13 Jul 2013

‘Staggering’ immigration backlog of 500,000 cases

More than half a million people are in limbo as MPs warn that the backlog of immigration cases at the UK’s troubled border service has hit “staggering” highs and could take 37 years to clear.

Immigration backlog will take 37 years to clear, MPs warn (Getty)

There is a backlog of 502,462 immigration cases at the now-defunct UK Border Agency (UKBA), the home affairs committee said.

It also warned that the steps taken so far to try to deal with the problem, including scrapping UKBA and replacing it with two new divisions – one in charge of immigration and visas, the other with border enforcement – were in danger of being an “exercise in rebranding”.

At the current rate of progress, the backlog will take almost four decades to clear.

Committee chairman Keith Vaz MP said: “The backlog of cases has now hit a staggering half a million people. This could fill Wembley Stadium to capacity six times over.

The backlog…could fill Wembley Stadium to capacity six times over. Keith Vaz MP

“At the current rate it will take 37 years to clear and the Home Office cannot confirm that this is the last of the backlogs.”

He added: “Theresa May described the UK Border Agency as ‘closed, secretive and defensive’, however, despite abolition nothing appears to have changed apart from the name. If people at the top are not replaced this will only be an exercise in rebranding as has happened in previous reincarnations. There should be no more bonuses paid to any senior management at the Home Office until the backlogs are cleared.”

Earlier this year, Home Secretary Theresa May abolished the UKBA and replaced it with UK Visas and Immigration and an Immigration Enforcement Command, which were brought back under the control of ministers. But so far, the changes have not had the desired impact.

The new head of the UK Visas and Immigration section – perhaps in an early bid to manage expectations – recently told the committee that Britain’s immigration service will never be completely fixed.

Director general Sarah Rapson warned that the service will never be seen as “perfect”.

‘Troubled for years’

Immigration Minister Mark Harper said: “The UK Border Agency was a troubled organisation for many years, which is why the home secretary took the decision to split the agency in March this year.

“The new UK Visas and Immigration Service has a clear focus to improve visa performance and customer service, while the Immigration Enforcement Command concentrates on those who break our immigration laws.

“Both now report directly to ministers, delivering greater transparency and accountability. It will take a long time to clear the backlogs we inherited – but through the changes we have made we are in a much stronger position to do so.”

Sir Andrew Green, chairman of campaigner group Migration Watch UK, said: “The government inherited a system in chaos. There have been signs of improvement but this new backlog of half a million cases is surely a wake-up call.

“The immigration system is struggling again and must be allocated substantially greater resources commensurate to the scale of the task and the importance the public attach to bringing immigration under control. The policy is now right but it cannot be implemented on peanuts.”