The report “covers the inspection of the Abu Dhabi and Islamabad visa sections, examining the handling of applications made by customers in Pakistan, Iran and three member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (Abu Dhabi, Bahrain and Dubai). The inspection included a detailed assessment of cases “…..in the categories of General Visit and Tier 4 of the points-based system (PBS)” and an assessment of UKBA’s “customer strategy” together with the benefits UKBA had set out for the Hub and Spoke (H&S) business model, which were to:
- improve quality and consistency of decision making;
- improve efficiency and productivity; and
- provide greater resilience and flexibility.
The inspection considered performance in each of these areas and whether the process:
- was efficient, effective and fair;
- took account of relevant Immigration Rules and UK Border Agency policy and guidance; and
- was appropriately supported by risk assessment tools to help entry clearance staff make the right decisions first time.
The inspection methodology entailed a random selection of files for review, the interview of officials and talking to stakeholders.
The thrust of the Chief Inspector’s findings was that there were failings throughout the process. While in Pakistan, the introduction of PBS and had additionally left stakeholders (including the government of Pakistan and the British Council) dissatisfied.
Mr Vine’s main concern centred on what he saw as an inconsistent approach by entry clearance staff over the weight they attached to evidence, depending on the nationality of the applicant. He felt that customers from the three Gulf Cooperation Council countries were treated more favourably than customers from Pakistan and that customers in Pakistan were subject to higher evidential requirements in support of their entry clearance applications. This he thought was not only inconsistent but also fell foul of the Race Relations Act 1976. There was no mention in the report of the weight attached to evidence provided by Iranian applicants.
To underline his concern the Chief Inspector pointed to notes in one file indicating that a GCC national’s word had been taken at face value without any supporting documentary evidence being produced. This was raised with UKBA senior staff who agreed that documents should have been both seen and copied.
Other observations in the report reinforcing the Chief Inspector’s view that Pakistani applicants were being treated unfairly and the system not working as it should were:
- an increase in the percentage of applications from Pakistanis being refused in Abu Dhabi (57%) compared with the number refused in Islamabad (39%) before Hub and Spoke;
- the number of appeals being allowed (average of 45% each month in the 7 months to March 2010 when 51% were allowed); and
- no routine system for providing feedback to entry clearance officers on the appeals allowed or dismissed.
The report concluded that the UKBA had failed to deliver on its stated objectives and strategy for processing visa applications from Pakistanis, Iranians and GCC country nationals.
We do not suggest that the Chief Inspector should have arrived at different conclusions; after all, he could only examine the system in place, assess it in accordance with the criteria to which UKBA were working and in relation to the applicable legislation. Nevertheless, the process as recommended by Mr Vine leaves very little room for officials to exercise discretion or to take due account of the circumstances and past record of certain nationalities. MW has estimated that there are up to 200,000 illegal Pakistani immigrants in the UK (MW Briefing paper 11.16) and there are very few GCC country nationals in the UK illegally, are these not relevant facts with a bearing on visa applications from these countries?
MW has held the view since their introduction that the Points Based System, as it stood, was an ineffective means of controlling immigration and that Hub and Spoke (launched in January 2007) was an inefficient way of handling visa applications. PBS and H&S simply do not lend themselves to the degree of control of immigration needed, has been sought by the public and which has been promised by the government; most recently by the Home Secretary in her speech on 5 November.
The report seems to bear out another MW view; that the default position for visa applications following the introduction of the PBS was to issue, thus making it extremely difficult for border officials at a port of arrival, when a visa holder comes face to face with an official for the first time, to refuse entry.
The idea behind H&S, brought in by the previous government, was that it would “move work to staff rather than the other way round”. In reality H&S came into being in order to cut costs, particularly after biometric data became a necessary part of the process. In Pakistan’s case, there were of course also security considerations. The Chief inspector’s report strongly indicates that whatever the intention, the model is seriously defective.
PBS was introduced, also by the previous government, with a claim that it would ensure only those with the right skills and talent would come to the UK to work or study and to enable the UKBA to control migration more effectively and tackle abuse. With regard to Pakistan, not only has it failed to live up to its billing but it has upset more people than it has satisfied.
MW believes that where PBS and have obviously failed, entry clearance officers should return (security conditions permitting) and revert to face to face interviews, drawing on the knowledge and skills acquired through dealing with visa applicants in their countries of origin.
8 November, 2010