The work of the UK Border Agency (July-September 2012) - Home Affairs Committee Contents


3  Key indicators of the Agency's performance

48.  The Committee assesses the Agency's performance on a quarterly basis against a number of key indicators covering the major aspects of its work. This list is not definitive and the committee may decide, as and when new issues arise, to add further indicators.

  • Foreign national offenders
  • The asylum and immigration backlog: live casework
  • New asylum cases
  • Immigration
  • Immigration detention
  • Appeals and tribunals
  • Sponsors and licensing
  • Enforcement action
  • Migration Refusal Pool
  • Intelligence
  • Departmental information and cooperation with Parliament

Foreign National Offenders and ex-Foreign National Offenders
Ex-FNOS released without being considered for deportation

No significant change:

  • 47 of the ex-FNOs released without being considered for deportation in 2006 remained untraced at the end of Q3 2012. This was down from 50 in the previous quarter.
  • Four additional ex-FNOs from the 2006 cohort were removed from the UK in Q3 2012 taking the total to 405.
  • Three of the 28 ex-FNOs released without being considered for deportation in 2011 remain untraced.
  • Three ex-FNOs were released without being considered for deportation in 2012.

Ex-FNOs living in the community

  • No significant change: 3,980 ex-FNOs were living in the community whilst awaiting deportation in Q3 2012 a slight increase of 26 on Q2 2012. 65% of these cases are over two years old.

Removals in this quarter

  • No significant change: 340 ex-FNOs eligible for deportation were released in Q3 2012, 96% of their cases were outstanding at the end of Q3 2012. This is similar to Q2 2012 when 318 ex-FNOs were released with 94% of cases outstanding at the end of the quarter.
  • Worse performance: Of the ex-FNOs whose deportation cases were outstanding 211 were delayed because their cases were still being concluded by the UKBA. This is a rise of 39% from Q2 2012.
  • Worse performance: 118 days was the average length of time it took to deport an ex-FNO in Q3 2012, an increase of 10 days from the previous quarter.
  • Improved performance: There were 165 failed removals in Q3 2012, 13% of the total number of removals. This is an improvement from Q2 2012 when there were 200 failed removals.
  • No significant change: 45% of removals were carried out during the Early Release Scheme period in Q3 2012 compared with 43% in Q2 2012.
  • No significant change: 38% of removals were carried out under the Facilitated Returns Scheme in Q3 2012 compared with 39% in Q2 2012.

KEY ISSUE: TACKLING THE BACKLOG OF EX-FNOS LIVING IN THE COMMUNITY

Graph 1: Number of ex-FNOs living in the community whilst awaiting deportation by time


49.  The Committee is pleased to note that the Agency is making some progress in locating and removing ex-FNOs from the 2006 cohort who were released without being considered for deportation.

50.   However, the overall number of ex-foreign national offenders living in the community whilst awaiting deportation has grown incrementally since the beginning of the year and the backlog of ex-offenders who have been here for over two years remains stubbornly high. The Government is simply not getting to grips with an issue that both endangers and infuriates the public. We reiterate our previous recommendation that ex-FNOs should be considered for deportation earlier in their sentence. The Home Office should work to overcome logistical and legal obstacles to doing so.

Asylum and immigration backlog: live casework
Asylum backlog
  • 28,500 backlog asylum applications were being caseworked by the Agency in Q3 2012.
  • At the end of Q3 2012 56% of all legacy asylum applications concluded to date had been granted leave to remain and 24% of applicants were removed. 21% of applications were found to be duplicates.

Immigration backlog

  • 4,000 backlog migration cases were being caseworked by the Agency in Q3 2012.
  • At the end of Q3 2012 48% of all legacy migration cases concluded to date had been granted leave to remain and 29% of applicants had been removed. 24% of cases were found to be duplicates.

