Decision making in Paris was of a high quality and customer service targets were also being met. These were the key findings from the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration’s inspection of the Home Office’s Paris visa section.
The Chief Inspector chose to inspect the Paris Visa Section because it is one of the main decision-making hubs in the Euro-Med region and has a relatively high refusal rate for Other Visitor applications.
Application numbers processed in Paris had increased markedly since 2011 and were forecast to have increased by 100% between then and 2014. This increase was due to Paris gradually assuming responsibility for applications previously decided by posts in North Africa, following the transfer of such work from Algeria and Tunisia in September 2012 and from Morocco in March 2014.
The Chief Inspector was pleased to find that:
• effective resource planning had enabled Paris to cope well with the additional work generated from Algerian, Tunisian and Moroccan applications;
• staff and managers in Paris were committed to making high quality decisions on applications. Overall, decision quality was good and we assessed 94% of refusals as reasonable;
• most files we sampled were in good order, with supporting documents retained in line with recommendations in our previous reports and refusal notices were generally of a good standard;
• decision-making targets in Paris were seen as stretching by staff, but we found that they still allowed staff to make well-evidenced decisions;
• the Paris Visa Section was consistently meeting its customer service targets, with 99% of non-settlement applications consistently being decided within three weeks;
• there was an excellent relationship between RALON and the Visa Section, with an ‘open door’ policy existing between the two;
• verification checks were being used to inform decision-making in Paris.
However, the Chief Inspector also found that:
• three refusals (6%) were assessed as unreasonable. These included two cases where simple enquiries could have allowed the ECO to make a better informed decision;
• though the post was conducting verification checks, we found it was encountering difficulties in securing cooperation from individuals and companies based in Tunisia when conducting checks on Tunisian applications;
• whilst service standards were being met, applicants were not given sufficient information on how these were measured;
• the post was not operating a clear desk policy and applications and files containing personal information had been left unattended rather than being locked securely away overnight.
The Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, John Vine CBE QPM, said:
“Overall, I was very pleased with the decision quality and level of customer service I found at the Paris visa section. However, the Home Office must ensure that applicants are given clear information on how service standards are measured, so that they know when they can reasonably expect a decision.
Application numbers processed in Paris had increased markedly since 2011 and were forecast to have increased by 100% between then and 2014. However, I found that effective resource planning had enabled Paris to cope well with this new work.
I was also concerned to find that the post was not meeting its obligations to protect the personal and sensitive data of applicants, including passports and bank statements, and neither was it following the Home Office’s guidance on data protection. This must be remedied immediately.”
The Chief Inspector made two recommendations for improvement. These were that the Home Office must ensure that personal data is stored securely and that it publishes clear service standards so that each visa applicant is given a reasonable expectation of when they might receive a decision.