Work of the UK Border Agency (August-December 2011): Government Response to the Committee's Twenty-First Report of Session 2010-12 - Home Affairs Committee Contents

Appendix: Government response

The UK Border Agency and Border Force have considered the recommendations of the Work of the UK Border Agency (August-December 2011) report and the Government response is below.

Conclusion / recommendation 1

The Committee welcomes the reduction in the number of prisoners who were released without being referred to the UK Border "Agency" and the Committee will continue to monitor the figures to make sure that this decline is maintained. The Committee notes that further processes are being implemented to ensure that all Foreign National Prisoners eligible for deportation are considered and repeat our basic view that no Foreign National Prisoner should be released without deportation being fully considered.

Government Response

We are pleased that the Committee has recognised the improvements made. We continue to work with the National Offenders Management System (NOMS) to improve the referral process and maximise Foreign National Offender (FNO) removals. FNO—only establishments allow embedded UK Border Agency staff to start the deportation process more quickly, and we are also working closely with the police to establish the nationality of FNOs at an earlier stage in the process.

On page five of the report, the Committee request an explanation for why fewer FNOs were removed in 2011 than in 2010. This is largely due to fewer cases arising which fit the deportation threshold — numbers are down approximately 12% in 2011 compared with 2010, whilst the overall prison population has not fallen. As we continue to remove more FNOs earlier in the process, the remaining cases are the most complex and therefore present the greatest obstacles to removal.

Conclusion / Recommendation 2

The Committee has long suggested that the terminology and figures used by the UK Border "Agency" can be, at best, described as confusing and at worst, misleading. It would seem that, on this occasion, even their Chief Executive had difficulty in following the data provided to the Committee. The work of the "Agency" and any discussion on immigration will necessarily involve the use of statistics. It is vital that, when providing, figures, especially to a Committee of the House, that the information is consistent, clear and accurate. The Committee expects this to be the case in future. It is difficult to see how senior management and ministers can be confident that they know what is going on if the "Agency" cannot be precise in the information it provides to this committee.

As The Committee has pointed out on a number of occasions, the "Agency" is an integral part of the Home Office and is not a separate "Agency" with separate systems of accountability. This is therefore a matter for the Permanent Secretary, and as well as receiving reports from the head of the "Agency" the Committee will expect to hear from the Permanent Secretary how she intends to clean up the use of statistics within the Department.

Taken together with:

Conclusion / Recommendation 21

Once again, the UK Border "Agency" were initially obstructive when asked to provide essential information to us, this is unacceptable. Given the criticisms the Committee has made previously about the "Agency's" refusal to provide information to this Committee and the undertakings by Mr Whiteman to work with us, it is also highly disappointing. The Committee takes our scrutiny of the UK Border "Agency" very seriously and will not be deterred by the "Agency's" attempt to circumvent our requests for information. It is in the public interest that this "Agency", charged with implementing the Government's immigration policy, is held to account by Parliament. When Mr Whiteman first appeared before us, he pledged to be to be transparent and work with us on the basis of trust. We welcome those pledges and look forward to them being fulfilled.

Government Response

We are committed to being as transparent as possible in our public use of statistics and management information. For the latter we have put governance in place to improve the quality and range of the data we routinely publish. We have also established a programme to review regular requests for data, including those from Select Committees, to confirm we have the assurance processes needed to add these data to our regular data releases. In cases where the Committee requests data that the department would not normally be expected to publish on quality grounds the Committee will be advised of this in the course of data provision and the quality concerns that apply will be clearly signposted on any data that are supplied.

The Home Office is committed to upholding the highest standards in adhering to the Code of Practice for official statistics. It is advised on statistical matters by its Chief Statistician who has final oversight of data released by the department. The Chief Statistician and the Permanent Secretary believe that the detailed issues cited by the Committee do not imply any need to 'clean up the use of statistics,' especially given the positive recent assessment of the Department's immigration statistics by the UK Statistics Authority.

We share the Committee's view of the central importance of robust information in the UK Border Agency and Border Force. The Department has created a new Performance & Compliance Unit, with a leader from outside the Agency and an explicit remit to assure that. Early action has included seconding in a senior, independent external auditor to set up and oversee that element of the Unit's work.

