A Government decision to ‘outsource’ applications for visas by foreigners coming to Britain is likely to lead to an increase in illegal immigration, while the government’s capacity to remove them is close to zero, think-tank Migrationwatch warned today.
Entry Clearance Officers (ECOs) at British Embassies and Consulates around the world are responsible for the issue of visas for travel to the UK; this often used to require a face to face interview.
However the task of taking in applications is now to being given to commercial organisations.
Under the previous system, applicants went to the visa section of the British consulate where their applications were sifted and, in cases of doubt, they were interviewed by a British based ECO. Under the new system many will never go near a Consulate. Those who take in the applications will not even be British government employees.
‘There has long been scope for corruption whereby applicants are "coached" as to the correct answers to the questions in the visa application form. The scope for this kind of corruption, which is very difficult to detect, will be hugely increased under this arms length procedure,’ said Migrationwatch chairman, Sir Andrew Green, himself a former British Ambassador with direct experience of the process.
‘Reducing the effectiveness of controls by putting the first, critical, stage of applications for visas in the hands of outside agencies is almost certainly going to lead to a rise in the number of people who use the visa system as a means of getting into the UK as visitors and then staying on here,’ he said.
‘Some two million UK visas are issued each year and if only 1% then stayed on, we are looking at a further 20,000 people remaining illegally in the UK every year to add to the considerable total of illegals already here,’ said Sir Andrew. ‘In reality 1% is likely to be a very low estimate as bogus applicants have nothing to lose by making an application and a great deal to gain if they can get into Britain.’
Visitors, students and failed asylum seekers who stay on illegally are, of course, additional to those who arrive daily concealed in the back of a truck.
At present the removal capacity of the Borders and Immigration Agency (BIA) is only about 20,000 a year and that is almost completely absorbed by their efforts to remove criminals at the end of their sentences and failed asylum seekers. (Government claims that they remove one person every eight minutes are misleading – that figure includes those "removed at port" who have never entered the UK). Thus the removal capacity for those who overstay is virtually zero. Even the projected doubling of resources for removal over the next three years will fall far short of providing an effective capability.
The risk of overstaying is increased by the main sources of applications. Nearly half of all visa applications come from the top five countries – India, Nigeria, Pakistan, China and Russia. In 2006/7 nearly one million visas were granted to citizens of these countries. Some people in these countries are rich but many are less so and they know that there is still no check on their departure from the UK. An inflow on this scale looks much more like economic migration than the result of "globalisation".
‘The government talk about ‘managed migration’ and then bring in schemes such as this which further erode what little remains of our border controls. They made a terrible mistake over the scale of immigration from Eastern Europe. They might well be making a similar blunder by skimping on the visa system, especially before border controls are in place,’ said Sir Andrew.
He added that it was vital that swift and effective action be taken:
– Visa administration should be returned to where it should be – entirely in the hands of our own employees.
– Interview capability should be strengthened especially in countries which pose a terrorist threat or are major sources of immigration.
– A quota should be placed on visitors from countries which decline to accept the return of their own citizens.