KEY ISSUE: PRIORITISING THE CONCLUSION OF LEGACY CASEWORK

Graph 2: Asylum and immigration backlog casework


51.  The asylum and migration backlog is made up of "live" cases, where the Agency has established contact with people who were previously untraceable. The number of live asylum and immigration backlog cases has grown steadily throughout the year, this is to be expected as the Agency began to properly implement its tracing programme in this period. When the controlled archives closed the Agency had 33,900 backlog asylum cases and 7,000 backlog immigration cases that it needs to conclude. Most of the individuals concerned will have waited many years to find out the result of their applications. The Agency must now prioritise the conclusion of their cases and work fast to give them a swift decision. The age of the cases and the controversy surrounding the backlog make it important that the Agency considers the merits of each application properly and records the reasons behind its decision making. As we recommended in our Fourth Report of 2010-12, in cases where severe delays in decision-making have been the fault of the Government and not the applicant, and where the passage of time has made evidence harder to find or has led to the applicant's being better integrated into British society, there is an argument in favour of granting the applicant leave to remain.

New asylum cases

Initial decisions and conclusions

  • Worse performance: 10,914 asylum cases were awaiting an initial decision at the end of Q3 2012 a 19% increase on the previous quarter.
  • Worse performance: There was a 53% rise in the number of asylum seekers awaiting an initial decision for more than 6 months in the year up to September 2012.
  • No significant change 63% of asylum cases were concluded within one year in Q3 2012 a 3% rise on the previous year.

Applicants previously removed from the UK

  • 4 individuals were removed from the UK and subsequently granted refugee status or humanitarian protection in Q3 2012. The individuals were nationals of Iran, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

Settlement applications

  • Unacceptable performance: 1,754 settlement applications were made by asylum seekers in Q3 2012, 91% were outstanding at the end of the quarter.[42]
  • Unacceptable performance: 109 days was the average length of time taken to process a settlement application in Q3 2012.


Key issue: a growing backlog of cases pending an initial decision for more than 6 months

Graph 3: Main and dependent applicants waiting more than 6 months for an initial decision


52.  We are concerned to see a 53% rise in the number of asylum seekers awaiting an initial decision for more than six months in the year up to September 2012. The number of cases being concluded within a year has only risen by 3% in the same period, now accounting for only 63% of the total. We recognise that there will be difficulties with some cases but if our asylum system is to function properly the Agency must keep on top of its caseload. The figures for the last year indicate that this is not what is happening, the Agency should review its resource model for processing these cases and make the changes needed to start reversing the increase in the number of cases waiting for an initial decision for longer than six months.

Immigration

Number of visas issued

  • There was a 14% decline in the number of visas issued in the year up to September 2012.
  • There has been a 28% decrease in the number of settlement visas issued in the year up to September 2012.[43]
  • There has been a 26% decline in the number of student visas issued in the year up to September 2012.

Processing of in-country immigration cases

The Agency's targets are to process 90% of Tier 1, 2 and 5 and 85% of in-country postal applications within four weeks.

  • New backlog: Only 18% of Tier 1 and 14% of Tier 4 applications were processed on time in Q3 2012 a decline from 26% and 28% respectively in the previous quarter.
  • Improved performance: 79% of Tier 2 and 71% of Tier 5 applications were processed on time in Q3 2012, an increase from 33% and 34% respectively in the previous quarter.
  • New backlog: 59,000 in-country immigration applications had not been loaded onto the Agency's Case Information Database (CID) at the end of Q3 2012.

Processing of out of country immigration cases

  • Improved performance: The Agency consistently exceeded its processing targets for out-of-country visa applications in Tiers 2, 4 and 5 in Q3 2012. 100% of visas in all three tiers were processed within its final 60 day target time.
  • No significant change: The Agency missed its processing targets for out of country visa applications in Tier 1 by a few percentage points. 99% of visas were processed within its final 60 day target time.


KEY ISSUE: BACKLOG OF IN-COUNTRY IMMIGRATION APPLICATIONS

Graph 4: % of in-country visa applications processed within target time in Q3 2012


53.  The Agency's performance in processing applications for Further Leave to Remain in Q3 2012 is shocking. Its targets for Tiers 1, 2 and 5 are to process 90% of postal applications in four weeks and 90% of premium applications in 24 hours. Its targets for Tier 4 are to process 85% of postal applications in four weeks and 85% of premium applications within 24 hours.

POSTAL APPLICATIONS

54.  In Quarter 3 2012 only 18% of Tier 1 applications made by post were processed within target time (four weeks), within Tier 1, only 20% of Entrepreneur applications were processed on time. Tier 4 fared even worse with only 14% of student postal applications being processed within four weeks. Tier 2 and Tier 5 saw a better performance but still fell considerably short of the 90% target.

