The Home Office was providing a good level of customer service to visa applicants in Dhaka and Warsaw. However, the Chief Inspector found problems with the decision-making in a large number of cases he looked at. These were among the findings in the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration’s reports on the Home Office’s Dhaka and Warsaw Visa Sections.
The Dhaka visa section is considered to be a ‘high risk’ location, primarily because of the prevalence of forged documentation which it sees in support of visa applications. The inspection examined the Home Office’s handling of four separate visa categories: Family Visitor, Other Visitor, Settlement and Tier 4.
The Warsaw Visa Section is a hub, and thus it receives applications from a number of countries in Central and Eastern Europe. The inspection had a particular focus on decision making quality for visa refusals in Other Visitor cases, which have limited rights of appeal.
In Dhaka the Chief Inspector found:
• customer service targets were being met in the majority of the Family Visitor, Other Visitor and Tier 4 cases. However, targets for settlement visa applications were not being met;
• a number of initiatives had been implemented to improve customer service, including extended opening hours for Visa Application Centres and a shortened registration process
• staff were committed to addressing correspondence and complaints promptly and aimed to provide a full response to applicants within five working days;
• an effective working relationship between the Risk and Liaison Overseas Network (RALON) and entry clearance staff, was helping to tackle visa abuse;
• problems with half of the cases examined including; misinterpretation of evidence or failure to take account of positive evidence provided by applicants; not retaining relevant supporting documentation; not recording clear grounds for their decision; and refusing applicants for failing to provide information, the need for which they would not have been aware of at the time of making their application;
In Warsaw the Chief Inspector found:
• despite a 460% increase in application volumes since July 2012, Other Visitor applications were being processed within 12 days. This was a good performance;
• files were provided in a timely manner, indicating an efficient file storage and retrieval process and information security and data protection issues were treated seriously;
• the quality of decision making was poor. The decision to refuse the visa could not be maintained in 12% of the cases in our file sample. In a further 24% of the cases there were issues with the quality of decision making;
• the level of quality control conducted by ECMs in Warsaw was inadequate. In the 10 months to July 2013 an average of only 10% of refusal decisions were reviewed and between February and April 2013 this fell to just over 3%;
• ECOs in Warsaw had a benchmark target to process 45 Other Visitor applications per day. This equated to just 10 minutes per application;
• the RALON risk profile was not aligned with the actual refusal rates. Countries which did not feature on the profile had relatively high refusal rates whilst countries which were thought to be high risk had lower refusal rates.
The Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, John Vine CBE QPM, said:
“I was pleased to find that customer service targets were being met across most of the categories of visa applications we inspected at both visa sections, and there was a genuine commitment to improving customer service standards.
However, the quality of decision-making was poor in all the visa categories I inspected at both Dhaka and Warsaw. It is vitally important, if the visa application process is to be fair and transparent, that the Home Office corrects these serious failings in its decision making. Given the poor level of decision quality the Home Office should also review the target for Other Visitor applications in Warsaw to bring decision quality and ultimately customer service to an acceptable standard.
The Home Office had launched a global training programme for all entry clearance officers to improve the quality of decision making. I welcome this positive initiative.
I was also concerned to find that the risk profile used at Warsaw was not properly aligned with decision outcomes. The profile should be reviewed to ensure it accurately reflects the application types that pose the greatest risk.
Finally, the Home Office also needs to communicate clearly what the purpose of the Sheffield credibility interview is, ensuring that it adds value to the overall process and is understood and trusted by entry clearance staff overseas.”
The Chief Inspector made 10 recommendations for improvement – five each for Dhaka and Warsaw. These included more effective and robust quality assurance mechanisms by managers at both visa sections to improve the quality of decision making.