Independent Chief Inspector for Borders and Immigration publishes Inspection Plan for 2015-16

The Independent Chief Inspector for Borders and Immigration has today (25 June) published the inspection plan for 2015-16.

The announced inspections are:

  • An inspection of the effectiveness of the administrative review system introduced in 2014 to replace in-country rights of appeal.
  • An inspection of Border Force operations at Manchester Airport.
  • An inspection focussing on how intelligence is assessed, acted upon and disseminated across the Home Office.
  • A thematic inspection of complaints handling across the three border and immigration directorates.
  • An inspection to assess whether Home Office contractors are effectively discharging their duties and offering good value for money.
  • A thematic inspection to assess how effective the Home Office’s attempts have been to reduce illegal migration through the creation of a hostile environment.

There will also be at least six short notice or unannounced inspections during the year.

The Independent Advisory Group on Country Information will continue to provide its important strand of inspection work on behalf of the Inspectorate, scrutinising the quality of country of origin material being produced by the Home Office for use when making decisions on asylum claims.

David Bolt, Independent Chief Inspector for Borders and Immigration:

‘The effective and efficient working of the UK’s border and immigration functions continues to be of great interest to those responsible for delivering these functions, to Parliament, and to the Public, not least because we are all touched by them.

This inspection plan focuses on those areas where inspection can help to provide assurance and, where necessary, to drive improvement in effectiveness and efficiency.  In setting the plan, I have taken account of measures introduced as a result of new legislation (the Immigration Act 2014), of changes within the three responsible Home Office Directorates (Border Force, UK Visas and Immigration, and Immigration Enforcement), of findings and recommendations from previous inspection reports, and of the views of key stakeholders.’

2015 Reviews of Country Information and Guidance Reports

April 2015

China

India

Pakistan

Uganda

Eritrea

 

 

 

 

New Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, David Bolt, takes up post

David Bolt, the new Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, officially took up his post last week (1 May 2015). He has been appointed to the Chief Inspector role for a fixed term of two years.

Mr Bolt, who has held senior positions in the arenas of national security and crime-fighting, including at the National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS) and the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA), will continue the important work of scrutinising the effectiveness and efficiency of border and immigration operational practices.

Important role of the Inspectorate

David Bolt, Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration:

 ‘The Inspectorate’s role in providing detailed, independent scrutiny of the UK’s border and immigration functions is vital. Since its inception in 2005 the Inspectorate has acted as a catalyst for improvement across these functions.

 I am delighted to have been appointed as Independent Chief Inspector and aim to maintain the high standards set by my predecessor John Vine and the Inspectorate he built.”

Mr Bolt’s predecessor, John Vine, was the first Independent Chief Inspector and occupied the role for almost seven years before stepping down at the end of December 2014.

Career

Prior to his appointment as Independent Chief Inspector, Mr Bolt spent five years as Chief Executive of the International Federation of Spirits Producers (IFSP) Ltd, which works to combat the counterfeiting of its members’ distilled spirits.

Between 2006 and 2010 he was Executive Director of Intelligence at Serious Organised Crime Agency, with responsibility for knowledge management, tasking and co-ordination and covert collection. He was Deputy Director General at National Crime Intelligence Service between 2001 and 2006, with responsibility for the Corporate Governance Division and Strategic Intelligence.  From 2001 to 2010 edited of the annual UK Threat Assessment of Organised Crime.  Prior to 2001, for 25 years Mr Bolt was a member of the Security Service, serving in a range of operational and policy roles, from Executive Officer to Assistant Under Secretary (Director).

Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration: Annual Report 2013-14

“It gives me great pleasure to present my sixth and final annual report as the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration. It brings to a close my tenure which has seen me deliver over 70 inspection reports, 18 in the past year alone, in which I have made over 500 recommendations for improvement.

Whilst there has been measurable progress in some areas of immigration and border control, much remains to be done to provide the public and Parliament with assurance that the Home Office’s operations in this area are as effective as possible. Despite the abolition of the UK Border Agency and the functions being brought back under direct Ministerial control in the Home Office, many challenges persist and impact on public confidence.”

