Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence


Letter to Rt Hon Keith Vaz MP, Chairman Home Affairs Committee, from Mr Liam Byrne MP, Minister of State Home Office

  The purpose of this letter is to provide a short six month update against the milestones I set out in the Border and Immigration Agency Plan published in May 2007.

  The milestones follow the five reform documents I have published alongside the UK Borders Act since the former Home Secretary asked me to lead reform of the immigration service in June 2006;

    —  Fair, Effective, Transparent, Trusted: Rebuilding Confidence in our immigration system (July 2006)

    —  Borders, Immigration and Identity Action Plan (December 2006)

    —  Enforcing the Rules (March 2007)

    —  Securing the UK Border (March 2007)

    —  Managing Global Migration (June 2007)

  1 am pleased to report solid progress towards making BIA fit for the future.

  In that Business Plan I set out 25 demanding milestones for achievement this year against our strategic objectives.

    —  We are hitting 22 of them.

    —  3 require and are receiving extra attention to bring them back on target


  BIA's first obligation is to keep our borders safe. There are five building blocks to these defences:

    —  Biometric visas—fingerprints and photos collected from visa applicants in over 110 countries.

    —  E-Borders—we have signed the e-Borders contract. Our test system currently receives and processes 30 million passenger movements each year covering 134 non-UK arrival and departure points, exceeding its 30 million target for April 2008.

    —  Visa Waiver Programme—we are on track to introduce a Visa Waiver Test to target non-EEA countries by spring 2008.

    —  Single Border Force—we will create a unified border force to strengthen border security. We will bring together the work of the Border and Immigration Agency, customs detection work at the border from Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs and UKvisas. It will have responsibility for tackling smuggling as well as immigration control. It will report jointly to the Home Secretary and the Chancellor of the Exchequer on its work at the border—managing the flow of goods and people. To ensure we protect our borders and detect possible terrorist suspects, members of the new Unified border force will have the power from January next year, to detain people not just on suspicion of immigration offences or for customs crime but also for other criminal activity including terrorism. There will be one single primary checkpoint for both passport control and customs; and a unified border force will now apply controls at points of entry and exit on people and goods, into and out of the UK, as well as working throughout the world.

    —  ID Cards—The UK Borders Act 2007 gives us the foundation we need to Introduce these cards from 2008 onwards. We will be introducing the cards on a risk and efficiency basis and I will be publishing our strategy shortly.


  Second, in asylum we are making considerable progress too. This should be seen in he context of our wider focus—our record performance on the removal of foreign national prisoners, removals of immigration offenders and the removals of failed asylum seekers.

    —  Thanks to stronger border control between January and September 2007 there were e 16,520 principal asylum applications lodged, the lowest number of Q1-Q3 applications since 1992.

    —  In 2006 we hit removed more failed asylum seekers than there were unfounded claims. This year (to the end of 03) we have removed 9,900 failed asylum seekers including dependents.

    —  New Asylum Teams are in place in ail regions of the country and together with the Detained Fast Track teams have handled all new claims since 5 March this year. We exceeded the first stage of the new conclusion target—concluding 38% of applications made during September 2006 within six months against the target of 25%—and we are on track to raise this to 40% by the end of December 2007. This is a phased target rising to 90% of cases concluded in six months by December 2011.

    —  We have now established the 700 people in new teams to resolve older cases. All individuals will have an allocated ease owner by December 2007. Lin Homer will provide a progress report in early December.

  We are working to accelerate the rate of returns—for example we have recently agreed detailed rules with China to increase returns and the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal has recently agreed that people whose claims have failed and do not face persecution or ill-treatment can be returned to Zimbabwe.

  Overall we are on track to hit our first target for asylum but facing challenges on the other two in this year.


  We are also making radical changes in enforcement.

    —  Most importantly, we have significantly increased our enforcement capacity, including seconding additional police officers to ensure that we prioritise action against those who cause the country most harm. That means foreign criminals who have been to jail are first in the queue to be deported.

    —  For the calendar year 2007 and up to the first week of November, approximately 3,500 Foreign National Prisoners have so far been removed or deported. This already represents a 48% improvement on the total number of foreign prisoners removed for the entire calendar year of 2006, and over 130% more than for the calendar years 2004 and 2005. We remain confident we will achieve 4,000 for the full year.