PREMIUM APPLICATIONS

55.  The Agency's premium service is designed to enable users to have their applications for Further Leave to Remain processed within 24 hours. In Q3 2012 the Agency processed only 73% of Tier 1 and 72% of Tier 2 FLTR applications within the 24 hour target time. It processed 73% and 75% of Tier 4 and 5 visas on time. This is an unacceptable performance considering that the Agency is charging main applicants between £661 and £1,800 for premium applications.[44] In Tier 2, where a premium application costs £306 more than the postal route, the Agency processed more postal applications on time than premium applications, this is unacceptable.

56.  The Agency has given applicants a notably poor level of customer service which cannot be serving the Government's aim of keeping the 'brightest and the best' in the UK. Parliamentary Questions reveal that it takes 45 minutes to deal with a case. Given that figure, it is inexcusable that so many people are not having their cases processed on time. In total 28,558 visa applications were not processed within target times in Q3 2012, more than double the number that were, 10, 842. The delays create a vicious cycle of paperwork as, the longer the delay, the more letters MPs will write and the more bureaucracy there will be to handle. People are paying a high cost to obtain their visas, and more for the premium services. The Agency needs to consider these people more as customers, and fulfil its responsibilities in the timescale it has promised. The Agency must explain to Parliament what has gone wrong throughout 2012, what it is doing to solve the problem and when services will be running within target times again. We note that, in contrast, out of country visa applications are processed within target times and that the Agency often exceeds these targets, as we saw recently in Abu Dhabi. The Agency needs to examine how the strong performance of the International Directorate can be replicated for in-country applications.

IN-COUNTRY APPLICATIONS NOT YET LOADED ONTO THE AGENCY'S COMPUTER SYSTEMS

57.  We report quarterly on UKBA's performance and with each Quarter a new backlog is revealed. The appearance of the backlog of cases still to be loaded onto the UKBA's computers—which numbers some 59,000 people—is absolutely unacceptable.[45] As Members of Parliament, we receive countless calls from constituents who are distressed by the Agency's unresponsiveness. It was Rt Hon John Spellar MP who wrote to us to alert us to this backlog, which was not previously disclosed by the Agency. A further backlog was revealed by John Vine's work on visas.

58.  It is completely unacceptable for Members of Parliament to ring up about constituency cases and be told that the Agency has no record of them, because they have not been entered onto its databases yet. This should be a priority for the Agency so Members can at least access case information.

59.  Information on this backlog was only volunteered by the Chief Executive when questioned by the Committee. The Agency needs to be transparent and keep the Committee informed of any new backlogs that emerge, and of any current backlogs that exist that the Committee is not aware of.

Immigration detention
Rule 35 reports
  • Rule 35 of the Detention Centre Rules states that medical practitioners are required to report to the Agency any detainee whose health is likely to be injuriously affected by detention or any condition of detention and any detainee they are concerned may be a victim of torture.
  • 231 reports were made under Rule 35 to the Agency in Q3 2012, 13 reports (6%) resulted in the individual in question being released. This is a similar number to the previous quarter when 5% of reports resulted in the individual being released.

Child detention

  • Improved performance: 48 children entered immigration detention in Q3 2012 a decline from 60 the previous quarter.
  • Improved performance: 54 children left immigration detention in Q3 2012. 87% of these had been held for 3 days or less an improvement from 77% on the previous quarter.

KEY ISSUE: ACTING ON RULE 35 REPORTS

60.   In our previous "focus" report, we recommended that the Agency inform us how many individuals the Rule 35 reports it receives each quarter relate to and why medical advice was overruled on so many occasions. We also recommended that it should immediately carry out an independent review of the application of Rule 35 across the immigration detention estate. When Rob Whiteman gave evidence to us this quarter he told us that the Agency took Rule 35 reports very seriously.[46] He told us that the reason such a small number of reports resulted in an individual's release was that detainees could refer themselves to the Agency under Rule 35 and that their legal team could too.[47] This however contradicts both the Detention Centre Rules and the Agency's own guidance which states quite clearly:

'Rule 35 reports should be prepared and submitted by medical practitioners only'. [48]


