The work of the Immigration Directorates (Q1 2016) Contents

Conclusions and recommendations


1.Moves to tighten immigration controls for non-UK citizens seeking to come to the UK, following the outcome of the EU Referendum, will have obvious implications for the work of the Immigration Directorates, whatever the final terms of the agreement with the EU are. Past experience has shown that previous attempts to tighten immigration rules have led to a spike in immigration prior to the rules coming into force. Much will depend on the negotiations between the UK and the EU and the details of any deal to retain or constrain the free movement of people and the rights of those EU/EEA citizens arriving in the UK and UK citizens living in the European Union. If changes to the system of immigration are to work, the Government must ensure that the relevant directorates, notably UK Visas & Immigration, are given the additional resources they will certainly need to deal with their increased workload effectively. (Paragraph 6)

2.The outcome of the EU referendum has placed EU nationals living in the UK in a potentially very difficult and uncertain position. The key to resolving this is certainty. EU citizens living and working in the UK must be told where they stand in relation to the UK leaving the EU and they should not be used as bargaining chips in the negotiations. There also has to be an effective cut-off date to avoid a surge in applications. The most obvious dates include the date of the Referendum, 23 June 2016, the date Article 50 is triggered or the date when the UK actually leaves the EU. EU citizens settled in the UK before the chosen date should be afforded the right to permanent residence. The challenge of successfully resolving the practicalities of the UK exit in relation to EU citizens must not be underestimated. A unit should be established in the Home Office to deal with this issue, in addition to the newly-established Department for Exiting the European Union headed by the newly-appointed Secretary of State, Rt Hon David Davis MP. (Paragraph 7)

3.Establishing where EU citizens live and work is the first step in the process of clarifying their right to permanent residence in the UK. The first option may be registration, a second may be identification by National Insurance number. Whatever scheme the Government follows should be chosen as quickly as possible and be made as seamless as possible. If a system of registration is required then a pilot should be established with a local authority so that practical considerations can be further explored. (Paragraph 8)

Visa Applications

4.We have previously expressed concern about the large number of visa applications that have yet to be entered onto the Case Information Database. Despite the number of applications falling for consecutive quarters, the number of cases that have been received but which UKVI have yet to begin processing continues to rise. This is unacceptable, it is a simple administrative task which should easily be completed. The Home Office’s failure to put data on computers is delaying the processing of cases and does not inspire confidence in their ability to manage this caseload. (Paragraph 11)

5.In our previous Report we highlighted the large number of family reunion visa applications that were outstanding. This has not been addressed. The Government must explain why so many out-of-country family reunion cases are not being processed within service standards and set out what steps it is taking to address this issue. Family reunion is important as a safe and legal migration route to the UK and we will explore this issue in more detail in a forthcoming report on the migration crisis. (Paragraph 14)

6.The number of notifications from sponsors of Tier 4 visas that require no further action is far too high and this is an obvious inefficiency in the system of enforcement. We repeat the recommendation from our previous Report that the Home Office must constructively engage with the academic sector to reduce this figure. It is unacceptable that academic institutions are wasting time generating notifications which the Home Office knows to be unnecessary. We expect this situation to be addressed by 31 December 2016. (Paragraph 18)

7.Our inquiry into the English-language testing system and the discovery of widespread fraud is ongoing. As part of that inquiry we have received evidence of serious shortcomings in the Home Office’s response to the fraud. We expect to conclude our inquiry in September. (Paragraph 21)

Asylum cases

8.The available data do not allow us to judge whether UKVI is meeting its service standards of processing straightforward asylum cases within six months and non-straightforward cases within 12 months as no such breakdown is provided. There is little point in having service standards if the information is published in such a way that does not allow UKVI’s performance to be judged against them. The data must be published in a way that allows such scrutiny. (Paragraph 26)

9.The number of outstanding asylum applications is at an all-time high. Despite repeated warnings from this Committee the Home Office has done nothing to address this situation and it must set out what steps it is taking to tackle this concern. (Paragraph 27)

