asylum cases by March 2007. It is too early to form a judgment on its effectiveness.[249] Case managers should be assigned to immigration applications on a limited trial basis, to take charge of each application all the way through the system. Following the trial the case manager model should be assessed in both immigration and asylum cases.

Policy development

233. On our visit to Croydon we met several impressive caseworkers who could clearly identify patterns in the difficulties they face, and had thoughtful and constructive suggestions for how the system could be improved. One suggested that a points system would work equally well for family applications as for work-based or student applications. She was concerned about making decisions based on inadequate information because that meant that either a refusal or a grant would be on her judgment alone. A "dependent relative" application she was considering at the time of our visit contained no evidence of a link between grandparents and grandson, and no evidence that he had been supporting them. If she refused it, further evidence would almost certainly be raised on appeal. If she granted it, she could not be sure that the applicant had actually met the requirements of the Rules. This is a real dilemma even for an experienced caseworker, and even though it is open to IND caseworkers to ask the applicant for more information, we consider it an example of a case where a "minded to refuse" stage would be helpful (see paragraph 140).

234. Yet we had no sense that caseworkers' ideas and experiences percolate through to policy teams. The IND must develop ways of integrating both overseas and in-country caseworkers' experience into policy development, by improving the way their managers gather and pass on information from them, and by encouraging policy teams to seek caseworkers' ideas or include caseworkers in those teams.

Internal corruption

235. Whilst the Committee was impressed with many of the caseworkers it met, there are some problems. One of these is corruption. Over the last few months there have been several reports of corruption in the IND, with officials allegedly granting immigration status in return for sex or money.[250]

236. The IND provided us with figures in February 2006 on the number of allegations of corruption or misconduct involving IND staff which were referred for investigation to the Immigration Service Operational Integrity Unit (169 in 2004-05, of which 120 were pursued) and to the IND Security and Anti-Corruption Unit (703, of which 409 were investigated). The majority of these were still under investigation at the time the figures were given, but 31 people had been referred for prosecution and 79 referred for disciplinary action.[251]

237. The scale of investigations into corruption in UKvisas appears to be much smaller, even though common sense suggests that the risk of corruption may be higher, and indeed during our visit to Pakistan we were told about instances of corruption: for instance, there had recently been a case where FedEx staff in Peshawar had turned out to be charging an unnecessary settlement fee to people who wanted to join their spouses in the UK, pocketing it and concealing it from UKvisas. The Pakistani police investigated and some funds were returned to the individuals concerned. The Foreign Office Minister, Lord Triesman, told us that UKvisas has an Operational Integrity Section which is charged with investigating any allegations of malpractice in posts abroad, and which also uses IT and other systems to try and identify potential weaknesses.[252] According to figures subsequently supplied to us, it investigated 85 cases from 1998 to the end of 2005. Nearly all allegations were substantiated: out of the 85 cases, 63 staff were dismissed, ten received written warnings, three were withdrawn from post and two cases were referred to the police and Crown Prosecution Service. In only seven investigations was it found that there was no case to answer.[253]

238. Public confidence in immigration control demands the highest levels of integrity from those operating it. Managers in both the IND and UKvisas must take an active role in ensuring that their staff are not acting corruptly or improperly, and they must be supported in this by investigating teams who are equipped to spot potential areas of weakness and patterns of decision-making which could indicate a problem.

231   Home Office, Control of Immigration Statistics 2004 Cm 6690 Table 4.2 Back

232   Ev 408-II, HC 775-III Back

233   Q 229, 17 January 2006 Back

234   Legal Services Commission, Immigration & Asylum Accreditation Scheme: Operational Guidance Version 3, 26 March 2004 Back

235   United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Quality Initiative Project: Key Observations and Recommendations, February - August 2005 Back

236   Ev 406, HC 775-III Back

237   Ev 247-8, HC 775-III Back

238   Ev 257-260, HC 775-III Back

239  Back

240   Ev 407, HC 775-III Back

241   Ev 85, para 9 HC 775-III and Q 285, 17 January 2006 Back

242  Ev 255, HC 775-III Back

243   Ev 69, HC 775-II Back

244   Ev 397, HC 775-III Back

245   Q 973, 6 June 2006 Back

246   Ev 405, HC 775-III Back

247   Ev 357, HC 775-III Back

248   Home Office, Controlling our borders: Making migration work for Britain - Five year strategy for asylum and immigration, Cm 6472, February 2005, Annex 2 Back

249   Ev 405, HC 775-III Back

250   "Sex for visas" allegations in the Sun on 3 January 2006 led to a internal inquiry : see Home Office, Report on investigation into allegations about the Public Enquiry Office in Croydon, 3 March 2006. Allegations of corruption amongst IND surfaced in the Observer in May and June: 'Revealed: "sex-for-asylum" scandal at immigration HQ', 21 May 2006 and 'Cash for asylum scandal hits Reid', 4 June 2006 Back

251   Ev 255, HC 775-III Back

252   Q1191, 13 May 2006 Back

253   Ev 386, HC 775-III Back

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