61.  The same guidance defines a medical practitioner as:

A person who is vocationally trained as a general practitioner and fully registered within the meaning of the Medical Act 1983.[49]

When pressed by this Committee in follow up correspondence Mr Whiteman conceded that only medical practitioners are able to make Rule 35 reports.[50]

62.  The Agency cannot plausibly claim to take Rule 35 reports very seriously when its Chief Executive does not understand his own guidance. Furthermore Mr Whiteman's answer gave the misleading impression that a proportion of reports may not have a sound medical basis as they were not necessarily made by medical practitioners. We are concerned at the enormous gap between the number of reports received and the number of individuals released. The Agency must tell Parliament the reasons for which its caseworkers overrule the advice of medical practitioners. We reiterate our previous recommendation that the Agency should carry out an immediate independent review of the application of Rule 35 in immigration detention. Further intransigence will continue to pose a risk to individuals, as mental health issues may not be properly identified.

Appeals and tribunals51
Appeals Improvement Plan: progress against targets

Border Agency to represent at 90% of appeals

  • Improved performance: An Agency representative was present at 95% of all appeal hearings by the end of Q3 2012 an increase of 19% on the previous quarter.

90% of bundles to be received by the court by the prescribed date

  • Unacceptable performance: 66% of cases bundles were delivered to the court on time by the Agency in Q2 2012.

UK Border Agency to increase the number of appeals it wins

No significant change:

  • The Agency won 64% of asylum appeals in Q2 2012 and lost 30%, as it had done the previous quarter.
  • The Agency won 46% of managed migration cases in Q2 2012 and lost 43% as it had done the previous quarter.
  • The Agency won 38% of entry clearance cases in Q2 2012 and lost 36%, as it had done the previous quarter.
  • The Agency won 52% of family visit visa cases in Q2 2012 and lost 30%. This was a 5% increase in win rate from the previous quarter.
  • The Agency won 60% of deportation cases in Q2 2012 and lost 30%. This was a 5% decrease in win rate from the previous quarter.[52]

Reduce appeal volumes

  • No significant change: 25,500 appeals were lodged against the Agency's decision in Q2 2012 the same volume as were lodged in the previous quarter.

KEY ISSUE: CLOSING THE FAMILY VISIT VISA FULL RIGHT OF APPEAL

63.  We are concerned that the full right of appeal for the Family Visit Visa is being closed off at a time when the Agency is winning only just over half the appeals made against its decisions. We reiterate below the recommendations we made in our previous two reports which should help to reduce the volume of appeals without closing off important routes of appeal. Removing this will create extra pressure on the entry clearance operation with no guarantee it will save time or money.

64.  There are a number of simple changes the Agency could make to reduce the volume of appeals it handles. Firstly the refusal notices it issues should set out in clear bullet points why the application has been rejected. If, for example, it is due to missing documentation the applicant should be asked to provide this to the Agency as part of the same application. It should then be reviewed within an acceptable timescale. This could reduce both the time it would take for the applicant to get a decision and the resources spent on appeals. Secondly, we understand that the Agency does not specify all the documentation it requires to grant an application. For example it asks for "proof of funds" instead of bank statements. We recommend that the Agency list specific documents that are likely to be needed in order to grant an application. This will ensure that the application process is as clear as possible and should reduce the amount of verification work and appeals work that has to be done at a later stage. We will return to the issue of the entry clearance operation as the focus of our next report.

Sponsors and licensing
New sponsor applications
  • 834 new sponsorship applications were made in Q3 2012, 722 for Tier 2, 35 for Tier 4 and 77 for Tier 5.[53]
  • 89% of applicants who applied for sponsor status in Q3 2012 had a decision made on their application by 17 December 2012.
  • 41 days was the average length of time it took to process a sponsor application in Q3 2012. This was a decrease from 82 days in the previous quarter.

Pre registration visits

  • 8% of successful Tier 2 sponsors applicants whose applications were received in Q3 2012 had a pre-registration visit.
  • 47% of successful Tier 4 sponsor applicants whose applications were received in Q3 2012 had a pre-registration visit.
  • 5% of successful Tier 5 sponsor applicants whose applications were received in Q3 2012 had a pre-registration visit.