10.This is the third consecutive Report in which we have commented on the approach of the Home Office to asylum-seeking Eritreans. It is unacceptable that the Home Office is still getting so many of its decisions regarding nationals of this country wrong. This raises wider concerns over the Home Office’s country guidance, particularly in the period between the Home Office acknowledging that its guidance is incorrect and revised guidance being implemented. Decisions made in this period, as the situation with Eritreans has shown, can result in foreign nationals being repatriated to countries the Home Office knows to be unsafe or has concerns over—which is unacceptable—or appeals clogging up the courts unnecessarily. When the Home Office has concerns over the accuracy of its country guidance it should suspend decisions until such a time that those concerns have been investigated and, where necessary, revised guidance put in place. (Paragraph 31)

11.We note the high number of appeals from Iranian nationals, more than half of which are successful. The Home Office must explain why such a high proportion of appeals in asylum cases involving Iranian nationals are successful and, if necessary, review its guidance for that country accordingly. (Paragraph 32)

12.We remain concerned about the Government’s ability to increase capacity sufficiently to meet its commitment to resettle 20,000 Syrian refugees by 2020, and the separate commitment to resettle thousands of unaccompanied children, which the Government has rightly made. We will explore this issue in more detail in our forthcoming report on the migration crisis. (Paragraph 36)

13.The bureaucratic hurdles that are being put in front of refugees after a decision has been made allowing them to enter the UK to be reunited with family members are totally unacceptable, particularly as many of those affected are fleeing conflict and will have already undergone severe hardship. The UK Government should be doing all it can to help people in these circumstances rather than hindering their chance to reach safety. Where an individual receives notification of permission to enter the UK but it arrives too late for transport to be secured, it is ridiculous for that permission to be cancelled and for the process then to have to be restarted. The system must be more flexible. (Paragraph 39)

14.It seems to us perverse that children who have been granted refugee status in the UK are not then allowed to bring their close family to join them in the same way as an adult would be able to do. The right to live safely with family should apply to child refugees just as it does to adults. The Government should amend the immigration rules to allow refugee children to act as sponsors for their close family. (Paragraph 41)

15.Individuals granted asylum in this country must not be forgotten amidst the attention paid to refugees being resettled from the Middle East. They too will have fled abuse, torture and conflict and are equally deserving of the right to be treated with respect and dignity. Evidence from the Refugee Council and others suggests that this support is not always available when it should be, with the result that refugees can find themselves destitute at the moment their need for asylum is recognised. We are aware that the Government has acknowledged this problem and has asked the Department for Work and Pensions to undertake a review of its support to newly recognised refugees. If the study concludes that there is a need for the grace period to be extended then the Government must implement that recommendation swiftly. We will return to this subject as part of our inquiry into asylum accommodation later this year. (Paragraph 46)

16.Progress in concluding cases in the Older Live Cases Unit (OLCU) has slowed over the last 18 months. The caseload of the OLCU is currently shrinking by an average of 250 cases per quarter. At this rate, it will take a further 24 years to clear the backlog of 23,962 outstanding cases, the majority of which date back to before 2007. It is unacceptable that people have had to wait over nine years for a conclusion to their case. The Home Office must explain why, nine years after its creation, the Older Live Cases Unit is still in existence, and when it expects the unit to have concluded its work. Sarah Rapson, the Director General of UK Visas and Immigration promised this Committee that this work would be a priority. Unfortunately she has been unable to live up to her promise. In our next report we expect to see better progress. (Paragraph 56)

Immigration Enforcement

17.Around half of the cases in the Migration Refusal Pool (MRP) examined by Capita have been returned to the Home Office, but no breakdown is provided as to why those cases were returned. We note that the number of cases in the MRP has begun to fall, but we remain concerned about the large number of cases sent to Capita for processing only to be returned to the Immigration Enforcement directorate. We note also the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration’s recent report which concluded that cases were being entered into the pool unnecessarily. This suggests to us that the Home Office continues to lack an effective and efficient system for managing its immigration casework, a theme which we have noted many times. The Home Office must explain why so many cases transferred to the Migration Refusal Pool for processing by Capita are being returned to the Immigration Enforcement directorate and what steps it is taking to reduce this obvious inefficiency. (Paragraph 64)

18.The Government should make a commitment to clear the pre-2008 migration cases and put forward a specific deadline by which to do this. Progress on clearing those cases has slowed significantly over the last six months. Given that the bulk of the work has been outsourced there is a clear cost to work being prolonged. (Paragraph 66)

