Immigration enforcement Contents

2Understanding the business and setting priorities

Using information to manage the business effectively

9.The NAO reported that Immigration Enforcement uses management information to assess the performance of individual teams rather than the system’s overall health, and the Department accepted this finding.16 We asked whether the Department could deliver an effective immigration enforcement service without basic management information. The Department rejected the suggestion that it had no management information, and stated it had “too much [management information], but not of the right sort”. It recognised the need to improve its management information and its ability to measure the overall outcomes of its activities rather than inputs and outputs.17 For example, the NAO reported that the Department and its partners identified 11,300 clandestine attempts to enter the country at UK ports and 35,600 attempts from overseas in the twelve months to the end of October 2019. In the twelve months to the end of October 2018 these figures were 7,200 and 33,600, respectively, although the Department cannot determine whether this apparent rise is because it had a greater overall impact or whether there had been more attempts made.18 The Department stated that it is developing methods to identify the impact of its interventions and that these should move away from performance assessments which rely heavily on the overall number of returns it makes.19

10.We asked how the Department allocated resources across the immigration system and heard that this relies upon the judgements of senior staff rather than direct evidence. The Department explained that a “dearth of information” on some immigration enforcement activities meant it is not possible to assess the outcomes of deploying resources from one part of the system to another.20 The Department accepted that it had not always focussed on gathering data that would allow Immigration Enforcement to prioritise effectively. The Department also stated that it is attempting to better understand the illegal population so it can make “the right interventions with the right people at the right time”. We heard that Immigration Enforcement now focusses on improving prioritisation by putting harm at the top of its prioritisation framework. We asked whether someone who is not doing any harm would be a lower priority, and heard that people who are in the UK illegally would always be of interest to Immigration Enforcement.21

11.During the evidence session, the Department failed to provide a specific answer to questions about the characteristics of the illegal population or the evidence it used to make decisions.22 We asked the Department to provide us with facts to support its claims rather than possibilities or speculation.23 For example, the NAO reported that the Department could not support its assertion that a larger number of minor disruptions could have a more lasting effect on organised crime groups than major disruptions. The Department had agreed the NAO report and so it was somewhat surprising to hear the Department respond that it “did not express itself [to the NAO] as well as it could have done” on this point.24 The NAO also reported other cases where the Department could not provide solid evidence for its actions.25 We asked whether acting without adequate evidence left the Department open to the charge that it acted on prejudice. The Department responded that it was determined to act on evidence and data. It admitted its frustration at not being able to have a clearer assessment of its value for money and prioritisation decisions and expressed its wish to improve.26

Challenging assumptions within Immigration Enforcement

12.The Committee of Public Accounts has found previously that the Department did not use its own data to fully explore the impact of its work on individuals.27 During the evidence session, we asked whether the Department considered the implications of immigration enforcement actions for young people whose immigration status had not been formalised.28 The Department did not think these people would be a “particular priority” and said it would take into account any barriers that had prevented their earlier engagement with the UK Visas and Immigration or Immigration Enforcement. We heard that the Department “would hope” that these cases would be identified earlier to allow discussions about their status and that checkpoints in the system would prevent them being unnecessarily caught up in the enforcement system.29

13.We asked the Department to account for the plummeting number of people it returns to their countries of origin. The Department claimed that the fall in returns was because of greater compliance with immigration rules, changes to the legal framework and higher numbers of claims made on human rights, modern slavery, asylum or medical grounds.30 The Department asserted that most asylum claims in detention are designed to thwart the system, but it accepted it was struggling to see what it could do to prevent this.31 However, the NAO reported that the Department did not explore possible failings within Immigration Enforcement in its internal analysis on unsuccessful returns.32 We did not hear evidence of any analysis the Department had conducted on the impact of decreasing the financial package available for voluntary returns, its claimed success in returning foreign national offenders on charter flights during the COVID-19 pandemic or the percentage of people granted asylum after making a claim in detention.33