Follow up visits

Worse performance:

  • 31% of follow up visits to Tier 2 sponsors were unannounced in Q3 2012 a decrease from 42% in the previous quarter.
  • 30% of follow up visits to Tier 4 sponsors were unannounced in Q3 2012 a decrease from 36% in the previous quarter.
  • 11% of follow up visits to Tier 5 sponsors were unannounced in Q3 2012 a decrease from 33% in the previous quarter.

KEY ISSUE: POST LICENCE VISITS

65.  We are concerned that the proportion of post licence visits that are unannounced is declining in all sponsor Tiers. We reiterate the recommendation made in our previous reports that the majority of post licence visits should be unannounced. This should ensure that the enforcement system is both rigorous and gives the public confidence that the government is cracking down on illegal immigration. In its Fifth Report of the Session the Agency committed to test the approach of undertaking 100% unannounced visits on sponsors where it suspects non-compliance by March 2013. We will expect to see the results of this test when we next take evidence from the Agency.

Enforcement action
Non compliance notifications

Performance unknown:

  • 22,780 sponsor notifications regarding the non-compliance of overseas students were made to the Agency by Tier 4 sponsors in Q3 2012.[54]
  • 5,967 sponsor notifications regarding the non-compliance of employees and temporary workers were made to the Agency by Tier 2 and Tier 5 sponsors in Q3 2012.
  • The Agency told this Committee that it does not know how many of the non-compliance notifications received in Q3 2012 were followed up within the quarter.

Suspension and revocation of sponsor licences

  • 96 Tier 2 sponsors had their licenses revoked in Q3 2012 and 271 had their licenses suspended.
  • 47 Tier 4 sponsors had their licenses revoked in Q3 2012 and 62 had their licenses suspended.
  • 4 Tier 4 sponsors had their licenses revoked in Q3 2012 and 15 had their licenses suspended.

KEY ISSUE: TRACKING THE FOLLOW UP OF NON-COMPLIANCE NOTIFICATIONS

66.  It is unacceptable that the Agency does not know how many of the potential non-compliance notifications received in Q3 2012 had been followed up by the end of the Quarter. If the Agency does not keep track of its performance in this area then it will undermine the work of Sponsors who are required to make non-compliance reports if they suspect a sponsee of breaking the terms of their visa. We reiterate our comments from our previous report:

We recommend that the Agency immediately instigates a way of tracking follow up actions taken on potential non-compliance reports. Without this we cannot see how it can keep track of the number of people who may be breaking the terms of their visa and therefore remaining in the country illegally.

Migration Refusal Pool

KEY ISSUE: TACKLING THE CONTINUED GROWTH OF THE MIGRATION REFUSAL POOL

67.  The Migration Refusal Pool has increased by 4% since Q2 2012. The Committee welcomes the fact that the Agency has now contracted Capita to concentrate on clearing this backlog and has established performance benchmarks against which to measure the result. The Committee has taken evidence from Capita at the start of this contract and will be closely monitoring its performance throughout. We expect the Government to publish its own assessment of Capita's performance in delivering this contract twice a year.

68.  Capita informed the Committee that it was dealing with the existing backlog but was not dealing with more recent refusals. The way to prevent the backlog from growing is to check applicants as soon as they are refused, rather than wait months to do so. The Agency must have sufficient resources in place to carry out timely checks that individuals refused Leave to Remain have left the country. Otherwise the backlog will build in perpetuity.

69.  We note that there are 86 members of Capita staff on UKBA premises with access to the database. We are concerned that Capita was unable to answer our question about whether it had the permission of applicants to deal with their data.

Q30 Chair: Just two questions that come out of that before I call other colleagues; when applicants sign their application to the UKBA they agree that their information can be passed to other Government departments when they make an application?

Alistair MacTaggart: I believe that is the case, yes.

Q31 Chair: There is no agreement that it should be passed to a private-sector company. Were you aware of that?

Alistair MacTaggart: I was not aware of that.

Chair: The problem being that you are looking at information that the applicant has not consented to you seeing.

Paul Pindar: We are not aware of that, if that is the case.

Chair: No. Obviously I think you should have a look at it to make sure you don't get into difficulties with the Information Commissioner, since you are not the data owner.

