Select Committee on Home Affairs Written Evidence

28.  Memorandum submitted by Migration Watch UK

  1.  The Home Affairs Committee has requested responses to a wide range of topics under the general heading of "immigration control". In this paper Migration Watch UK concentrates specifically on the pressures on the entry clearance system.

  2.  Currently the UK has no embarkation controls of any sort. This, and the relative ease of gaining employment in the "black economy" in the UK, mean that the system for issuing visas is critical in ensuring that the visa applicants are genuine, that they have a valid reason for coming to the UK and that they will be likely to leave the UK at the end of their stay here.

  3.  Demand for visas rose by an annual average of 5% in the 1990s. [123]In 2002 it increased by 9% over 2001 and in the last two years it has increased by nearly 15% per year. Over the last four years, taken together, visa applications for entry to the UK have increased by 43%, as demonstrated by the following graph:

  4.  The increase in applications has been across all the main visa categories with visitor visa applications increasing by 43% over this period in line with the overall increase. The increase has been even more marked for work permits and student applications. The former has more than doubled over this four year period (from 38,700 to 87,000 applications) and the latter has increased by over 80% (from 152,000 to 276,000 applications).

  5.  The largest increases in applications have come from Southern Africa (up 122% over the four years from 38,000 applications to 84,000), Equatorial Africa (up 73% from 233,000 to 403,000) and South Asia (up 58% from 389,000 to 614,000).

  7.  We conclude that:

    —  The very rapid increase in visa applications to the UK from throughout the developing world has arisen because the government has given a very clear impression that the UK is a country of immigration and because the post-entry controls on visitors and migrants are virtually non-existent (and are known to be so). The absence of embarkation controls is an additional incentive to overstay. Futhermore, the large number of illegal immigrants already in the UK, many of them working illegally, acts as an incentive to others.

    —  The entry control system is under enormous pressure through the sheer number of applicants and, particularly, the massive expansion in applications in recent years. Since October 2000, a visa has conferred the right to enter the UK. [124]It is therefore essential that the visa system should be robust. Unfortunately, the pressure of applications has led many posts to consider that meeting processing targets takes precedence over effective immigration control. [125]In this context it should be noted that a negative decision takes far longer to implement as a written case must be assembled that will stand up to a possible appeal. The Independent Monitor has pointed out that there can be a much higher refusal rate in the low season. [126]This suggests that standards have to be lowered in peak periods to get through the numbers involved.

    —  The result is that in some posts the number of "tier one"[127] grants is surprisingly high. In Pakistan, a source country of significant immigration, in 2003-04 about 72,000 applications were dealt with at tier one. In Algeria, a country of security concern, it was above 50% in the same year. [128]The pressure from the management is to take "pragmatic decisions". If they lead to additions to the illegal population in the UK they don't show up in the system whereas visa delays do.

    —  The system is further weakened by the almost complete lack of feedback since the absence of embarkation controls means that there is no means by which a post can judge whether it is getting its decisions right.

  8.  The inescapable conclusion is that the government have talked up Britain as a country of immigration before restoring embarkation controls which are vital for an effective visa and immigration system. The result is to be seen in the burgeoning illegal population which the government itself put at approaching half a million in 2001. If subsequent failed asylum seekers are added the total is probably closer to three quarters of a million. [129]

8 December 2005

123   123 UKvisas Annual Review 2000-01 page 7. Back

124   124 NAO Report Visa Entry to the UK para 2.3. Back

125   125 Ibid Executive Summary para 15. Back

126   126 Independent Monitor's Report 2003 para 25. Back

127   127 Tier One involves only a brief interview at the counter, usually by a locally engaged member of staff. Back

128   128 UKvisas-Entry Clearance Statistics 2003-04. Back

129   129 Migration Watch Briefing paper 9.15. Back

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