    —  We are committed to stopping abuse of our immigration system and we intend to take a robust approach to removing immigration offenders from the UK. in the last reported quarter enforced returns matched our best ever records,

    —  Alongside failed asylum seekers we are removing Illegal workers. Last quarter we removed 15,660 persons from the UK. Just over 3,000 were asylum applicants or dependents and around 12,500 were non-asylum cases including those refused entry at our ports or were removed as a result of enforcement action or voluntary departure. In 2006 we removed one person every 8 minutes. In 2006 asylum applications hit their lowest level since 1993, whilst the number of removals and deportations hit an all-time high.

    —  We are expanding our detention estate by 25% We will achieve this by opening a new secure removal centre at Gatwick Airport. We announced in July that we would rebuild half of Harmondsworth to Prison Service Category B/C standards. It is due to open in late 2009/early 2010.

    —  Next February new measures to prevent illegal migrant working in the UK will come into force. This means that those who employ illegal migrants through less than diligent recruitment practices will face civil penalties of up to a proposed maximum of £10,000 per illegal worker. Those convicted of knowingly and deliberately employing illegal migrants will face the prospect of an unlimited fine and/or a maximum two year prison sentence. Employers of migrant workers with time-limited leave to enter or remain in the United Kingdom will also be responsible for checking their ongoing entitlement to work, no less frequently than every 12 months.

  Overall we are on track to deliver the majority of our milestones on enforcement but are behind plan on one of them.


  Fourth, in Migration Control, we have put in place the biggest change in migration policy for over 30 years and we are now implementing that policy. The Committee will know I wanted to see a new openness and a new balance in migration policy, and so I have made significant changes,

    —  Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) and Migration Impacts Forum (MIF)—MIF now up and running and helped us draw up policy on Bulgaria and Romania. MAC will be up and running by end of the year.

    —  Points Based System—well on track for introduction in 1st quarter of 2003. Sponsorship Statement of Intent was published on 22 November.

    —  I believe reform is now needed to both the visit system and family reunion policies, and I will put forward new proposals in this area,

    —  Caseowning/Backlogs—A programme of work to strengthen end-to-end case management for migration cases is underway. This includes a case owner tasked to manage enforcement and compliance activity on applicants who overstay the temporary residence time period they have been granted. we also plan to have an action plan to ensure that more cases are brought to conclusion.

    —  Charging-in April we implemented a new approach to charging, setting fees on the basis of the value to the applicant whilst maintaining international competitiveness. Certain fees are set above cost recovery levels to contribute up to additional £100 million per year to help support the step change in enforcement activity without recourse to the public purse.

    —  We will shortly be setting fees for the new Points Based System and will continue the strategic approach that those who benefit most from the immigration system contribute proportionately more.

  Overall we are on track to hit the five milestones.


  Finally, the organisation of BIA is being transformed:

  The preparations for launching the BIA as an Executive Agency from April 2008 are progressing well, but with more work to be done on preparing the new financial accounts Further work will need to be reassessed in light of the UK Border Agency announcement on 14 November,

  The recruitment of the Chief Inspector is under way and the Inspectorate is due to be in place by April 2008. This will strengthen the critical challenge we receive and ensure greater and more transparent accountabilities.

  Regional Directors and the regional structure are in place and are already strengthening our operational accountability, in relation to budgets, targets and priorities, building relationships with regional stakeholders and better management of publicity to improve communications with customers and stakeholders

  Three further priorities are:

    The Prime Minister announced on 14 November the creation of the UK Border Agency to improve the UK's security through strong border controls while welcoming, facilitating and encouraging legitimate travellers and trade. The new Agency will have a stronger cross-government approach to securing the border by strengthening cross government relationships, including much closer working with police  Communities, Department for International Development, Department for Work and Pensions and Department of Health. for example.

    We are removing the most harmful people first to protect the public. We are working closely with the police and other agencies to identify, disrupt, arrest and bring to justice those involved in criminal activity. We are part of Pentameter 2, an important multi-agency operation that aims to break people trafficking rings and protect and rescue vulnerable people who are being abused.

    We are entering into a strategic partnership with the Association of Chief Police officers (ALPO), and are committed to working in partnership with other parts of government, voluntary and third sector and society as a whole to deal with harm-based immigration crime and its effects.


  In summary what we are seeking to do is significant. We will:

    —  keep our borders safe

    —  set and enforce the right policy

    —  strengthen our ability to bring immigration offenders to justice

    —  tackle the root causes of illegal immigration at home and abroad

    —  act in a more open and transparent way, using our regional structure to deliver in partnership with agencies at home and abroad to pursue our ends.

27 November 2007

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