I still find too much evidence that the Home Office does not get the basics right. This includes the quality and consistency of decision making but also having caseworkers with the right skills, aligning resources to the right priorities and having high quality management information that provides a sound basis on which to make decisions on future strategy and resourcing.

There are continuing challenges in asylum. I have been able to evidence some improvements in the Home Office’s handling of asylum cases. However, the Home Office needs to ensure that it makes good quality decisions in a timely manner, treats all these vulnerable applicants with dignity and respect, and uses public money wisely.

Whilst there is a much improved picture of consistency of passport checks at ports I am concerned that this has sometimes been at the expense of appropriate levels of customs activity at the border. Both activities are vital in securing the border and in preventing and detecting those who smuggle goods and people in to the UK.

Within enforcement activity, whilst I understand the difficulties involved in identifying and obtaining temporary travel documentation for individuals, there needs to be more effective identification and removal of those who have no right to remain in the UK.

Finally, there is an ongoing need for the Home Office to maintain management grip of the quality, consistency and fairness of its work. I have repeatedly had to report on the lack of quality assurance by managers across the board and I have identified a number of backlogs of work that senior officials had not been aware of. Going forward, there needs to be improved strategic cohesion between the directorates within the Home Office in delivering a seamless immigration function, coupled with better management oversight and assurance processes to provide Ministers with confidence that policy is being delivered effectively and that guidance is being followed by staff.

The inspectorate that I have created is, as far as I can gather, the only one of its kind in the world. It has been a privilege to work with all my staff over my six and a half years in post.

I believe that independent inspection has been and will continue to be an important catalyst for improvement and I am immensely proud of the inspectorate and of what it has achieved.

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

Visa Interviews Adding Value to Decision-Making but Improvements Required

The Home Office’s re-introduction of interviews for visa applications globally was handled impressively and was adding value to decision-making in high-risk visa posts. However, student visa refusal rates were not increasing as expected and opportunities to improve the quality of interviews were being lost. These were among the Independent Chief Inspector’s findings in his report on Visa Interviewing.

Interviews for certain types of visas were reduced when the Points Based System (PBS) was introduced in 2008. However, subsequent abuse of the system, particularly by students, led to interviews being increased in 2012. There are two formats of interview: a video credibility interview (commonly referred to as a VTC interview) and a substantive interview . The inspection assessed the effectiveness of both video credibility interviews and substantive interviews, conducted either by agency staff in Sheffield or by Entry Clearance Officers at visa posts overseas (India, China, Nigeria).

The Chief Inspector was pleased to find that:

• the implementation of video credibility interviews had been managed effectively by the Home Office;

• the installation of video technology in visa application centres in a number of global locations was an impressive feat and the Home Office managed the change programme effectively;

• substantive interviews conducted at visa posts were adding real value to the decision-making process. This was particularly important for refusal cases that would have been issued with a visa under the previous system;

• video credibility interviews were adding value to the decision-making process in high-risk locations such as Abuja and Chennai. However, this was the case in low-risk locations such as Shanghai;

• facilities at the Sheffield interviewing hub were impressive, and efficient workflow processes ensured that applicants at visa application centres overseas were dealt with effectively;

• in a large majority of cases, staff at Sheffield were correctly identifying whether applicants were credible;

• the Home Office continued to meet its customer service standards in the majority of posts.

However, the Chief Inspector also found that:

• there was no increase in the refusal rate for Tier 4 student applications, which was one of the predicted benefits of the interviewing project;

• in low-risk locations where the majority of visa applications resulted in a visa issue, the VTC added limited value. For example, in Shanghai we found only one case in our file sample where we considered the VTC to have added value;

• an absence of formal feedback mechanisms from visa posts meant that staff in Sheffield had no way of knowing whether they were conducting interviews effectively;

• the quality assessment process that was in place placed too much emphasis on presentation rather than focusing on the quality of the interview. As a result, opportunities to improve the VTC interviewing process were being lost;

• the VTC interview did not give staff the opportunity to ask relevant follow-up questions beyond those that were pre-programmed within the interview template. This meant that in certain instances staff could not fully explore key aspects of the case;

• some ECOs at visa posts were not always utilising substantive interviews when they should have;

• staff were not always recording the reasons why applicants were being invited to attend interviews at visa posts. The lack of a proper audit trail meant that managers could not be assured that the right applicants were being selected for interview.

