Immigration: the Points Based System - Work Routes - Public Accounts Committee Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

1.  The Points Based System (the System) is an improvement on the visa system which preceded it but has yet to fully meet its objectives. The System is more transparent to those applying and more adaptable to changing migration needs. It provides an objective basis for decisions, which are reached more quickly than under the previous system. It therefore provides a useful base on which to build. However, the Agency needs to make significant improvements, particularly to encourage greater compliance and improve management information, so that the System works more effectively to meet its objectives. The following recommendations are designed to help meet this end.

2.  The Agency has not done enough to ensure that migrant workers leave the UK when they no longer have a right to remain. It estimates that 181,000 people may have stayed on in the UK after their permission to remain has expired, but it does not have the right information to know if this is an accurate estimate. The Agency should not use the lack of exit controls as an excuse to ignore thousands of people who overstay in this country illegally. It should develop a strategy to identify and deal with those overstaying, including students, workers and others who are in the UK illegally, and report publicly at least once a year on progress in reducing their numbers. We will return to this topic in due course to evaluate progress.

3.  The Agency does not have enough control over whether sponsoring employers comply with their duties and does not appear to know where the main risks lie. The Agency does not check regularly through visits to ensure proper compliance with the rules by employers. Until October 2010, the Agency was unable to say how many employers had been visited or the outcomes of these visits. This has undermined its ability to develop a sufficiently robust risk-based approach to monitoring employers. The Agency should improve its ability to assess and address the risk of employers failing to comply with immigration rules by developing better systems and placing greater priority on compliance. It should also review its system of incentives and penalties to encourage better compliance, and consider what incentives it could offer to employers to guarantee their employees' adherence to immigration rules, in particular leaving the country when the visa has expired.

4.  Multi-national organisations are able to send workers from outside the European Economic Area to UK branches through the Intra-Company Transfer route, but we are concerned that the Agency does not have enough control over this route. Up to September 2010, employers have brought in 42,000 IT workers using this route at a time when UK residents with IT skills cannot find work. Unlike other work routes, there is no limit on the number of workers able to use the route. The Department believes that the interests of resident workers are protected through a minimum salary requirement. Since April 2011, this route is available only to workers earning a minimum of £24,000 a year to remain in the UK for 12 months and to workers earning over £40,000 a year to remain in the UK for up to five years. However, employers are able to pay up to 40% of the salary as allowances, which are more difficult to verify. The Agency must ensure that it can verify all salaries accurately and should consider excluding allowances from salaries. Furthermore, we expect the Home Office to monitor this scheme and whether controls are operating adequately, to provide the assurance that it does protect the interests of resident workers.

5.  There are wide variations in productivity between the Agency's UK-based and overseas operations, and between different regions, which the Agency cannot fully explain. The Agency's visiting officers are not as productive as they should be. The numbers of applications decided per day varies widely between caseworkers working in the UK and overseas offices, and between different offices overseas. In addition, the Agency's visiting officers carry out an average of only 4.5 employer visits a month, compared to the 16 visits the Agency calculates should be possible. The Agency should investigate known areas of difference in productivity and focus greater effort on ensuring that staff in all locations work as productively as possible.

6.  The number of errors made by applicants creates unnecessary burdens on both applicants and the Agency. Currently, half of migrant applicants seek help through calls to the Agency's helplines, and applications are often rejected for easily correctable errors. Sponsoring employers frequently seek advice from the Agency's enquiry lines or from specialist immigration lawyers. We welcome the Agency's commitment to address these problems by improving its guidance and forms. 'Evidential flexibility', which was introduced to help with this issue, is not applied consistently and is not in place for sponsor licence applications. We also heard that some employers would like to have named immigration caseworkers who could be directly contacted about applications for sponsored workers. The Agency should:

i.  ensure that its staff take a consistent and proactive approach to correcting minor errors and omissions;

ii.  extend the principle of evidential flexibility to applications from employers; and

iii.  explore options for improving the service provided to sponsors who are willing to pay for it, for example by providing a single caseworker contact.

7.  The Agency does not have the necessary management information on migrant applications to address compliance problems. We welcome the Agency's assurance that its new integrated casework system will provide the information needed to deal with these issues. We note, however, that it will not address weaknesses in the management information available on sponsoring employers or improve the service offered to them. We are also concerned that the changes will not be fully operational until 2013. Over the next two years, while it rolls out the new integrated immigration casework system, the Agency should establish performance measures and determine what management information it needs to manage compliance better across both migrant and sponsor management and ensure that the new systems are able to support these.

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© Parliamentary copyright 2011
Prepared 17 May 2011