The Home Office was working well with some foreign embassies to obtain travel documents to remove those who have no right to stay in the UK. However, in many cases it was not actively generating removals despite already having secured travel documents for them. The Home Office also had no clear picture of the scale of non-compliance by individuals, and had no effective strategy for tackling this.
An Emergency Travel Document (ETD) is a travel document issued by a high commission, embassy or consulate, at the request of the Home Office, for the purpose of removing a person from the UK who has failed to produce a valid passport. This inspection examined how efficiently and effectively the Home Office managed the ETD system to facilitate the removal of those with no right to remain in the UK.
Refusal by individuals to provide evidence of their identity or nationality remains a significant obstacle to re-documentation and removal. Nonetheless, the Chief Inspector found that 20% of the Foreign National Offenders (FNOs) in his sample of cases had been successfully re-documented despite previous non-compliance.
The Chief Inspector was also pleased to find that:
• the Home Office had developed good relationships with a number of embassies, which had resulted in efficient, successful re-documentation processes;
• detained interview schemes were particularly likely to result in the swift issuance of an emergency travel document;
• Returns Liaison Officers based at British embassies overseas and specialist investigation teams played an important role in obtaining ETDs in a number of cases.
However, the Chief Inspector was concerned to find that:
• management of the stock of unused ETDs was poor and this pool was not being used to generate removals. 78% of those in our sample who were in contact with the Home Office were not being actively caseworked. 15% of the sample had been granted some form of residency or leave to remain, so should not have remained in the pool;
• the Home Office was applying for too many ETDs that had little prospect of being used, rather than focusing resources on cases where re-documentation was likely to result in removal;
• there was no central monitoring of the progress of the stock of approximately 4,000 outstanding ETD applications that the Home Office manages at any given time, which had led to some applications remaining unresolved for long periods;
• the average detention time for FNOs in our sample who were classified by the Home Office as individual non-compliant was 563 days. Where the embassy was categorised by the Home Office as ‘non-compliant’, the average detention time was 755 days;
• supporting information that could assist in securing an ETD was not retained on a systematic basis as part of the visa application process;
• there was scope to improve interview processes and increase the use of effective ones such as detained interview schemes;
• the quality assurance process for ETD applications was not standardised and there was no audit trail, which meant the quality of ETD applications could not be assessed;
• management information on aspects of the ETD process was inadequate and did not give an accurate picture of performance, including information on how many currently removable cases would need an ETD to be concluded.
The Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, John Vine CBEQPM, said:
“The Home Office can face complex challenges in obtaining travel documents. Despite this, I found the Home Office had agreed efficient processes with some foreign embassies that allowed it to obtain documents quickly for their nationals. Detained interview schemes were particularly effective.
I was concerned to find that the Home Office had not used several thousand ETDs that had already been agreed by embassies. In some instances, these agreements dated back more than ten years. Many cases were not being actively progressed, leaving individuals’ immigration status unresolved. This is unacceptable.
The Home Office claims that non-compliance by individuals with the ETD process is a major source of delay. However, they did not have a clear picture of the scale of the problem, other than in criminal cases, and had no effective strategy for tackling it. I was surprised to find that there was no high-level strategy in place to link the ETD application process with removals priorities.
Finally, despite recommendations I have made previously, I was concerned to find that the Home Office was still keeping foreign criminals, who had completed their prison sentences, in immigration detention for months or even years. I recognise the importance of deporting those who represent a threat to the public. However, the practice of detaining FNOs for months or years in the hope that they will eventually comply with the ETD process is not only potentially a breach of their human rights, it is also poor value for money for the taxpayer.”
The Chief Inspector made 13 recommendations for improvement. These include the Home Office developing a comprehensive and accurate performance management framework for managing and improving the ETD process; urgently prioritising the resolution of the cases in the unused pool of ETDs that are in contact; and urgently reviewing the cases of long-term detainees where the absence of an ETD is the primary barrier to removal.