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

“The implementation of video interviews was a challenging programme of work. The Home Secretary target was to complete more than 100,000 interviews during 2013/14. That this target was exceeded demonstrated that the programme had been managed and delivered effectively by the Home Office.

Video interviews were adding value in high-risk locations where there were higher numbers of non-genuine students. Substantive interviews were also adding value to the visa decision-making process.

However, in low-risk locations where the majority of visa applications resulted in a visa issue, the VTC added limited value. The Home Office should consider whether a risk-based approach would deliver increased benefits that would target resources more effectively.”

The Chief Inspector made seven recommendations for improvement. These included that the Home Office re-assesses whether a risk-based approach to video teleconferencing interviews would deliver increased benefits and target resources more effectively; improves interviewing training so that ECOs are equipped with the skills to conduct interviews effectively; and widens the scope of the quality assurance regime in the Sheffield interview to include an assessment of the quality of the interview itself.

Home Office not Scrutinising British Nationality Applications Appropriately

Despite a strong focus on customer service and police and immigration checks the Home Office was not scrutinizing applications thoroughly to ensure decisions to grant British citizenship were sound. As a result, nationality was granted to individuals who did not meet the ‘good character’ requirement.

The granting of British citizenship is an important decision which confers a number of significant benefits to successful applicants. These include the right to a British passport, unrestricted entry to and exit from the UK, the right to vote and the right to hold public office. Decisions therefore need to balance effective customer service with appropriate scrutiny. This inspection examined how effectively UK Visas & Immigration (UKVI) managed these responsibilities.

The Chief Inspector was pleased to find that:

• there was strong focus on providing good customer service and the customer service standard in determining applications within six months was exceeded throughout 2013.

• police and immigration checks were conducted on every applicant;

• all applications were sifted for cases of potential war crimes or security services interest and we found that decisions to deprive citizenship were evidence-based and reasonable;

• nationality Casework had created an effective partnership with local authority service providers under the umbrella of the Nationality Checking Service (NCS).This meant applications were of better quality and less likely to be refused;

However, the Chief Inspector also found that:

• applications were not scrutinised appropriately. In particular, caseworkers were not sufficiently looking for, or taking account of, evidence of character. This resulted in British citizenship being granted to applicants with very poor immigration histories;

• in some cases applicants who had very poor immigration histories over protracted periods of time, including during the qualifying period for naturalisation were granted citizenship. The poor histories included having no leave to enter or remain for long periods, working illegally and absconding;

• apart from automated police and immigration checks, virtually no other checks were conducted to establish the good character of applicants;

• no attempts were made to check an applicant’s criminal record in the country of nationality, despite Home Office guidance on how to obtain this from many countries around the world. Even where an applicant disclosed criminal convictions overseas, it could still be difficult to refuse the application if the convictions could not be confirmed by other means;

• far too much reliance was placed on self-declaration by applicants. This meant that, unless an applicant declared financial problems or that they had practised tax avoidance, benefit fraud etc, no other checks were made to verify this;

• the lack of detail on the casework database concerning previous applications, combined with the practice of not referring to paper files, meant caseworkers could be unaware of information which was relevant to the applicant’s character;

• the eligibility requirements in respect of referees were disregarded and played no part in the decision-making process;

• there was no evidence of any consideration being given to prosecuting applicants who had used deception to obtain British citizenship, other than in a small number of cases involving organised crime;

• there were significant delays in dealing with allegations concerning deception in order to obtain British citizenship. This meant that allegations which led to nullity action being taken took three years on average to progress. Decisions to revoke leave and/or pursue removal as a result of this nullity action had also not been progressed.

