Visa pressure could compromise security

August 23, 2005

The pressure on immigration staff to process the unrelenting increase in applications for visas to the UK is making the task of controlling Britain’s already porous borders even worse - and has potential implications for our security.

That is the conclusion of a report from think tank Migrationwatch which has examined the way visas are issued overseas and discovered that a great many people seeking to enter Britain receive only a cursory interview, or none at all.

‘At a time when we have very real security fears it is completely unacceptable that large numbers of people are, in effect, being waved through the system because of the pressure on immigration staff to meet targets,’ said Sir Andrew Green, chairman of Migrationwatch.’And of course once here, even if they overstay they know there is little chance of ever being removed. It makes a mockery of the concept of “managed migration.”’

He said one of the major weaknesses of the present immigration system was the failure to record the arrival and departure of overseas visitors.

‘Much therefore depends on the assessment of the visa issuing officers as to whether the applicant is both genuine and will return home. This is now especially important since, from October 2000 a visa has conferred the right to enter the United Kingdom whereas, previously, immigration officers at the point of arrival determined the period and conditions of each person’s stay,’ he said.

And the numbers are growing at an alarming rate. According to a report by the National Audit Office 1.94 million visa applications were made in 2002/3. This represented an increase of 33% over the previous five years and 11% on the previous year.

This situation is of particular concern in countries of potential security risk. In Pakistan, 96% of visitors’ visas were granted without interview – that is nearly 75,000 successful applicants in 2003/4. Applications for North Africa are much fewer but interview rates are even lower. In the same year, about 11,000 Algerians were granted visitors visas – all of them without interview.

‘It is just another example of the government’s failure to adequately control our borders,’ said Sir Andrew. ‘In these dangerous times putting in place robust systems, such as operate in America, should be one of its most pressing and important tasks.’

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