The Chief Inspector examined the impact of the removal of full appeal rights on Family Visitor applicants.

The removal of the full right of appeal from Family Visitor visa applicants had not led to a higher refusal rate or an overall reduction in decision quality. However, record keeping and quality assurance was inconsistent across visa posts, which created a risk of unequal and unfair treatment of applicants.

Foreign nationals wishing to visit family members in the UK can apply by making a Family Visitor visa application from overseas. Applications are made to the UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) Directorate of the Home Office through one of its global network of visa posts and should be considered against a specific set of requirements.

In 2013, the full right of appeal for applicants seeking entry to the UK as a Family Visitor was removed. The Home Office stated that by lifting the burden of processing 40-50,000 Family Visitor visa refusal appeals a year staff could concentrate on UKVI’s core visa business. It believed that this change would result in improved customer service and decision-making.

This inspection therefore examined the impact of the removal of full appeal rights on Family Visitor applicants, by assessing the quality and consistency of decision making in respect of applications.

The Chief Inspector found that:

  • there was no evidence that the removal of the full right of appeal from Family Visitor visa applicants had led to a higher refusal rate or to an overall reduction in decision quality
  • at some visa posts, particularly those that had been criticised in previous inspections, there had been significant improvements in decision quality;
  • UKVI had implemented a training programme which had led to clearer, more personalised refusal notices, with the reasons for refusal set out in a comprehensible way;
  • entry clearance staff were using risk profiles to inform decision-making, and in general had a good appreciation of risk factors.  Additional verification checks were being used effectively to support decision-making, and had added value in 90% of the cases where they had been carried out;
  • the UKVI Operating Mandate, introduced in November 2014 was a positive development, setting out mandatory checks to assure the identity and security of visa applicants;
  • overall the visa sections inspected were meeting their customer service standards.

The Chief Inspector also found that:

  • of the cases sampled, 65 (13%) refusals and 111 (56%) cases where a visa was issued contained insufficient evidence or notes to enable a full audit of the decision. Practice regarding the retention of evidence varied widely between posts, despite eight previous reports making recommendations on this issue;
  • in 211(42%) of the refusal cases sampled the refusal notice provided to the applicant was not balanced, and failed to show that consideration had been given to both positive and negative evidence;
  • posts were using different decision-making criteria and these inconsistencies risk applicants receiving unequal and potentially unfair treatment;
  • quality assurance of decisions was not working as well as it should, and issues had not been picked up in 28 (26%) of the refusal cases that had been quality assured by an Entry Clearance Manager (ECM);
  • rather than re-apply, as the quicker and cheaper alternative to pursuing an appeal, as the Home Office had expected and had factored in to the benefits case for removing appeal rights, some refused applicants were putting in informal reconsideration requests.  Visa posts were not dealing with these requests consistently, leading to some long delays and to variable responses.

Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, David Bolt:

“The inspection found that removal of the full right of appeal from Family Visitor visa applicants had not led to a higher refusal rate, or to an overall reduction in decision quality. UKVI had taken steps to train staff, to improve processes, and to balance the requirements of risk management and customer service.

“However, the handling of applications was inconsistent across different visa posts, with some inadequate record keeping, which created a risk of unequal and unfair treatment for some applicants. The recommendations therefore focus primarily on clarifying the standards expected and improving consistency of delivery.”

The Chief Inspector made seven recommendations for improvement. These included that the Home Office ensure that relevant supporting documents are retained or notes made to enable a full audit trail of decisions, decisions are made consistently and fairly against the correct criteria at all posts and clarifies its policy on reconsideration requests.

An inspection of Family Visitor visa applications

NOTES TO EDITOR

  1. Copies of this report will be added to the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration’s website (independent.gov.uk/icinspector) once it has been laid in Parliament on 16 July 2015.
  2. David Bolt took up the post of Independent Chief Inspector on 1 May 2015. For more information visit http://icinspector.independent.gov.uk/2015/05/06/new-independent-chief-inspector-of-borders-and-immigration-david-bolt-takes-up-post/
  1. With effect from 25 June 2013, the full right of appeal for applicants seeking entry to the UK as a Family Visitor was removed, by virtue of section 52 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013, bringing appeal arrangements for Family Visitor visa applicants into line with those for other categories of visitors. An appeal may still be made on human rights or race discrimination grounds.
  1. With the removal of a full right of appeal, Family Visitor visa refusal cases fall within the Chief Inspector’s statutory remit as the Independent Monitor for Entry Clearance Refusals without the Right of Appeal, which requires that applicants are safeguarded from wrongful decision -making by reviewing entry clearance decisions to ensure that they are fair and consistent.
  2. For media enquiries please contact Alex Cheatle on 0203 513 0442 or alexander.cheatle@icinspector.gsi.gov.uk. The Chief Inspector will be taking bids from print and online media only.

