Cynthia Barker writes...The Home Office is still searching for more than 175,000 people who have overstayed visas and have no right to remain in the UK, and they have no idea whether or no they have left, according to a report by the National Audit Office.
The visa overstayers have been refused temporary or permanent leave to remain, however, the Home Office does not know where they are as there is no in-out counting system in place at UK borders..
As Home Office staff struggle to clear thousands of outstanding cases every week, new overstayer files fill up their in-trays at the same rate.
The new figures are published n a National Audit Office report, which highlights £350m of taxpayers money blown away on a failed IT scheme.
‘Refusal pool’ still growing at 3354 per week
The so-called "migration refusal pool", or migrants and students whose temporary or permanent leave to remain application has been refused by the Home Office but current whereabouts unknown, forms a large proportion of the 301,000 immigration case backlog.
The refusal pool was created in 2008 and was only revealed publicly 2012 when it was discovered by the chief inspector of immigration, John Vine. In 2012 the refusal pool stood at 174,000 cases, which means it has almost doubled in 2 years.
A private contractor, Capita, was hired carry out an audit of 150,000 cases to identify any errors in the records, check if people had left the country and try to contact them if they had not.
Despite thousands of Home Office staff being made redundant, Capita was kept on following its initial audit and by the end of 2013 had worked its way through 248,000 migration refusal pool cases.
Capita claim that 47,300 refused migrants had left the UK voluntarily, but 50,000 could not be contacted because their details were missing or had not been entered into the system correctly!
Shockingly, 121,000 overstayers could not be contacted because their addresses turned out to be false or out of date, said the report. The Home Office said this group also includes duplicated records and people discovered to have been granted leave to remain via a different route or who are involved in a judicial review or visa appeal.
A migrant would hardly give a false address when applying (along with all their documents and passports) for a visa extension or further leave to remain!
Cases have been sent to the ‘Immigration Enforcement Directorate’ – yet another new government agency set up last year when the Border Agency was split in two - for investigation.
Old refusal pool cases fell by 80,000 in 2013-14, but these were offset by new visa refusal cases. There are currently 3,354 cases flooding into the system every week and 3,673 flowing out.
National Audit Office said investigators' efforts had been hampered by the quality of the data available to them on the department's out-of-date casework database and paper-based records.
"Poor controls in the Casework Information Database increases the risk that staff fail to input the minimum standard information required," said the report.
"Transferring data manually - from paper to IT systems - increases the risk of errors and there is no single source of reliable information."
In 2010 the Home Office commissioned a new, £350m immigration casework system but it failed to work properly and was shut down last August.
That’s a lot of computers and software down the drain? If I lost £350 million pounds I think I would be fired and if I was a bank like the trader Nick Leeson, I’d be jailed!
Here we go again, as another new IT system has been commissioned, this time at an expected cost £209m, the NAO report says.
Who are these companies making hundreds of millions (or billions in the case of HMRC) on useless IT systems?
The taxpayer will also pay to keep the old system, which regularly "freezes" and is incapable of linking with other government systems, running until the new one comes on stream in 2016/17.
Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said: "The Home Office has started making significant changes since the agency was broken up and has made progress in some areas.
"We would have expected greater progress by now though in tackling the problems we identified in 2012 in areas such as specific backlogs and IT.
"Among our recommendations is that the department prioritise outstanding backlogs and act to prevent the cases that it classifies as unworkable building up into backlogs."
No s**t Sherlock: “prioritise outstanding backlogs and act to prevent the cases that it classifies as unworkable building up into backlogs." They must be really intelligent!
Immigration and Security Minister James Brokenshire said the NAO report showed the government's decision to split the border agency into two directorates and bring it back under direct Home Office control was "the right one".
"I'm pleased the NAO has found that our changes are already delivering improvements, including cutting immigration application times by 25% and embedding a culture that is more focused on improving performance in the future.
"As we said when we took the decision to split up UKBA, transforming our broken immigration system will take time, but our changes are building a system that is fair to British citizens and legitimate migrants and tough on those who abuse the system and flout the law."
The UK Border Agency was formed after Home Office was broken up by the then Labour Home Secretary John Reid, who said it was “not fit for purpose”.
Human Rights article 8 claims and appeals
The truth is that no agency can cope with the number of illegal immigrants and visa overstayers, which could amount to over 1 million people.
It costs around £10,000 to arrest, detain and deport an illegal overstayer. If they lodge an appeal, the costs could escalate to hundreds of thousands of pounds, if not millions as in the case of terror suspect Abu Qatada – who entered the UK illegally and stayed for over 10 years at the taxpayer expense.
Removing or deporting 1 million overstayers will cost at least 10 billion and take years, by which time many will have a right to stay in the UK – because they have been here for so long, have a human rights ‘article 8’ family life claim.
Many will have married, have a partner or children who could be British citizens by the time border officers knock at their door or raid the local Chinese takeaway.
As an immigration adviser in a level 3 firm, we deal with many such appeals and human rights cases every day, as more and more migrants come forward for immigration advice. In fact my phone has not stopped ringing with overstayers requesting a consultation with our appeal specialists!
Many have a legitimate right to remain in the UK, but are still refused leave to remain by the Home Office leaving them no options but to lodge an appeal at the First Tier Tribunal.
If you need advice on any immigration matter, including overstaying your visa, EU or UK immigration law, or want to appeal against a refusal, call Cynthia Barker on 07850 307687 or 0208 731 5972 or email her your details to firstname.lastname@example.org. Cynthia Barker is a qualified OISC Registered Immigration Adviser, with 15 years experience in immigration matters, with a team of Level 3 Immigration Law Practitioners, Concept Care Solutions, Middlesex House, 29-45 High Street, Edgware, HA8 7UU.