Conclusion / Recommendation 3

The Committee is deeply concerned that there are 2,670 Foreign National Prisoners living in the community and still awaiting deportation after two years. The Committee recognises that some of this is due to circumstances beyond the "Agency's" control, such as the domestic political situations in some prisoners' countries of origin. However, more could be done to address the problems of false identity and lack of documentation. The Committee recommends that the "Agency" should, as a matter of routine, begin working to establish the identities of Foreign National Prisoners, and ensure that they have the necessary travel documentation, as soon as they are sentenced. The next time the Committee scrutinises the "Agency", we intend to ask how many Foreign National Prisoners were referred to the "Agency" at the point of sentencing.

Government Response

We begin work to obtain travel documents as soon as it is practicable in the deportation process which is normally when the decision to deport has been made. Emergency travel documents tend to have limited validity and there is no real advantage in being in receipt of them too early in the process because they are likely to expire before they have been used. We work with the FNO and check all available records to establish their identity, and aim to time the receipt of the emergency travel document so that it is valid when the FNO is due to be removed.

Our agreement with NOMS is that prisons will refer FNOs who appear to meet the deportation criteria to the UK Border Agency within five days of sentencing. We are in the process of ensuring that data on referral times of foreign nationals who meet the deportation criteria is collected which will enable us to better measure performance and identify areas for improvement, and which we will be glad to share with the Committee.

On page eight of the report the Committee asks for an explanation as to why some of those FNOs referred for deportation are found to be exempt from deportation. NOMS may refer an individual that they consider to be an FNO as they have advised that their nationality is not British or their place of birth is outside of the UK, or NOMS have doubts about their claim to be British. Subsequent investigation by the UK Border Agency may confirm that the individual is a British citizen, either by birth or naturalisation. Additionally, FNOs are referred to the UK Border Agency by NOMS when they think they meet the broad criteria for deportation. Further checks into the FNO's criminal convictions and sentence length may reveal that the deportation criteria are in fact not met.

Conclusion / Recommendation 4

Figures provided to the Committee are unclear. The Government response

indicates the Case Assurance and Audit Unit is dealing with 17,000 live cases despite having concluded 7,700 of the 18,000 referred to in the "Agency's" update to the Committee in September 2011. Parliament was originally told that the backlog was a maximum of 450,000 in 2006 yet the numbers given to this Committee suggest that it has now reached 502,000. The "Agency" is providing inconsistent information. The Committee suggests that if the categories within the data differ from those previously supplied to the Committee, an explanation be given in order to avoid any confusion. The "Agency" must rid itself of its bunker mentality and focus on ensuring that Parliament and the public understands its work. Confusion over figures only risks suspicion that the "Agency" is attempting to mislead Parliament and the public over its performance and effectiveness. The only way the Home Office can allay and remove these fears is to clean up and clarify all the figures that are used in these reports.

Taken together with:

Conclusion / Recommendation 5

In correspondence the "Agency" has continually referred to two controlled archives, one for asylum cases and another for immigration cases. Yet they appear to have merged live asylum and immigration cases from the two backlogs in to one 'live cases' category. This has lead to confusion during oral evidence provided by Mr Whiteman. Regardless of how the information is separated out, the "Agency" has an archive of 119,000 lost applicants and 17,000 live cases. This is an unacceptably high figure and the "Agency" should continue to aim for a swift reduction of the cases related to both the asylum and migration backlogs. The Committee welcome Mr Whiteman's commitment to reducing significantly the number of asylum cases in the controlled archive by March 2013. However, at the current rate of resolution it would take almost four years to empty the controlled archive of asylum and migration cases. The Committee has asked the "Agency" to provide us with a sample of examples of typical cases held in the controlled archive so that the Committee can better understand the process.

Government Response

We are dealing with a 'controlled archive' of asylum and migration cases - these are cases which weren't traced or concluded but continue to be reviewed and checked. The Agency is also dealing with a 'live' group of asylum cases which currently have barriers to conclusion but continue to be worked on. Cases may move from the controlled archive to the live cohort, so there may not be a direct correlation between a change in volumes and the number of cases concluded from the live cohort. Rob Whiteman took the Committee through the most recent figures at his evidence session in May 2012; a summary is below[1]:
April 2011 September 2011 December 2011March 2012
Live asylum cohort 23,00021,500 17,00021,000
Asylum controlled archive 75,50098,000 93,00080,000
Migration controlled archive 26,00026,000 22,00021,500

Mr Whiteman confirmed at this session that we are confident that we will close the asylum controlled archive by the end of December 2012. To do this we have introduced a more proactive and robust process to trace these cases, bulk checking the entire untraced caseload against a number of external databases including DWP and HMRC and information held by a major credit reference agency (Equifax). This is in addition to the checks already being run against internal Home Office databases.

