Martin Beckford – Telegraph.co.uk July 5, 2012
Independent inspectors said the “significant backlog” of those refused further leave to remain is a “national problem”.
Border officials were unaware of how many over-stayers they were supposed to be tracking down, and as many as four out of 10 had not even been told their time was up.
John Vine, the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, said: “We did find that there are over 150,000 cases nationally of migrants who have been refused an extension of stay in the UK.
“The Agency does not know how many of these individuals have left the country or who are waiting to be removed. I also saw no evidence that there is a clear plan in place for the Agency to deal with this stream of work to ensure this does not become another backlog.”
The UK Border Agency was set up in the wake of the 2006 scandal in which it emerged that more than 1,000 foreign prisoners had been released back on the streets without being deported.
Last year inspectors discovered that more than 500,000 people had been waved into Britain after vital passport checks were relaxed, in a row that led to the resignation of senior border official Brodie Clark.
In the latest report, the watchdog looked at the performance of local immigration officers in Hampshire and concluded that they were meeting targets in removing failed asylum seekers and the most dangerous illegal immigrants.
But the report made public for the first time the scale of something called the Migration Refusal Pool – a list of cases where workers or students have been refused leave to remain in the country after their original visas expired. They are meant to leave within 28 days but can apply for leave in another category or appeal against the decision.
Inspectors found that in Hampshire, staff gave “contradictory” information about how many over-stayers they were responsible for, and were “unsure” of how many were still in the country. Officials were meant to be looking for three times as many illegal migrants as they thought.
About 40 per cent of the individuals had not even been served with forms telling them to leave the country and staff did not think there were any targets to deal with the backlog.
In one case, someone whose visitor visa ran out in April 2007 waited more than two years to apply to stay indefinitely, and when their application was refused a year later the Border Agency waited another six months before trying to make them leave. Another six months later the applicant’s solicitor complained about their treatment but no action was taken until December 2011.
Inspectors studied 44 files and found that in 20 cases the migrants had voluntarily left Britain and one had been forced out, but the other 23 were still in the country with four having gone missing.
The report questioned why absconders were “not a high priority” for the border officials with only two-thirds being marked as wanted on police files.
Overall the inspectors found there were 153,821 people in the Migrant Refusal Pool in October last year, rising to 159,313 by December. The Home Office refused to say how big the database was when it was set up in December 2008.
“This issue is a national problem,” the report said. “We believe the Agency needs to be much more pro-active in providing a clear strategic direction for its staff to follow in dealing with the MRP cases. This should stop the already significant backlog from increasing and ensure that steps are taken to reduce it over time.”
The Immigration Minister, Damian Green, said: “Under the last Government there was no effective strategy in place to ensure migrants left at the end of their time in the UK.
“The UK Border Agency is now working through a group of potential overstayers to identify those who have not left. This includes checking passenger records using our e-borders database which now covers all flights outside Europe.
“This summer the UKBA launched a UK-wide operation to remove overstayers and we have already seen 1,800 removals since the campaign started.”
But Sir Andrew Green, chairman of Migration Watch UK, said: “The ability to remove those who have no right to be in Britain is fundamental to the credibility of the whole immigration system.
“This report shows that much clearer focus and probably more resources are needed if removal is to be a serious deterrent.
“Illegal immigrants cause considerable harm by undercutting the wages of British workers. How else would they get their jobs?”
Keith Vaz, chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, said: “I am astonished that the UKBA has no idea where 159,000 individuals, the size of a city like Oxford, have gone since their application was rejected. This is yet another group of cases we did not know about.
“As the Committee have said time and time again, the UKBA should spend more time locating illegal immigrants rather than targeting genuine migrants like students, spouses and family visitors.”