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

“The granting of British citizenship is a profoundly significant step for both the individual and the UK. Therefore, I was concerned to find that Nationality Casework had not struck the right balance between this and the need to scrutinise applications thoroughly to ensure that decisions to grant British citizenship were evidence-based.

UKVI guidance which allowed caseworkers to disregard evasion of immigration control during the qualifying period, where there was no other evidence to cast doubt on an applicant’s good character, had resulted in a ‘blanket approach’ being adopted.

While I accept that there is a judgement to be made when interpreting the good character requirement, I believe it was wrong to disregard a poor history of evading immigration control when this occurred within the qualifying period.

The Home Office must apply the rules fairly and rigorously so that parliament and the public have confidence in the system.”

The Chief Inspector made 12 recommendations for improvement. These included that the Home Office ensures that the Home Secretary approves the overall approach concerning the use of discretion in cases where applicants do not meet the statutory requirements; ensures that good character checks are always undertaken in cases involving evasion of immigration control; ensures that, when there are serious doubts about the credibility of an application, caseworkers have the ability to call applicants in for a face-to-face interview; and introduces random checking procedures with other government departments and credit reference agencies to ensure that decision-making is not reliant solely on an applicant’s declaration.

Border Force’s Seized Goods Warehouses Secure, but Risk of Theft Exists

Warehouses to store seized goods, such as cigarettes and alcohol, were operating good systems of stock control. However, poor record keeping and discrepancies between quantities of good seized and those arriving at warehouses created opportunities for goods to be stolen and had the potential to put at risk the prosecution of smugglers. These were the findings in the Chief Inspector’s report on Border Force’s Queen’s Warehouses.

Queen’s Warehouses (QWs) are used as secure storage locations for material that has been seized or detained by Border Force, HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) and the National Crime Agency (NCA). Examples of such seizures include excise goods (cigarettes, tobacco and alcohol), firearms and prohibited drugs. These storage locations are known as Queen’s Warehouses because when goods are seized they become ‘forfeit to the Crown’.

The Chief Inspector was pleased to find that:

• each QW inspected operated a good system of stock control and undertook stock-taking audits that provided reassurance as to the quality of their systems;

• law enforcement partners were consistent in their praise for the service that QWs provided;

• new assurance procedures, designed to provide greater confidence in the actions and activities undertaken at each of these locations were beginning to be implemented;

However, the Chief Inspector also found that:

• the majority of bulk seized excise goods arriving at Queen’s Warehouses contained some sort of discrepancy, relating either to the seals that were used to secure loads or to the paperwork not matching the goods;

• the risks caused by such poor record-keeping:

• created opportunities for both Border Force and contractor staff to steal goods;

• adversely affected the important maintenance of an effective audit trail for evidential purposes; and

• had the potential to embarrass and/or damage the reputation of the Home Office.

• these risks had been compounded by Border Force, because historically it had failed to implement robust procedures and effective assurance practices. As a result, QW staff had failed to grasp the importance of their roles in the evidential chain;

• HMRC was not informed about the frequent errors being made by its staff when seizing excise goods. This was despite detailed statistics being available;

• there were significant delays in the timely disposal of seized goods, some of which had been stored for periods in excess of 12 years;

• Border Force classified seized drugs as having no commercial value when they were due for destruction, and notified the weight and type of goods to the driver of the contracted security company who transported the goods to incinerators. These consignments would have significant value to organised criminal groups, who might view them as an easy target.

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

“The Home Office network of Queen’s Warehouses performs a vital function in protecting the border, by ensuring the security of seized material including drugs, firearms and excise goods. At any time a large volume of seized goods are stored. The risks associated with storing such high value goods in one place are significant.

I found that once goods were deposited at the warehouses they were stored safely and securely, with each Queen’s Warehouse operating an effective system of stock control.

However, I found a high number of discrepancies between the records of goods seized and goods received at Queen’s Warehouses. This is unacceptable in such a high-risk environment and has the potential to put at risk the prosecution of offenders.

The Home Office needs to ensure that the risks of seized goods being lost or stolen, including when they are transported for disposal, are mitigated in order to ensure that any consequential reputational damage is reduced to a minimum.”