With regards to the Committee's request for examples of typical cases, in order to comply with our obligations under the Data Protection Act we will be providing anonymised case studies to the Committee in a separate letter.

Conclusion / Recommendation 6

Trust in our asylum system is vital, both for the taxpayer and for those seeking a safe haven. Country of origin information is a key tool for those making asylum decisions yet the Independent Chief Inspector has found flaws in the system which must be addressed as a matter of urgency. The Committee welcome that the "Agency" is successful in 67% of asylum appeals, a figure higher than 44% which is the average appeal win rate—this shows that the "Agency" making the correct decision in the majority of asylum cases. However, the "Agency" must get the decision right first time in a far greater percentage of cases. A failure rate of 33% indicates a considerable waste in administrative assets, the time of the tribunal and a burden on applicants who have been given a wrong decision, so there is financial cost and human cost, both of which need to be cut to the minimum.

Government Response

We welcome the Committee's recognition that we make the correct decision in more than two thirds of asylum cases. Her Majesty's Courts and Tribunals Service also acknowledge that the majority of asylum cases are complex, and the fact that an appeal is successful does not always indicate that an error was made by the UK Border Agency decision maker.

Nonetheless, we agree with the Committee that getting the decision right first time is critical. We remain committed to driving up our appeal win rate, by improving the quality of decision—making, encouraging staff to consider withdrawing cases which are no longer sustainable (for example due to a change in country situation) and by increasing our representation rate at court.

To ensure the quality of representation of UK Border Agency asylum appeals, the UK Border Agency conducts regular audits of asylum appeals. Between April and September 2011, just under 97% of appeals met our national quality standard.

We also analysed 862 asylum cases lost at appeal and identified a number of reasons for this. In 41% of these cases the UK Border Agency lost the appeal because the Immigration Judge disagreed with our assessment of the applicant's credibility (that is, our assessment of the likelihood of their claim being true). We are therefore working with asylum decision makers to improve credibility assessments, including through issuing revised guidance developed in consultation with a number of non—governmental organisations in the field of asylum.

Conclusion / Recommendation 7

If the "Agency" is encountering difficulties which threaten the border security of the UK, such as the Lille loophole, these difficulties should be resolved as a matter of urgency. If the "Agency" is unable to resolve these difficulties quickly, Parliament must be informed. It is unacceptable that this issue of the Lille loophole only appeared to be resolved after a public discussion and scrutiny from this Committee. The Committee has not been told how many of the 160 people who were stopped at St Pancras last year have claimed asylum in the UK. Until this problem has been permanently resolved, the Committee considers it vital that both Ministers and Parliament be regularly updated on the situation. The Committee expects the "Agency" to provide us with full and detailed information in the next and subsequent reports, and for the Permanent Secretary to ensure that this happens in terms of reports to both Ministers and Parliament.

Government Response

We have worked closely with the French and Belgian authorities over a number of years to ensure that Eurostar services are not vulnerable to targeting by irregular migrants, facilitators and people traffickers.

In his letter to the Committee of 22 February, Rob Whiteman set out the steps which had been taken to deal with the issue of the Lille loophole which culminated in Eurostar's decision to suspend the sale of point to point Brussels to Lille tickets other than to regular travellers who hold season tickets. After representations from both the French and Belgian authorities Eurostar resumed sales of tickets later that week but only on three specific services a day.

Given the small number of services that are now vulnerable to abuse, Border Force is able to target resources on these trains. Upon arrival at Lille, passengers with Lille tickets are helped to disembark and the numbers of Lille tickets sold reconciled with total disembarkations. Securitas (on behalf of Eurostar) conduct full ticket checks on passengers between Lille and Calais where those without a valid St Pancras ticket are instructed to disembark. Additional immigration checks are then conducted by Border Force at St Pancras when the trains arrive.

Since this arrangement was put in place the Immigration Minister has been regularly updated. Our data suggests our response has been successful in significantly reducing numbers of irregular migrants seeking to abuse this route, but that the route continues to be targeted by people traffickers.