Alistair MacTaggart: I believe the Information Commissioner will be looking at that with UKBA.[55]

Although we welcome the fact that the Migration Refusal Pool backlog is now to be tackled in a focused way it appears that Capita's contract amounts to telephoning or sending text messages to individuals asking them to leave and cleansing the Agency's data in the process. This is a contract worth between £2.5 and £3m. We do not understand why the Agency was not able to do this in a strategic and timely way itself.

Intelligence
Allegations received in Q3 2012
  • 28,243 allegations about possible illegal immigration or other immigration violations were received in Q3 2012.
  • 99% of these were given an initial assessment in 48 hours.
  • 15,269 allegations (54%)were investigated further by the UKBA.
  • 797 allegations (2.8% of the total) resulted in enforcement being taken, including 561 arrests.
  • The Agency is not yet able to track how many enforcement actions resulted in an individual being deported.

Progress on the National Allegations Database

  • The National Allegations Database went live on 30 September. UKBA informed us that this will enable the Agency to track individual allegations through to outcome.

KEY ISSUE: AN IMPROVED INTELLIGENCE PICTURE ABOUT THE RESULTS OF ALLEGATIONS MADE

70.  In successive reports we have called for the Agency to inform people who make allegations as to their outcome. We are particularly concerned that a spouse reporting marital fraud, for example, is still being treated as a third party reporting the case. It is important that where a family member is making a report, particularly if they have sponsored the individual in question, they are kept up to date with progress. We will be monitoring closely the performance of the National Allegations Database. As a result of being able to track allegations through the system we expect to see a proper analysis from the Agency as to why such a small proportion of allegations made result in enforcement action being taken.

Departmental information and cooperation with Parliament

Departmental information

  • 13,165 FTE equivalent staff were working for the Agency in Q3 2012.
  • The Agency spent £27,000 on external consultants in Q3 2012

Cooperation with Parliament

No significant change:

  • The Agency responded to 83% of MPs' emails within 20 working days in Q3 2012. This fell 12% short of their target and was a slight decrease from the previous quarter.
  • The Agency resolved 78% of queries made via their MP's Inquiry Line within 10 working days. This fell 12% short of their target, the same as in the previous quarter.
  • The Agency's response to this Committee's data request for Q3 2012 arrived 6 days late.

71.  We are concerned by the Agency's failure to meet targets for responding to MPs, as people only turn to their Member of Parliament as a last resort. For this reason, they need to be dealt with in a timely and proper manner. We note that even if the Agency meets these targets it does not mean that cases are resolved. Part of the problem in responding to MPs is the delay in uploading information to the Case Information Database and this must be dealt with as a first step.

72.  It is only because of our questioning of the Minister that we heard about the Migration Refusal Pool and even now we are hearing about further backlogs. This is unacceptable. UKBA must disclose all relevant information to Parliament and not wait until it is asked.


42   Settlement applications are made by individuals whose period of leave on the grounds of humanitarian protection or being granted asylum has expired and who have applied for a residence permit to remain in the UK. Back

43   Settlement visas are applications for permanent leave to reside in the UK. Back

44   Prices are dependent on Tier, please see the Agency's website for a full breakdown of fees: http://www.ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk/aboutus/contact/applyinginperson/cost/ Back

45   Q105 (footnote), Ev 17 Back

46   Q80 Back

47   Q81 Back

48   UK Border Agency, Detention services order 17/2012, p3 Back

49   UK Border Agency, Detention services order 17/2012, p2 Back

50   Ev 38, para 9 Back

51   Figures relate to First Tier Tribunal cases. Back

52   Appeal outcomes are published as national statistics, the latest available statistics are for Q2 2012 the previous quarter to the one covered by the report. Management statistics relating to the Agency's Appeals Improvement Programme are available for Q3 2012. Back

53   Not all applications for sponsor status in Tier 4 are for new licences, the figure also includes reinstatements. Back

54   The Agency points out that sponsors self select from a number of categories when they make notifications so a proportion of non-compliance notifications will be miscategorised. It has not told us how many non-compliance notifications were miscategorised. Back

55   Home Affairs Committee, Session 2012-13, Capita's work for the UK Border Agency, HC 914-i, Qq 30-31 Back


 
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Prepared 25 March 2013