24 Jan 2013

Inspector uncovers huge UKBA immigrant backlog

As inspectors discover a vast backlog of UK visa applications, forcing some immigrants to wait more than a decade, Channel 4 News speaks to a British man caught up in the “absurd” delays.

There are more than 16,000 immigrants currently waiting to hear from border officials if they can stay in Britain in the latest round of UKBA backlogs uncovered by inspectors.

Nearly 14,000 have already been refused the right to stay but are asking the UK Border Agency to reconsider, and the backlog is growing by 700 cases each month.

Over 2,100 cases that were shipped from a UKBA office in Croydon to Sheffield are still waiting for a decision, with some dating back over a decade.

The Independent Chief Inspector for Borders and Immigration John Vine discovered the backlogs during an inquiry into applications to remain in Britain on the basis of marriage.

“This is completely unacceptable and I expect the agency to deal with both types of case as a matter of urgency,” Mr Vine said.

Nine months of waiting - and still no visa for my wife

Essentially, John Vine's report is about the poor standards of customer service at UKBA, writes Home Affairs Correspondent Simon Israel. The backlogs are a symptom of these poor standards.

I met British businessman Christopher Sims, from Peterborough (see video), who waited nine and a half months for an initial response from UKBA to his application for residency for his Brazilian wife.

In order to apply for a visa, his wife had to send her passport to the UKBA - and if she wants it back, she will have to cancel the process. So she has been unable to travel or work since arriving in the UK. "I totally understand why so many people are illegal (immigrants) here - the system doesn't allow you to stay here legally," Mr Sims said. The visa cost him £825, yet neither he, nor his solicitor, or even his MP managed to get a response from the UKBA to his application.

"To be treated with absolutely no respect is ridiculous," Mr Sims said. Finally, after nine and a half months, Mr Sims received a reply from UKBA. But the process, which he assumed would take two or three months, looks set to take far longer.

"They're very happy to take the money - they're able to take the cheque, but they can't process the paperwork," Mr Sims said.

The inspector was “surprised” to discover the UKBA is failing to check whether applicants earn enough to look after themselves without having to rely on state handouts.

In one case, an applicant applied to stay in Britain because he was married to a person settled in the country who had a disposable income of around £200 per month – far below the minimum income support level.

The inspector also found that the percentage of allowed appeals in marriage cases was too high at 53 per cent between April 2011 and February 2012.

In November MPs warned that the escalating backlog risked creating an “amnesty” for illegal immigrants as asylum cases were said to be “spiralling out of control”.

A separate inspection into how the UKBA and Border Force deal with criminals at ports discovered that the policy of swift removal is being rendered ineffective by the number of immigrants claiming asylum.

Staff told the inspector that the agency was sitting on 14,000 refused cases that the UKBA was asked to reconsider as there is “no policy” on how to deal with them.

Further investigation discovered confusion among staff as one senior manager informed the inspector there was nothing to stop the cases from progressing.

Sir Andrew Green, chairman of campaigners Migration Watch UK, said: “This is yet further evidence of the chaos in the immigration system from which they are taking years to recover.”

Mr Vine discovered 2,100 cases that had yet to receive an initial decision, some dating back as far as 2003. Around 180 of these applicants wanted to stay in the UK due to marriage or a civil partnership, while the remaining cases were for other reasons.

“As a result, some applicants have been waiting for considerable periods of time for their cases to be resolved. This situation causes anxiety, uncertainty and frustration for those individuals and their family members.

“Delays in deciding applications also mean that enforcement action is likely to be more difficult in the event that the case is ultimately refused.

“This is because the individual will have been in the UK for a number of years and may have developed a family or private life.”