The Work of the UK Border Agency (April--June 2012) - Home Affairs Committee Contents

5  Immigration

Key Figures

Number of visas issued

67. There has been a decline 16% in the number of visas issued in the year up to the end of June 2012. The table opposite shows the decrease in the number of visas issued by category.

Visas issued by reason (excluding visitor and transit visas)[55]
Year ending Total issued of which:
Study (excl student visit visas)
Dependent joining/ accompanying
June 2008
June 2009
June 2010
June 2011
June 2012
Change: latest 12 months
% change

68. There has also been a significant decline in the number of settlement visas issued in the second quarter of this year compared to the previous three quarters.

Grants of settlement by category, Q3 2011- Q2 2012[56]
2011 Q3
2011 Q4
2012 Q1
2012 Q2
Family formation and reunion
Total Grants
Total Refusals

69. Settlement visas relate to individuals applying for permanent leave to reside in the UK. There has been a 27% decrease in the total number of settlement visas granted between March and June of this year. Asylum and "other" categories have seen the largest decline by 33% and 34% respectively.[57]


70. The latest quarterly figures show that the government is making progress in meeting its target to reduce immigration. Net migration in the year to December 2011 however still stood at 216,000 which is lower than the previous year, 252,000, but still a long way off from the government's target of a reduction from "hundreds of thousands to tens of thousands".[58] The Office for National Statistics reported that this change was not statistically significant. The fact that a change of such a large magnitude is not statistically significant highlights how inaccurate all immigration figures are, and hence the limits of validity of setting numeric targets.

Student visas

71. There has been a decrease of 30% on the previous year in the number of student visas issued in the year up to June 2012. However, study is still the main reason for immigration, accounting for 41% of the visas issued in the year up to the end of June 2012.

Student visas (excl visit visas) issued[59]
2010 Q3
2010 Q4
2011 Q1
2011 Q2
Total issued to June 11
2011 Q3
2011 Q4
2012 Q1
2012 Q2
Total issued to June 12
Study (excl student visitors)

72. The Minister of State for Universities and Science has recently emphasised that the Government does not want to limit the number of international students coming to the UK from outside the European Union and announced that students are to be disaggregated in the migration figures.[60] We welcome the Minister's announcement that student numbers would be disaggregated in migration figures, but we cannot see how the Government will be able to reach its target of reducing net migration to tens of thousands without drastically reducing the number of student visas issued. This is a move that the Home Office itself estimated would cost in the region of £2.4bn. We therefore recommend that, in correspondence with the publication of disaggregated figures, the Government should specify that it will remove student migrants from its reduced net migration target.


73. The Committee welcomes the introduction of interviews for a number of international student visa applicants. We hope however that the interviews will be designed in the best way possible to catch out fraudulent applicants. The Agency ran a pilot interview scheme between December 2011 and February 2012. Under this scheme, entry clearance officers assessed candidates for their credibility as a genuine student applicant after they had decided whether or not to grant a visa under existing powers. Officers then recorded the number of refusals they could have potentially made using the credibility test as compared to the refusals made under the existing rules. The pilot used four tests to establish credibility: the applicants' intention and ability to study their proposed course, their ability to maintain themselves and any dependents throughout and their intention to leave the UK on completion of their studies. The pilot showed that, had the Agency been able to use these criteria to decide whether to grant a visa, 32% of the applicants granted a visa under the existing rules would have been refused. Entry clearance officers identified doubts about an applicant's intention to study and doubts about their intention to leave the UK on completing their studies to be the two most important factors in assessing credibility. The former being a factor in 88% of all potential refusals and the latter being a factor in 85%.[61]

74. The Agency's guidance to entry clearance officers however appears to imply that testing an applicant's intention to remain in the UK upon completion of their studies may not be a factor in entry clearance interviews, or, if it is to be used, will not carry as much weight as other factors. The guidance states that:

For those considered to be genuine students, intention to leave the UK at the end of the course is not relevant as there are many bases on which an individually could lawfully remain in the UK.[62]

In his oral evidence to the Committee however Mr Whiteman stated that intention to leave the UK upon completing their studies would be a test in the entry clearance interviews.

Mark Reckless: Can I just try to clarify something you said just now, not referring to the pilot but referring to the interviews you are now conducting; these 10,000 to 15,000. Can you confirm whether the applicant intends to leave the country at the end of their studies one of the criteria to assess credibility?

Rob Whiteman: Yes. If we believe that there would be visa abuse and that somebody would not leave at the end of their visa, as said, or some other abuse of the immigration system, then we can take that into consideration for the credibility test.[63]

75. We welcome the introduction of interviews for student visa applicants, a measure this Committee has repeatedly called for. However the Agency should clarify whether and how it intends to use the "intention to leave the UK upon completion of studies" test. We recommend that the Agency also clarifies its position around the use of this test to its team of entry clearance officers. If face to face interviews are to be a success it is important that the interviews are as robust as possible and that officers have recourse to the most useful tests of credibility. We therefore recommend that an assessment of applicant's intentions upon completion of their course is made as part of entry clearance interviews. Applicants should either intend to return home or have credible plans for further study or skilled post-study work in the UK.

