The Chief Inspector of the UK Border Agency, John Vine, has published a global review of entry clearance decision making. The findings are strongly critical in important respects. The sample size was nearly 1,500 case files from every entry clearance post, so the review certainly was a global one. Vine states as follows in his forward to the report:
While there were no decision quality issues revealed in 761 cases, I found there were errors affecting decision quality in 515 cases. In a further 201 cases the lack of evidence retained on file made it impossible for me to assess whether the correct decision had been made…
In 483 cases, representing 33% of the sample examined, I found errors in the way evidence was assessed by entry clearance officers; and in 135 cases, or 9% of the sample, I consider that those errors potentially undermined the decision to refuse entry clearance.
The general quality of decision-making can and must be improved. The principal method of ensuring quality at present is the Entry Clearance Manager (ECM) review. It is therefore disappointing to find poor quality decision-making in 144 cases where an ECM review had supposedly been carried out.
This supports my findings in other reports. The ECM review is not working effectively in its present form. The Agency needs to strengthen its quality assurance process to ensure that decision quality is improved consistently across all of its visa posts.
I was particularly concerned to find a significant proportion of cases where applicants were refused entry clearance for failing to provide information which they could not have been aware of at the time of submitting their applications. This was unfair. I found this in 235 cases, representing 16% of the sample. In 82 of these cases I consider that the errors in respect of assessment of evidence undermined the basis for the decision to refuse entry clearance.
On a more positive note, he also found that customer service targets on application processing times and the time taken to respond to complaints were being met in the vast majority of cases, that additional checks were being more widely used and that the quality of refusal notices was much improved.
Only three recommendations were made, but they were important ones:
We recommend that the UK Border Agency:
- Ensures that when applicants have followed published guidance, but Entry Clearance officers require further information to make a decision, applicants are given an opportunity to provide this.
- Acts immediately to ensure that supporting documents relevant to entry clearance decisions are retained on file, to provide a transparent decision-making process.
- Strengthens the quality-assurance methods currently used by Entry Clearance Managers, to create a more effective and robust decision-making process.
In summary, the processing speed is fast but at the expense of quality and fairness of decision making.