The collapse of an IT system at a border agency office has stalled thousands of visa applications for foreigners in the UK. A senior lawyer tells Channel 4 News the system is "unfit for purpose".
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Staff at the agency's Croydon office had to turn visa applicants away after the system which records applicants' biometric details broke down.
Non-EU nationals now have to have a biometric residence visa or permit - an ID card which holds biographic details and biometric information (fingerprints and facial image) - in order to stay in the UK.
On Thursday, hundreds of people queued outside the Croydon office, south of London, to make a premium (same day) application for biometric visas or permits.
The computer crash came as airline operator BAA released figures showing that the UKBA failed to meet its 45 minute waiting target for passengers outside the European Economic Area.
Backlog of applications
Andrew Tingley, an immigration lawyer and partner at Kingsley Napley told Channel 4 News that UKBA staff were trying to deal with a system that is "not fit for purpose".
He added that delays in these applications was an ongoing problem since the biometric tests were required - last week the online appointment system was off all week, he added.
"For the clients that we work with, it's not an option to give up a passport for long periods," he said. "There will be some people queuing in Croydon who will want to travel next week and will need their passport."
For the clients that we work with, it's not an option to give up a passport for long periods. There will be some people queuing in Croydon who will want to travel next week and will need their passport. Andrew Tingley, Kingsley Napley
If applicants can't wait for a postal application for their permit, which can take up to six months, they can make a 'premium' or 'super-premium' application at a cost of £6,000, which should be processed within a day, to speed up the process.
However there has been a backlog of applications, and now the IT system crash - so foreign investors and entrepreneurs have been unable to get their visas approved within the time they need, said Mr Tingley.
"[My clients] are angry and frustrated" he said. "The reason we have delays at the border is due in part to lack of staff, but it's also because of an IT system that is coming to the end of its life."
Immigration process a 'barrier' to business
The delays in approving visas, combined with extensive delays at Heathrow, are a turn-off to foreign business and investment, Maria Patsalos, immigration lawyer at Mishcon de Reya, told Channel 4 News.
"I think there's a discrepancy between what the UKBA want to show, which is that the UK is open for business, and the reality, which is that the high level executives are being hindered," she said.
"This has been an ongoing problem in relation to getting appointments full stop. It is causing a barrier for high networked individuals".
A UKBA spokeswoman said the agency was working to resolve the problem as soon as possible, and would reduce the number of daily appointments until May 18.
"We will prioritise completing all outstanding applications and those with cancelled appointments can rebook through the UK Border Agency website or can submit postal applications using our postal service," she added.
Since the rollout of the permits began on November 25, 2008, they have been issued to almost 600,000 migrants, an average during the first three years of the scheme of more than 16,000 per month, an impact assessment dated last November showed.