14.The NAO reported that Immigration Enforcement could make better use of its analytical functions and evaluations to improve as an organisation.34 The Department recognises the need to refresh its research and evidence base across the borders and immigration system and told us about its increasing use of analysis and evaluation to demonstrate the impact of its immigration enforcement activities.35 The Department also told us that it needs to open up and “get much more used to working with and listening to the communities” working with it, particularly those who have not had a positive view of it.36 It expressed the need for a more people-centred immigration process, which it defined as supporting the people within it.37

15.The Department accepted that the Windrush lessons learned review had come exceptionally close to declaring it as institutionally racist. We were pleased to hear the Department commit to implementing each of the recommendations of that report and acknowledge the need to change the whole culture of the Department.38 We asked what proportion of senior staff within the Department came from minority backgrounds; only one member of its Executive Committee came from a black, Asian or minority ethnic background.39 The Department described the benefits of greater diversity at senior levels for its decision-making, leadership and governance but acknowledged diversity as being its biggest issue.40

Organising an end-to-end immigration enforcement system

16.We asked whether Immigration Enforcement should focus on in-country immigration enforcement rather than having to provide support at the border. The Department responded that it sees managing immigration into the country and in-country as a single system.41 However, the NAO reported that the Department “does not yet manage” immigration enforcement as an end-to-end system.42 The Department accepted the need for an end-to-end perspective which supports a smoother route for people through its immigration enforcement processes.43 The Department said it is working with Ministers to address issues affecting its ability to move people’s cases forward. It also believes that its modernisation programmes will better support that end-to-end perspective.44 The Department claimed, though, that there were examples where it worked together as a “seamless whole”. We suggested that these examples were thin on the ground in the NAO’s report and requested more specific details.45

17.The Department told us that it works with different parts of the public sector and Government, such as the Ministry of Justice, to deliver its immigration enforcement services, and that this cooperation may not appear in its performance data.46 We heard that Immigration Enforcement is providing more opportunities for face-to-face interactions and maintaining contact with people even when they are engaged with other agencies.47 It claimed that this allowed it to make the “right intervention” with those people at a later point.48

18.We asked what the Department could learn from its analysis of late asylum claims to reduce the number of these. The NAO reported that the Department failed to complete 62% of the returns it planned from immigration detention in 2019, compared to 56% in 2018.49 We heard how decisions and trends elsewhere in the system, for example changes in the legal framework and greater compliance on immigration rules, affect the Department’s success in completing returns. The Department explained that a large number of asylum claims in detention slowed down some elements of the immigration system, but it did not specify which elements. We questioned whether other factors such as the Department’s decision to reduce the financial package for voluntary returns or earlier access to good quality legal advice could influence the successful resolution of cases.50 The Department told us it had not directly assessed the possible impact of legal advice, but it believed legal advice could allow cases to flow more smoothly through the system. The Department was not aware of any analysis it had conducted on whether the cost of providing that advice would save money later in the process, but it offered to confirm that point.51


16 Q 78; C&AG’s Report, para 3.15

17 Qq 34, 42

18 C&AG’s Report, para 2.6

19 Q 77

20 Qq 47, 49

21 Qq 41, 42

22 Qq 34, 36, 80, 95, 97, 105

23 Q 40, 98

24 Qq 97–98; C&AG’s Report, para 2.16

25 C&AG’s Report, paras 2.9 & 2.30

26 Qq 105–106

27 HC Committee of Public Accounts, Windrush generation and the Home Office, Eighty-second report of session 2017–19, HC 1518, 6 March 2019, pp.6–7

28 Q 67

29 Qq 68–69

30 Q 80; C&AG’s Report para 2.30

31 Q 93

32 C&AG’s Report, para 2.30

33 Qq 81, 90, 93

34 C&AG’s Report para 3.23

35 Qq 35, 63, 102

36 Q 65

37 Qq 8, 103

38 Q 71

39 Q 74

40 Q 76

41 Qq 48, 49

42 C&AG’s Report, para 18

43 Qq 38, 78, 94, 103, 104

44 Qq 38, 102

45 Qq 78, 79

46 Qq 36, 41, 67

47 Qq 41, 68, 81

48 Q 41

49 C&AG’s Report, para 2.29, Figure 12

50 Qq 79, 80, 82

51 Qq 100, 101




Published: 18 September 2020