19.Ten months on from Stephen Shaw’s report on detention, the number of people spending more than two months in detention has increased. The Government aims to address the problem of long detention in its ‘adults at risk’ policy. The policy states that “a failure to remove within the expected timescale might also tip the balance to the extent that release becomes appropriate.” This does not strike us as a firm commitment to reduce the length of time people are detained. We will monitor the implementation of this policy closely. It must meet our and Mr Shaw’s recommendations that the length of detention be reduced. If it fails to do so then further interventions such as a statutory limit on detention will have to be considered. (Paragraph 70)

20.We welcome the increase in the number of people who are considered unfit for detention being released. However, as we have repeatedly stated, it is unacceptable that the large majority of detainees subject to Rule 35 Reports remain in detention. The Shaw review makes clear that safeguards for vulnerable people should be increased. The Government’s ‘adults at risk’ policy must satisfy this objective. (Paragraph 73)

21.We considered the issue of foreign national offenders in detail in our Q4 2015 Report and expressed concern that the number of FNOs in the community was so high. It is Government policy to remove all foreign national offenders, but, despite large numbers of FNOs being returned, the number in the prison estate and living in the community continues to grow. The Government must set out how many of those FNOs in prison and in the community it intends to deport and the barriers that are currently preventing it from doing so; how many of the FNOs in the community are there as a result of being released from the prison estates of Northern Ireland and Scotland and what action the UK Government has taken to secure their removal, both while in prison and once released into the community. The Government should include in its response how many FNOs there are currently in Scottish and Northern Irish prisons. (Paragraph 77)

22.The Committee will explore the implications of the UK leaving the EU in a subsequent inquiry. In our last report we expressed concern over the failure of prisoner transfer arrangements with the EU. The House was told that by the end of the year 50 Polish offenders in British jails would be automatically transferred as the derogation would have ended. Since the UK is still in the EU we expect this commitment to be honoured. (Paragraph 78)

23.Marriage fraud has a devastating impact on the individual’s affected, while those perpetrating the fraud often go unpunished. We are concerned that it is not being treated with the seriousness it deserves, both by the police and, where matters of immigration are involved, by the Home Office. The Home Office must set out how many cases of marriage fraud have been reported to it in the last three years; what investigations have taken place; and how many people have had their Leave to Remain revoked and how many of these have been removed from the UK as a result. (Paragraph 81)

24.If the current system of civil penalties is to work as a genuine deterrent against illegal working and the employment of illegal workers, then those engaged in that criminal activity must face severe consequences for their actions. Too often in the past, those found guilty have been able to evade the sanctions imposed upon them. It is not acceptable that less than a third of the penalties imposed are recovered, even accounting for appeals and early payment discounts. It is ridiculous for it to take over two years to recover the debt owed. This allows unscrupulous employers to have the benefit of illegal workers and subsequently not pay the sanctions given to them, making a mockery of the system. Rapid progress needs to be made. The Home Office must set out the amount that has been collected for each of the last three years and include the amount collected in all future quarterly reports on illegal working. In our next report our assessment of the civil penalty system will be expanded to include penalties for renting accommodation to individuals not entitled to be in the UK, including what effect this has had on landlords and on those who are entitled to be here seeking accommodation. We will also look to see whether there is evidence about the consequences of the new sanctions on illegal working, in terms of labour exploitation. (Paragraph 85)

25.Data provided by the Home Office show that, as with civil penalties for illegal working, the Home Office has failed to recover the full amount of fines issued. The civil penalty system will not be an effective means of deterring people from smuggling migrants or incentivising better security measures if hauliers and their drivers can simply evade the fines that are imposed. The Home Office must set out how much it has been unable to collect in each of the last three years; the reasons for this failure; and what steps it is taking to improve rates of collection. In order for us to accurately assess the Department’s management of the clandestine entrant civil penalty regime there must be regular data releases, which must include not just the total penalties imposed, but the amount outstanding from previous years. Any reduction in the amount due, including as a result of appeals or any early payment initiative, must be explained. Collection of civil penalties will be one of our key performance measures for the Department. (Paragraph 89)


26.Legacy cases and those cases which are being processed outside of service standards constitute a backlog. There was a modest reduction in the size of the backlog during Q1 2016 but the Department must do better. There must be substantial reductions to the backlog before the Immigration Directorates are faced with the additional demands that the UK leaving the EU will bring. (Paragraph 91)

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25 July 2016