We are in discussions with our Belgian and French counterparts to identify what additional measures might be taken to further secure the route and allow a reopening of certain ticket sales. We are also in regular contact with Eurostar to monitor the functioning of the new system and plan future action to tackle immigration abuse on their trains.

The Committee has asked for details of the number of people stopped at St Pancras who subsequently claimed asylum. It is the Government's view that by releasing this information we would be providing potentially useful information to those who seek to evade our immigration controls and facilitate illegal migration. Releasing port specific information gives an insight into our capabilities and operational activity at ports. For border security reasons we are therefore unable to release this information.

Conclusion / Recommendation 8

The Committee expects the UK Border "Agency" to comply with the request by the Children's Commissioner for further information on the 'gentleman's agreement'. The Committee also expects the "Agency" to publish full information about this and about any similar bilateral agreements.

Government Response

We are complying fully with the Children's Commissioner's request for further information on the 'gentleman's agreement' and on other issues related to the "Landing in Dover" report. Once the information has been provided to the Commissioner a copy of it will be placed in the House library.

Conclusion / Recommendation 9

Again, a lack of communication about working practices has resulted in a situation which is detrimental to the reputation of the "Agency" and, by extension, the Home Office. The Committee have previously recommended that the Chief Inspector of the UKBA carry out a thematic review of the internal communication of the "Agency"—the Committee reiterates the need for such work to take place.

Government Response

We agree that timely and efficient internal communication is fundamentally important to the effective functioning of both UK Border Agency and Border Force. We have renewed efforts to close the gap between frontline staff and management and to make sure that crucial operational information is cascaded through the organisation. Specifically:

—  In Border Force we have instructed that every member of staff should expect and receive a daily briefing from their supervisor before starting their shift. This will include operational instructions, intelligence updates and management information that is essential for Border Force Officers to carry out their duties. The Director General (Brian Moore) has completed a series of staff events, attended by over 4,000 Border Force staff, to ensure that Border Officers understand the vision and role of Border Force and their contribution to it.

—  In the UK Border Agency, we have introduced a fortnightly briefing tool for middle managers to inform and discuss changes in the Agency with their teams. We have introduced fortnightly telephone conferences for senior managers to convey business critical information to be cascaded through the organisation. Senior Management Team members have been instructed to meet groups of staff at all grades in their own areas (and the wider Agency) to discuss key management issues and respond to feedback. The Chief Executive is continuing a tour of the Agency where he is talking to large groups of staff about his vision and their role. In October, he and his Board are aiming to meet with and talk to staff in the Agency face to face.

—  Within the UK Border Agency the new Strategy and Intelligence Directorate has established a central Operational Policy and Rules Unit whose purpose will be to ensure that all policy is implemented consistently, using clear and straightforward guidance and rules. The Performance and Compliance team will be responsible for subsequently monitoring performance to further embed consistency across the Agency.

We would welcome any further inspection on internal communications should the Independent Chief Inspector decide to pursue this recommendation.

Conclusion / Recommendation 10

The "Agency" is still losing almost half of the appeals brought against it, despite its previous assertions that a change in the rules regarding evidence would lead to an improvement. It indicates that the "Agency" is not obeying the law or sticking to its own rules, this is unacceptable and systems must be put in place to improve the "Agency's" appeal figures.

Government Response

Section 19 of the UK Borders Act 2007, which restricts new evidence and applies to Points Based System appeals, came into effect on 23 May 2011. The statistics contained in the Committee's report (for quarter 1 2011—12, April - June) do not reflect the impact of the measure since it was only in force for just over a month during that period, and because these statistics group together outcomes for all in—country non—asylum appeals without separating Points Based System appeals.

The Agency's management information shows that the introduction of Section 19 improved the Agency's win rate in Points Based System appeals by 12% in the six months between June and November 2011 when compared to the six months immediately prior to introduction and reduced the allowed rate by 15% in the same comparison period.