The Chief Inspector made six recommendations for improvement. These included that the Home Office improves the accuracy of record-keeping to reduce the risks of theft and loss, ensures that QW staff understand and follow the principles of the Criminal Procedures and Investigations Act 1996 and improves management oversight of the Queen’s Warehouse operation.

Joint Home Office and Police Operation Leading to Increased Departures but Room for Improvement Exists

A joint Home Office and police operation to identify and remove high-risk foreign offenders and those not entitled to be in the UK had resulted in a significant increase in the number who had left the UK. However, the Chief Inspector found more could be done to make the initiative more effective.

Operation Nexus is a joint Home Office and Police Service initiative to identify and remove or deport those who pose a risk to the public or who are not entitled to be in the UK. The most significant feature involves stationing Immigration Officers at police custody suites to assist with the identification and management of immigration offenders.

The Chief Inspector was pleased to find that:

  •  Op Nexus resulted in a significant increase in the number of requests made by the Met for the Home Office to check whether a foreign national was entitled to reside in the UK , rising from 4,373 checks in July 2013 to 6,403 in November 2013 (44%). This saw a corresponding rise in the number of immigration offenders being identified, with 1,553 detected between October 2013 and January 2014, compared to 1,134 between October 2011 and January 2012, an increase of 37%;
  • there was a 158% increase in the number of immigration offenders who were identified after an encounter with the Met police and subsequently left the UK, rising from 418 in 2011/12 to 1,077 in 2013/14, an increase of 158%;
  • linking police and Home Office fingerprint databases meant arrested individuals were automatically checked to determine if they were a foreign national, increasing the prospect of a status checks being requested from the Home Office;
  •  the police referring to the Home Office cases which met their definition of ‘high harm,’ resulted in 85 removals or deportations in 2013/14;
  •  senior Police Officers were very positive about the potential of the ‘high harm’ work stream, which had resulted in the removal or deportation of 85 foreign nationals in 2013/14.

However, the Chief Inspector also found that:

  • in the West Midlands, the number of status checks requested by the police had increased considerably by 122%, but this had not translated into a similar increase in the number of immigration offenders being transferred into immigration detention. This was in direct contrast to London, which saw an 88% increase in the average number of immigration offenders per month being transferred directly into immigration detention from suites with embedded IOs;
  • some foreign nationals passing through the three embedded WMP custody suites did not appear to have their immigration status checked and that some embedded IOs did not have unrestricted access to custody suites;
  • in 15 out of the 33 cases (45%), where immigration offenders had not yet been removed or deported, the Home Office was not taking effective steps to secure these outcomes, due to not managing ETD applications effectively, not making decisions on applications for further leave to remain and not attempting to detain offenders who could be removed;
  • Immigration Enforcement removals casework and enforcement teams were experiencing difficulty in coping with the additional casework that was being generated by Op Nexus;
  • embedded IOs were not following a consistent process when reporting the number of status checks they had undertaken;
  • Emergency Travel Documentation forms were not completed in six out of 28 non-detained cases (21%) where the IO had contact with the immigration offender;
  • written records of interviews under caution had not been retained in seven of the 11 cases we examined (64%).

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

“It was clear that this aspect of Nexus was having a positive impact in London, with greater numbers of immigration offenders being identified and removed or deported from the UK as a result.

I was pleased to see that the Police and Home Office were sharing resources and intelligence to target ‘high harm’ individuals. Its potential was demonstrated by the removal or deportation of potentially dangerous foreign nationals.

However, although the number of such outcomes had also increased in the West Midlands, the rate of improvement was slower than in London and in some cases foreign nationals were not having their status checked before being released.  

In order to be even more effective, Nexus needs to be consolidated by making sure that casework and enforcement teams are positioned to capitalise on the opportunities presented. In particular, emergency travel documents need to be obtained promptly and enforcement visits conducted swiftly.”

