Immigration enforcement Contents

3Planning for the future

The impact of EU exit on the immigration enforcement system

19.We asked about the impact of the UK’s departure from the EU on the Department’s immigration enforcement activities.52 The Department has teams in EU countries which support its work to prevent unlawful entry to the UK and to tackle organised immigration crime. The Department told us the Dublin II agreement allows it to pass responsibility for some asylum cases to EU member states, for example where non-EU nationals enter the UK by clandestine or illegal means from EU countries.53 The Department also explained it has a series of prison transfer arrangements linked to the EU which support the return of foreign national offenders. But the Department believed that many of the arrangements for returns with individual EU member states are done bilaterally, rather than through the EU and Commission.54

20.The Department acknowledged that these arrangements would be part of the ongoing negotiations with the EU.55 We asked whether Immigration Enforcement proposed to keep teams in EU airports after the transition period ended. The Department appeared unconcerned about any possible barriers to this, and said that it did not see any reason why the arrangements would change.56 It also told us it was not aware of any legal barriers to this work and that this issue had not been raised, but it suggested that no discussions had taken place within the Department to prepare for any change in these arrangements. It acknowledged that it would require individual agreements with member states to maintain the presence of UK Immigration Enforcement teams in EU states following the end of the transition period. It highlighted France and Belgium as particular priorities, but it was not aware of any discussions it had had with EU member states. The Department told us its discussions to date had focused on its ambition to replace the Dublin II Regulation and EURODAC system.57

Planning for changes to the immigration enforcement system

21.The Department reiterated its commitment to implementing the 30 recommendations of the Windrush lessons learned review. We heard that it was making progress with the Windrush compensation scheme but was unwilling to set itself targets on the number of cases or amount of money it would deal with.58 It underlined its commitment to include people from non-Caribbean Commonwealth countries in the scope of its Windrush response and offered to write to us with further details of those efforts.59 The Department acknowledged that the review had been a difficult read and stated it had no intention of turning its response into a box-ticking exercise. It stressed the need to understand the scale of transformation that would be involved in delivering on these commitments, which would include setting a vision and values for the whole Department as it implements the new immigration system. However, when we took evidence in mid-July, the Department did not describe specific steps it would take in responding to the review.60

22.During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department extended the visas of all individuals for whom it was difficult to seek visa extensions or return home. The Department told us it was unlikely to apply another blanket extension beyond the end of July 2020 and would instead look on a case-by-case basis.61 The Committee of Public Accounts has previously reported concerns that the Department did not take seriously the risks of making “life-changing decisions” on people’s futures based on “incorrect data from systems that are not fit for purpose”.62 We asked the Department how it could ensure it avoids similar mistakes that would affect someone’s future immigration status. The Department recognised that its data systems in the past would not have been capable of keeping track of such cases, but it assured us that it would take a careful approach and make itself available to anyone who felt they were not being given adequate support.63

23.The Department told us that it has high hopes for its modernisation and transformation projects. However, the NAO reported that the Department agrees funding for its transformation projects on an annual basis, and their longer-term development is therefore uncertain.64 We heard that e-visas and the introduction of its Atlas programme would provide a better grip on an individual’s immigration data. The Department claimed that Atlas would ensure that it held correct and up-to-date data on immigration cases and make these more accessible for any necessary checks.65 It told us its Business Rules programme would ensure that caseworkers were taking the right actions and improve efficiency.66 However, there have been longstanding concerns about the Department’s systems and data and numerous projects where the importance of good quality data in ensuring the effectiveness of systems was overlooked.67 We also heard that the Department hoped more automated services would allow its immigration enforcement activities to focus more on the most complex cases.68

52 Q 84

53 Qq 50–52

54 Qq 84, 85

55 Qq 58, 84

56 Q 53

57 Qq 55–60

58 Qq 9, 11

59 Qq 65–66

60 Qq 71–73, 107–108

61 Qq 5–7

62 HC Committee of Public Accounts, Windrush generation and the Home Office, Eighty-second report of session 2017–19, HC 1518, 6 March 2019, p.5

63 Qq 7–8

64 C&AG’s Report, para 1.18

65 Qq 7, 8

66 Q 78

67 Q 64; HC Committee of Public Accounts, Challenges in using data across government, One hundred and eighteenth report of session 2017–19, HC 2492, 25 September 2019, p.12; HC Committee of Public Accounts, Fourth annual report of the Chair of the Committee of Public Accounts, Third special report of session 2017–19, HC2370, 27 June 2019, p.13

68 Q 104

Published: 18 September 2020