In addition to Section 19, the UK Border Agency has a number of initiatives to improve the win rate such as:

  • Workshops with caseworkers to learn from determinations and improve the quality of our Points Based System and Settlement decisions;
  • Quality checking a proportion of decisions and feeding back directly to decision makers to improve decision making;
  • Analysing appeal determinations to identify trends and implementing improvements (for example through targeted training). An e—feedback process has been established for presenting officers to provide feedback on appeals;
  • Reviewing appealed entry clearance cases to ensure that any decision which cannot be sustained (for example due to new evidence that has been submitted) is withdrawn;
  • Presenting staff being encouraged to review their cases prior to the appeal hearing to ensure the original decision is still sustainable (for example in light of new evidence that has been submitted);
  • Continually examining ways to improve our procedures to provide papers to the courts and presenting staff more efficiently. We are planning to introduce a new electronic process for asylum bundles by September 2012 and we will make changes to how bundles are managed overseas.

Conclusion / Recommendation 11

The Chief Inspector of the UK Border "Agency" recently found a difference of 50% between the locally—held and centrally—held data on the "Agency's" representation rate at appeals in Glasgow. The reason for the discrepancy between locally and centrally recorded figures must be investigated and the Committee requests a full explanation for the difference when the "Agency" next gives evidence.

Government Response

Paragraph 5.28 of the Independent Chief Inspector's (ICI) report on 'Representation at First—Tier Appeals in Scotland' noted that "the Unit had been informed centrally that their representation rates were 95%. However, data collated by the Presenting Officers Unit in Glasgow from the manually recorded court lists revealed a representation rate of 67% in September, and a year to date representation rate of 45% for 2010". This would appear to indicate a discrepancy of 50%.

We understand that the ICI's report refers to asylum representation rates rather than for all appeal types. At paragraph 5.42 of the Independent Chief Inspector's report it was acknowledged that there was an issue with the Case Information Database (CID) system which could lead to inaccuracies in data subsequently extracted for asylum appeal representation. Following the inspection we took appropriate steps to remedy this situation to ensure their data quality was more accurate in asylum appeals and this is reflected in their centrally recorded asylum representation rates falling to levels closer to local management information through 2011. The Scotland and Northern Ireland region has significantly improved its representation rate since the inspection and in the early months of 2012 is much closer to achieving 100%.

In the UK Border Agency's response to the Chief Inspector's report we stated that a number of measures were in place to enhance the quality of management information being taken from the CID system in relation to appeals.

Conclusion / Recommendation 12

During the first quarter of 2011 the UK Border "Agency" has informed us that its representation rate was, on average, 83%. The aspiration to improve this figure to 90% is only a first step towards correcting the system and the Committee is disappointed that in the first quarter of 2011-12 there has been negligible improvement in the percentage of cases dismissed and allowed. It is crucial the "Agency's" success rates at appeals to increase in the next quarter.

Government Response

We continue to maintain a focus on representation at appeals and seek to maximise the use of available presenting staff. In a number of regions we have consistently maintained 100% representation at the First Tier Tribunal. Furthermore, the Specialist Appeals Team has maintained a 100% representation rate at the Upper Tribunal. A number of measures such as cross—training staff and increasing the frequency with which staff attend court have been implemented to achieve this goal.

Our initiatives for improving the win rate are set out under recommendation 10 above. By taking steps to improve decision quality this will enable us to get more decisions right first time and consequently reduce the number of appeals in the system, enabling us to improve our representation rate.

Conclusion / Recommendation 13

As of July 2011, the e—Borders system was collecting details of about 55% of passengers and crew on airlines, with no coverage of ferries or trains. The original target, to collect 95% of passenger and crew details by December 2010 was missed, as were all other previously timetabled deadlines. It is difficult to see how the scheme can be applied to all rail and sea passengers by the dates detailed above, given that air passengers are still not yet fully covered. The Committee believes the assumption that the maritime and rail sectors will implement the system in under two years is overly optimistic. On the other hand, it is difficult to see the point of all these systems—and the costs and bureaucracy involved—if they are not comprehensive. The Committee certainly needs clarity both on the policy of the Home Office in this regard and on the practicalities of achieving a clear and comprehensive system, as well as on the performance of the "Agency".

Government Response

We believe that the technical ability to collect data from the rail and maritime sector can be delivered by December 2014. We are working closely with these sectors, and European partners, to find an operationally viable way to capture this data. We already have juxtaposed controls on the vast majority of rail and sea passengers from continental Europe, meaning that they are checked by British officials before they travel. e—Borders now has the technical capability to collect data from General Aviation (GA) and General Maritime (GM) and will have the same capability for ferries from June 2012. The e—Borders programme will continue to work with the GM sector to ensure that specific concerns that exist within the leisure boating sector are taken into account as part of the rollout.