 The Chief Inspector made FIVE recommendations for improvement. These included that the Home Office takes action to improve the number of removals in the West Midlands Police Force area and maintains accurate central records of the total number of status checks that are undertaken at custody suites.

Home Office Providing Effective Training on Gay Asylum Cases but Unsatisfactory Questions Must be Eradicated

The Home Office’s guidance and training on asylum cases based on sexual orientation was concise and clear, and most asylum interviews complied with guidance. However, the guidance was not being applied consistently and unsatisfactory questions were found in a sample of cases. These were some of the key findings of the Chief Inspector’s investigation into the Home Office’s handling of asylum claims based on sexual orientation.

Asylum is protection given by a country to someone who is fleeing persecution in their own country. The UK recognises asylum claims based on sexual orientation – lesbian, gay or bisexual (LGB). The Home Office stated that, in 2013, 1.4% (283) of all asylum claims in the UK were made on the grounds of sexual orientation.

In February 2014 the Observer newspaper published an article which included an extract from an asylum interview during which an applicant had been asked inappropriate and sexually explicit questions by a Home Office caseworker. As a result of this, the Chief Inspector was asked by the Home Secretary to investigate the Department’s handling of asylum claims made on the basis of sexual orientation.

The Chief Inspector found that:

• the Home Office had worked effectively with stakeholders to produce specific guidance and training on the handling of sexual orientation claims;

• the guidance was concise and clear, addressing difficult areas with sensitivity and, in particular, emphasising that sexually explicit questions of the type highlighted in the Observer are never acceptable;

• the quality of training for new asylum caseworkers and delivery of training on sexual orientation matters was good. Refresher training had recently been provided to more experienced staff;

• there was inconsistent practice between teams dealing with detained and non-detained applicants. The Detained Fast Track (DFT) accepted sexually explicit material submitted as evidence, whereas the non-detained areas did not. There is a risk of procedural unfairness if the Department does not have a consistent approach;

• most of the substantive asylum interviews complied with guidance. There were no questions in the sampled files of the type highlighted in the Observer article, but a fifth of interviews contained some stereotyping and a tenth contained questions of an unsatisfactory nature;

• unsatisfactory questions were more than twice as common within the DFT and included questions likely to elicit sexually explicit responses or querying the validity of same-sex relationships.

• there was no direct correlation between unsatisfactory lines of questioning and the likelihood of a claim being refused.

• despite stakeholder concerns about the difficulties of disclosing sexuality, nearly all sampled applicants had been able to disclose their sexual orientation before or at their screening interviews;

• over a third of sampled applicants, however, claimed asylum on sexual orientation grounds months or years after arrival in the UK, often following a refusal of leave on other grounds. The majority of these were rejected, with decisions upheld on appeal;

 • management information on sexual orientation claims was inadequate, and only around a third of sexual orientation cases had been recorded as such, so the Home Office had under reported the incidence of these cases; and

• the allowed appeal rate for DFT sexual orientation decisions was over double the rate for DFT asylum claims as a whole.

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

“Asylum applicants, particularly those in fear of persecution based on their sexuality, are often vulnerable individuals.

I was pleased to find that guidance and training for caseworkers was generally clear and concise and dealt with difficult and sensitive areas of questioning. I did not find any questions of the type highlighted in the Observer article, but over a tenth of interviews did contain questions of an unsatisfactory nature.

Such questions are not acceptable and the Home Office must work to eradicate them. I did not, however, identify any direct correlation between inappropriate lines of questioning and the likelihood of a claim being refused.

I was concerned to find differences in the way DFT cases were handled, with more likelihood of unsatisfactory questions being asked and sexually explicit material being considered as evidence. The allowed appeal rate in these cases was also over double that of DFT’s asylum claims as a whole.

I have recommended that the Home Office ensures that caseworkers do not ask sexually explicit questions, and equips them with the interviewing skills to cope professionally when sexually explicit responses are received.”

The Chief Inspector made eight recommendations for improvement. These included that the Home Office should ensure a consistent approach towards the handling of explicit material presented to support an asylum claim, and that all asylum claims made on grounds of sexual orientation should be accurately recorded as such.