Students registering with the Overseas Visitor Records Office (OVRO)

76. International students from a number of specified countries are required to register with the police within seven days of their arrival in the UK. At the start of the academic year high volumes of students entering the country meant that London saw queues of hundreds of students waiting through the night to register with OVRO.

77. We understand from the Metropolitan Police that the information submitted by students when they register is kept on a standalone database at OVRO. Much of the data submitted is already available to the Agency but some additional information such as a student's address in the UK may not be. The Metropolitan Police Commissioner tells us that whilst the data is available to the police for policing purposes he is 'not aware of any case that has been fundamentally affected by the information in the database'.[64]

78. A fee of £34 per student is charged but the funds do not nearly cover the cost to the Metropolitan Police. The cost to the Metropolitan Police was £133,861 in 2011-12 and is projected to be £96,266 in 2012-13. [65]

79. We are pleased to hear that the police have taken short term measures to mitigate the queues at ORVO, by allowing individual universities to take a co-ordinating role. However due to the cost and the very limited value the police believe the information to have we do not think that maintaining the current process can be justified. We therefore welcome the commitment from the Immigration Minister to review both the value offered by registration and the list of countries whose citizens are required to do so at the beginning of 2013.

Visa processing times

80. The Agency continues to process the majority of out-of country visa applications within its target service standards: 90% within 15 days, 98% within 30 days and 100% within 60 days. There is no significant variation from its performance in the first quarter of this year. We welcome the Agency's continued achievement of its targets in this visa processing.

Visa applications processed within 15, 30 and 60 days, Q2 2012

Immigration casework and settlement applications

81. At the time of our last report we were concerned about the huge rise in immigration casework in progress between February and March 2012. There was still a significant increase in the number of cases between March and April of this year (62% for temporary migration casework and 26% for permanent). However we welcome the fact that a much more stable caseload appears to have been maintained throughout the second quarter of this year, with temporary migration casework rising by 3% over the quarter and permanent migration casework by 9%.[66]

In-country immigration cases in progress at the end of each month January-June 2012

82. We were surprised to learn that the Agency's service standards for processing settlement applications made within the UK were 24 hours for an application made in person but six months for a postal application.[67] We acknowledge that the 24 hour service is a premium one, for which the user pays a fee of £1,377. However we cannot understand why it takes so much longer to process a postal application which still costs applicants a considerable fee of £990.[68] The discrepancy is even more surprising considering the target for processing settlement applications made from overseas is to complete 95% of them in 12 weeks.[69]

83. In our view, taking six months to process an application that could be processed within 24 hours provides a very poor service to users. We recommend that the Agency alters its in-country service standard to processing 95% of in-country postal applications in 12 weeks, the same standard it works to for settlement applications made from overseas. We also expect to hear from the Agency whether or not the service standard for overseas applications will alter now that all applications from Commonwealth countries (with the exception of Hong Kong) also have to be made by post and not via the relevant British Consulate or High Commission.

55   Home Office Immigration Statistics April - June 2012 Before Entry Briefing Back

56   Home Office Immigration Statistics, April-June 2012, settlement tables, se.02q


1. Data from Q1 2010 are provisional figures.

2. Data excludes dependants of EEA and Swiss nationals in confirmed relationships granted permanent residence.

3. Includes reconsideration cases and the outcome of appeals.

4. May include a small number of cases in which a decision is recorded twice, where an individual has dual nationality.

5. Excludes EEA nationals.

6. Grants of settlement in the PBS Tiers 1, 2 and 5 include persons who have completed combined qualifying periods of residence in these Tiers and other pre PBS categories.

7. 'Asylum' includes grants under the Family ILR exercise.

8. 'Family formation and reunion' are defined as spouses and dependants joining British citizens or persons previously granted settlement.

9. 'Other grants on a discretionary basis' include people granted indefinite leave outside the immigration rules under measures aimed at clearing the backlog of outstanding unresolved cases from 2007.

10. 'Other grants on a discretionary basis' include dependants.

11. 'Refusals' relates to in-country refusals of settlement.  Back

57   'Other' includes: people granted indefinite leave outside the immigration rules under measures aimed at clearing the backlog of outstanding unresolved cases from 2007 and dependents. Back

58   HC Deb, 23 November 2010, col 169 Back

59   Home Office, table be.04.q: Entry clearance visas issued by category Back

60   Rt Hon David Willetts MP, Speech to Universities UK Conference, Keele University, 13 September 2012 Back

61   Tier 4 Student Credibility Pilot Analysis of Quantitative and Qualitative Data, Home Office, July 2012 Back

62   UKBA Guidance: Back

63   Q67 Back

64   Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Correspondence with the Chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee, 10th October 2012, p1-2. Back

65   Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Correspondence with the Chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee, 10th October 2012, p2 Back

66   Ev 18 [Rob Whiteman, Chief Executive, UK Border Agency] Back

67 Back

68   Q92 Back

69   Percentage of migration applications decided within published standards (xls) (46KB opens in a new window), Back

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Prepared 9 November 2012