Clearly our preference is to have 100% coverage of e—borders on all routes. However the principal benefits of the advance provision of information on travellers prior to their arrival in the UK are not dependent on achieving 100% coverage. The numbers of arrests and seizures tend to rise in line with coverage of routes. Some benefits of the system do need a higher level of coverage to be valid but not necessarily 100%.

Conclusion / Recommendation 14

The Committee has been informed that all non—EU aviation will be covered by the e—Borders scheme in time for the 2012 Olympics. The system currently covers 95% of non—EU aviation and the "Agency" hopes that it will cover 100% by April 2012. Given the vast security implications of the Olympics, the Committee will be closely monitoring progress in this area to ensure the "Agency" meets its aims.

Government Response

We achieved the target of collecting data on all non—EU/EEA routes during April as planned. This means that by the time of the Olympics we will have full coverage for those flying to and from the UK from all non—EU destinations. e—Borders is one of a comprehensive suite of checks being carried out for the Olympics. All passengers will still be subject to full checks at the point of entry to the UK even if they have been pre—checked by e—Borders.

Conclusion / Recommendation 15

The "Agency" needs to provide convincing evidence, for its own staff as well as the general public, that the e—Gates system is no less reliable than passport checks carried out by a person.

Government Response

The checks carried out by the e—Gates on passengers and their documents are designed to match those undertaken at the manual control by a Border Force Officer. They carry out a range of document and watchlist checks in addition to the biometric verification of the passenger using facial recognition technology. These checks ensure that the document and chip being presented are genuine, have not been tampered with or unofficially altered, and that the passenger presenting them is eligible to use the e—Gates.

The e—Gates are monitored by a Border Force Officer to identify anything untoward including the behaviour of the passenger. Any variance from what is expected either from the passenger or the document they have presented is reported to the monitoring officer and the passenger referred for manual checking.

We work closely with our suppliers to ensure we provide a good e—Gate service and we have recently improved our service management contract to a 24/7 service. The resilience of the e—Gate system is achieved by having banks of e—Gates that allow the service to continue even when one gate develops a fault.

Conclusion / Recommendation 16

£9 million has been spent on an iris recognition system which has lasted only six years and its sole value appears to have been that it provided data for the e—Gates. This money could have been better spent on border staff—at least 60 immigration officers could have been employed with the money spent on IRIS. The Committee recommends that, in order to avoid another costly investment in equipment which will not last, the "Agency" publish the data it has collected on the e—Gates trials which it is currently running. The Committee would also like the "Agency" to inform the Committee as to what it intends to do with the data collected by the IRIS programme and whether the retinal scans will be destroyed following the mothballing of the scanners at Heathrow and Gatwick.

Government Response

The £9 million covers the installation costs of 12 IRIS gates and ten enrolment stations at ten locations along with the back—end database and monitoring system. In addition, the cost also includes support and maintenance over the six year period (2005—2011 inclusive). Over five million passengers have used IRIS during this time.

However the lifespan of any IT equipment is finite. IRIS is planned for closure because the system is close to the end of its useful life. IRIS images (not retinal scans), along with all personal data, will be destroyed six months after de—commissioning.

We are currently developing a strategic plan for automation but it is likely that IRIS as a biometric will not be used. It is not included in e—Passports nor is it widely used by UK Government departments and law enforcement agencies as a means of identifying individuals.

The first e—Gates trial in 2008/9 focussed on the feasibility of using this technology at the UK border and was trialled with gates at Manchester and Stansted. The success of this led to additional gates being installed at eight further locations to further test aspects of operational capability during 2009. The final phase in 2010 and 2011 tested reliability and availability, with a recommendation to use gates as part of normal business operations.

We regularly share data on gate reliability and availability with external partners such as port operators. Border Force is committed to the continued use and expansion of e—Gates and it is anticipated that further automation will be developed in the future for a potentially wider range of passenger types.

Conclusion / Recommendation 17

It is unacceptable that the "Agency" refuses to recognise a term which is widely recognised within both Government and Parliament. Bogus colleges are harmful to our society—they destroy trust in our immigration system, they facilitate entry to those who have dishonourable motives and they damage the UK's reputation for high quality education. The Committee recommends that the UK Border "Agency" make all inspections visits to Tier 4 sponsors unannounced.