The Chief Inspector finds that Border Force Operations at Heathrow Airport have improved in a number of areas.

The Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration’s latest report on Border Force Operations at Heathrow Airport found that its performance had improved in a number of areas since the 2012 investigation into border security checks. For the most part, Border Force was efficient and effective in delivering its core functions. However, issues remained in relation to management oversight and assurance.

Border Force is responsible for securing the border by carrying out immigration checks and customs controls for people and goods entering the UK. This inspection focused primarily on Border Force Operations at Terminal 5, the airport’s busiest terminal handling over 13 Million passenger arrivals in the 12 months to April 2014.

The Chief Inspector found that:

  • all Border Force Officers (BFOs) were aware of and conducting security checks in accordance with the Border Force Operating Mandate;
  • BFOs interacted professionally with passengers at the immigration and customs control points;
  • the majority of decisions whether to grant or refuse entry to the UK were made in accordance with policy and guidance;
  • improvements had been made in relation to detection of forged travel documents;
  • staffing had been increased and this, coupled with better resource management oversight, had improved customer service. As a result, passenger queues were being processed more efficiently;
  • Border Force had introduced a number of initiatives in relation to safeguarding individuals, including steps to safeguard and promote the welfare of children.

However, the Chief Inspector also found that:

  • as with previous port inspections, there were serious weaknesses in Border Force’s creation, maintenance and storage of records. This meant it was unable, in some cases, to demonstrate that actions taken by BFOs were lawful, proportionate or in compliance with policy and guidance;
  • some BFOs were not always making a recommendation to the Watchlist Information & Control Unit (WICU) to delete an entry when it was no longer valid. This meant some passengers were being needlessly delayed, and staff were wasting time on nugatory checks;
  • Border Force was not maintaining accurate passenger detention records in all instances and in some cases, it was unable to demonstrate that the initial detention and the time spent in detention were necessary;
  • Border Force was unable to demonstrate the justification for intercepting passengers in the customs channels in the majority of the cases sampled as part of the inspection, and also could not show that these passengers had been informed of their rights;
  • BFOs in the customs channels were not always adhering to guidance, which required them to complete notebook records at the time, or shortly after, an event had taken place. In addition, passengers stopped in the customs channels were not being asked to sign notebook entries;
  • BFOs were not always enforcing the law when passengers travelling from outside the EU were detected carrying goods in excess of their duty free allowance in the customs channels;

Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, David Bolt:

“The inspection found that Border Force at Heathrow had made a number of improvements since 2012 and, for the most part, was performing effectively and efficiently.

“However, this positive picture in terms of core business is somewhat let down by failings in basic procedures and practices, including record keeping, which management oversight and assurance should have identified and tackled.

“Border Force needs to give sufficient priority to addressing this issue to ensure it does not continue to be a cause for concern.”

The Chief Inspector made six recommendations for improvement. These included that Border Force ensures all searches of person are justified, proportionate and conducted in accordance with the law and guidance, with proper documentary records maintained, and that all detection staff enforce the law where they discover passengers in possession of goods in excess of their duty free allowances.

Inspection of Border Force Operations at Heathrow Airport

NOTES TO EDITOR

  1. Copies of this report will be added to the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration’s website (independent.gov.uk/icinspector) once it has been laid in Parliament on 16 July 2015.
  2. David Bolt took up the post of Independent Chief Inspector on 1 May 2015. For more information visit http://icinspector.independent.gov.uk/2015/05/06/new-independent-chief-inspector-of-borders-and-immigration-david-bolt-takes-up-post/
  3. The 2012 Investigation was conducted at the request of the Home Secretary following the disclosure that some checks may have been suspended without the approval of Ministers.
  4. For media enquiries please contact Alex Cheatle on 0203 513 0442 or alexander.cheatle@icinspector.gsi.gov.uk. The Chief Inspector will be taking bids from print and online media only.

