Overstayer Numbers Remain the Same Despite Considerable Efforts to Tackle Migration Refusal Pool

Despite considerable efforts by the Home Office to remove those who had overstayed their time in the UK, the overall size of the post-2008 Migration Refusal Pool (MRP) has remained almost static. The outsourcing of the MRP data cleanse had not fulfilled most of the benefits that the Home Office had claimed would result and there were significant inaccuracies in the classification of MRP records. These were some of the key findings in the Chief Inspector’s report on Overstayers.

In 2012 the Chief Inspector identified a MRP of 159,313 individuals who had been refused an extension of their stay in the UK but had not departed. Since then the Home Office had signed a contract with Capita plc to review, and where possible close, the records of migrants in the MRP. This inspection focused on the Home Office’s management of MRP cases, in particular, the cleansing, case working and contact management of MRP records by the contractor Capita and the progression of MRP cases by Home Office enforcement casework.

The Chief Inspector found that:

• Capita was able accurately to identify duplicate records and to close records for 33,000 (22%) of migrants who were found to have already left the UK from the original pool of 150,000;

• Capita had also processed some 16,000 outstanding reconsideration requests and had been able to close off 7,327 of these (46%);

• Capita had identified 45,900 departures and duplicate records from a further 223,600 older MRP cases that were not included in the Home Office statistics;

• Immigration Enforcement was restructured in 2013, and additional staff were recruited to strengthen the Home Office’s capacity to deal with enforcement casework;

• the terms of the contract for management of the MRP records were defined on the basis of a pilot that had not accurately reflected the composition of the MRP. As a result, Capita’s work took longer, and cost more, than was originally anticipated;

• the MRP still contained records that should have been excluded, such as records relating to asylum applications. This not only impacted on the Home Office’s ability to pursue enforcement cases to conclusion, but also rendered the figures unreliable;

• the number of additional pre-December 2008 MRP records that the Home Office provided means that the total MRP figure has almost doubled, although this information had not been reported to Parliament at the time of our inspection;

• there were significant inaccuracies in Capita’s classification of MRP records. Sixteen of our sample of 57 records which were closed because the migrant had been found to have left the UK were completed in error, with the result that these wrongly counted towards Home Office removal statistics. In the light of this, we estimated that departures could have been overstated by more than 1,140 in 2013/14, more than a quarter of the total of 4,080 claimed by Capita in that year (28%);

• these errors arose because of incorrect use of Advance Passenger Information (API), which also meant that Capita misidentified some people as overstayers who had in fact complied fully with immigration legislation.

• the API data available to Capita was incomplete, a potentially serious issue given that this information is needed for accurate monitoring of migrant movements into and out of the UK.

• the outsourcing of the MRP data cleanse had not fulfilled most of the benefits that the Home Office had claimed would result. Despite an inflow of 185,313 cases in 2013/14, there was no overall reduction;

• the overall number of post-2008 records in the MRP had fallen by only 3.6% between April 2013 and April 2014, and there was no evidence that Capita’s work had increased the number of enforced removals that the Home Office had been able to achieve;

• the casework element of the contract had contributed little to the Home Office’s enforcement objectives. Less than 1% of those who had passed through the Capita contact management process (0.73%) had departed after contact;

• the average weekly flow of cases into Removals Core Casework exceeded outflow by 82%. We found systemic problems that we considered made the managers’ objective to bring this into balance by 2015, as unrealistic, especially given that our analysis showed that a 400% increase in output would be required;

• case progression was not being effectively managed overall. Capita processes often did not accurately identify suitable cases for enforcement. Cases were not being allocated by workflow teams in line with national priorities, and once allocated were not being progressed efficiently.

• basic procedures were being neglected. For example, in 22% and 29% of two file samples of cases passed to RCC casework teams for enforcement action, no attempt had been made to bring migrants into regular contact with the Home Office;

• metrics used to monitor performance were not transparent, and were sometimes misleading. RCC used the term ‘conclusion’ to cover a range of caseworking actions that did not lead to either grants or removals, but in fact were only transfers to another Home Office unit;

• there was a lack of alignment between RCC and locally-based Immigration Compliance & Enforcement (ICE) teams, to progress cases that are ready for detention and removal.;

• mechanisms for tracing individuals who were out of contact were not effective, and consistent action was not being taken to locate absconders.

Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, John Vine CBE QPM:

“Any failure to take action against foreign nationals who overstay their permission to be in the UK has the potential to undermine public confidence in immigration control.

At the start of this inspection I was informed of the existence of a further 223,600 records, predating December 2008, which had not previously been included within the MRP.

It is clear that considerable efforts had been made by both the contractor and the Home Office to manage the work on the MRP. However, I found that many of the expected financial and strategic benefits have not materialised, with far fewer migrants having been persuaded to depart than anticipated.

Of the 120,000 people whose cases were sent to Capita for contact to be made, I found that less than 1% had left as a result of Capita’s intervention. The overall size of the post-2008 MRP has remained almost static, standing at 173,562. However, without this intervention, the total would have been considerably higher.

I was disappointed to find a high level of inaccuracy in the classification of MRP records, with more than a quarter of departures in my sample being incorrectly recorded.

Considerable improvements in the Home Office’s capability to monitor, progress, and prioritise the immigration enforcement caseload will be needed to deliver its strategy for reducing the level of irregular migration.”

The Chief Inspector made 13 recommendations for improvement. These included the Home Office improving the quality of MRP data so that it can report accurately to Ministers and Parliament; improving the contact management process so that more migrants are persuaded to depart; re-evaluating the casework element of the Capita contract to ensure that it is a cost-effective use of public resources; and ensures effective joint working between the different units within Immigration Enforcement

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