Government Response

We recognise the term bogus college but we prefer not to use the term in order to avoid being misleading. This is because it is not the role of the UK Border Agency (and nor does it have the powers) to close down bogus colleges. To hold a sponsor licence under Tier 4 any educational establishment must have been inspected by both an approved educational oversight body (QAA, ISI or Ofsted) as well as by the UK Border Agency. This double inspection of educational standards and immigration compliance ensures that an entirely bogus operation cannot exist as a sponsor under Tier 4 in the first place.

The role of the UK Border Agency is to ensure that these approved institutions comply with the conditions of their sponsor licence. This is where we can and do take action to suspend and/or remove the licence if we have evidence of non—compliance. However even failure to comply with sponsor obligations is not necessarily indicative of a totally bogus institution.

Where we have concerns about the compliance of the sponsors we will nearly always undertake unannounced visits. However, not all visits are to investigate potential non—compliance and therefore pre—announcing them is necessary. For example, undertaking a full audit on an institution involves the production of hundreds of student files and interviews with a considerable number of students and staff from across a number of school/faculties who will need to be available when our officers visit. Other visits may be undertaken at the sponsor's request, for example to help review a new system or to resolve a system query.

Conclusion / Recommendation 18

Extrapolating the figures from August and September 2011, it appears that approximately 700,000 visa applications a year are from people who have applied previously. The Committee recommends that the "Agency" inform us as to whether an applicant could have legitimate reasons for applying for three or more visas and assesses the implications of imposing a limit on the number of times an individual can apply for a visa, within a set period. As the Committee has said previously, the best way of dealing with bogus students, reluctant spouses and sham marriages is to reintroduce face to face interviews with entry clearance officers as a matter of urgency. A major part of our next evidence session will focus on the entry clearance operation.

Government Response

Around 120,000 applicants during the two month period of August and September 2011 had previously applied for a visa, of which around 36,000 had applied for the third or more time. There are a number of legitimate reasons why we might receive multiple applications from an individual over time including regular business travellers or those visiting family. Applicants may also legitimately be required to make a new application whilst switching from one visa category to another.

We are always willing to consider new ways to prevent abuse and fraudulent applications. However, there would be a number of possible adverse consequences of imposing a limit on the number of visa applications that an individual can submit. First of all it may deter genuine travellers, both business and tourist. Secondly it may encourage visitors to apply for more long—term visas when in some cases we might prefer applicants to apply for short term visas in order to better assess compliance on a regular basis.

For the visitor route we already have rules in place which allow us to prevent reapplications from those refused for fraud or deception in their application.

We may also use interviews for high risk cases where there is clear evidence that this approach will be beneficial. Following a recent pilot into more extensive use of interviewing we are considering how best to extend this approach.

Conclusion / Recommendation 19

The Committee welcomes the reviews being undertaken by the NAO and central Home Office Finance into the "Agency's" financial and debt management processes. The Committee expects to receive a copy of both reviews and hope that the changes will be apparent in the annual report and accounts that the "Agency" produces for 2011-12.

Government Response

The National Audit Office presented its review of Financial Management in the Home Office to Parliament on 26 April 2012. This reviewed the core financial management practices of all the Home Office's executive agencies as well as 'core' Home Office.

The report concludes that financial control is good (recommendation e), that 'financial management is broadly at the required level for its business needs' (Para 1.13), and that the Home Office is delivering value for money in terms of exercising financial control over its core business activities.

The review of income using the 'managing risk of financial loss' toolkit is reaching a conclusion, and any recommendations will be incorporated into the UK Border Agency's programme of civil collection penalty rates.

Conclusion / Recommendation 20

The Committee welcomes the reduction in the number of letters sent by MPs and peers. The Committee would like to see this reduce further still. The Committee will be conducting a survey to discover how satisfied Members are with the service they are receiving and ask what more can be done to improve it further. The Committee will share the data we gather with the House and the UK Border "Agency".

Government Response

We will continue to work with Members and their offices to reduce the number of letters they need to send.

For this reason we welcome the survey the Committee will be conducting as this will provide more details on specific areas for improvement and complement the satisfaction assessment work we are already undertaking.

It should be noted that MPs write to us for a number of reasons which may not be indicative of poor performance.

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