The Home Office had tightened up the inspection regime for educational establishments sponsoring foreign students under Tier 4 of the points-based system.

The Home Office had tightened up the inspection regime for educational establishments sponsoring foreign students under Tier 4 of the points-based system.  Previously, there were weaknesses in procedures and practices at the local level, which had led to inconsistent and ineffective compliance checking.

In 2014, the Home Office suspended 57 private colleges from the Tier 4 sponsor register. This was as a result of investigations initiated when systematic cheating was uncovered at English Language Test Centres operated by the Educational Testing Service (ETS).  This inspection examined how effectively the Home Office monitored Tier 4 sponsors’ compliance with their sponsor duties, and also looked at the Home Office’s handling of its investigations into sponsors linked to ETS (known as Operation Firewall).

The Chief Inspector found that:

  • the selection of sponsors for a compliance visit was based on an effective risk assessment process;
  • an increased proportion of compliance visits were unannounced, where the sponsor was given no prior notice of the visit and therefore had no opportunity to fix or try to hide any non-compliance. In the six months to end-July 2014, 179 (87%) out of 205 visits were unannounced;
  • compliance visit reports were completed in a timely fashion, with 98% completed within 10 working days;
  • as part of Operation Firewall the Home Office needed to complete a large number of complex compliance visits quickly. This was achieved and by the time of this inspection, 169 sponsors had been visited, and 54 licences had been revoked;
  • following Operation Firewall, a number of changes had been made to the way Tier 4 sponsor compliance was handled. For example, a dedicated Tier 4 compliance network had been created, dealing solely with Tier 4 compliance visits.

The Chief Inspector also found that:

  • some pre-Firewall compliance visits had not been sufficiently thorough, and there had been little or no management scrutiny of visit reports where sponsors had been reported by the compliance officer to be fully compliant;
  • the Home Office had failed to follow-up on reports of compliance failings by a number of the sponsors later suspended as a result of Operation Firewall;
  • the quality of compliance reports varied considerably, with many lacking any details of the compliance checks completed or information to support the results of those checks.

Independent Chief Inspector for Borders and Immigration, David Bolt:

“Operation Firewall was a success in terms of the way UKVI swiftly mobilised to deal with the problems with ETS identified by the media.  The control measures put in place since have improved the effectiveness of the Tier 4 compliance regime.

“Prior to Firewall, inconsistencies in the way compliance officers worked, and inadequate management oversight, meant that some educational establishments were not checked thoroughly enough and others were allowed to retain their sponsor status despite doubts having been raised about their compliance.

“The fact that compliance officers are geographically dispersed is an advantage when arranging sponsor visits, but requires more engaged and more consistent management to ensure that everyone is operating to the same high standards.”

The Chief Inspector made five recommendations for improvement. These included the Home Office strengthening its quality assurance regime and ceasing the practice of compliance reporting by exception.

Inspection of the Effectiveness of the Monitoring of Tier 4 Sponsor Licences

NOTES TO EDITORS

  1. Copies of this report will be added to the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration’s website (independent.gov.uk/icinspector) once it has been laid in Parliament on 16 July 2015.
  2. David Bolt took up the post of Independent Chief Inspector on 1 May 2015. For more information visit http://icinspector.independent.gov.uk/2015/05/06/new-independent-chief-inspector-of-borders-and-immigration-david-bolt-takes-up-post/
  3. Non-EEA foreign nationals who wish to take up a study course in the UK lasting over six months must apply for leave to enter or remain under Tier 4 of the points-based system.
  4. All foreign students must have a sponsor before they can apply to study in the UK under Tier 4 of PBS, and sponsors must assess the student’s ability and intention to complete the course before issuing a Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS).
  5. In order to ensure that sponsors are complying with their sponsorship duties, the Home Office visits sponsors to check the facilities and processes, including record-keeping systems. These are known as compliance visits. The Home Office can carry out compliance visits at any time and these may be announced or unannounced.
  6. For media enquiries please contact Alex Cheatle on 0203 513 0442 or cheatle@icinspector.gsi.gov.uk. The Chief Inspector will be taking bids from print and online media only.

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