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Home Office inspectors release series of reports: highlights for lawyers

Home Office inspectors release series of reports: highlights for lawyers

For some reason the Home Office has just released a swathe of inspection reports into a wide range of Home Office operations. In practical terms, this makes it impossible for the press to pick out more than one or two stories from the reports and it therefore very effectively reduces scrutiny. Usually I have nothing better to do than sit and read these reports when they are hot off the press (!) but 10 in two days seems excessive even to me I cannot stir myself to read all of them.

It is almost as if there is something to hide somewhere in there.

Nevertheless, I am going to confine myself for now to picking out some important points from the annual report (is the Home Office ready for Brexit?) and the reports on children and the good character citizenship registration requirement and on refugee family reunion.

A total of 10 reports has been published and the Home Office has also responded to each:

Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration Annual Report 2016/17 Published 13 July 2017

An Inspection of Country of Origin Information Published 13 July 2017
Home Office response to the Chief Inspector’s report.

An inspection of entry clearance processing operations in Croydon and Istanbul Published 13 July 2017
Home Office response to the Chief Inspector’s report.

An interim re-inspection of Family Reunion Published 13 July 2017
Home Office response to the Chief Inspector’s report.

A re-inspection of the Administrative Review process Published 13 July 2017
Home Office response to the Chief Inspector’s report.

A short inspection of the Home Office’s application of the good character requirement Published 13 July 2017
Home Office response to the Chief Inspector’s report.

A re-inspection of the complaints handling process Published 12 July 2017
Home Office response to the Chief Inspector’s report.

An inspection of Border Force operations at Gatwick Published 12 July 2017
Home Office response to the Chief Inspector’s report.

An inspection of Border Force operations at east coast seaports Published 12 July 2017
Home Office response to the Chief Inspector’s report.

A re-inspection of the Tier 4 curtailment process Published 12 July 2017
Home Office response to the Chief Inspector’s report.

Children and good character

The raw figures for good character refusals and children are set out in a table on page 12 of the report:

The main take aways from the report on good character and children seem to me to be:

  1. A lot of children have been refused on good character grounds and
  2. The reason for this is that the Home Office is applying the adult immigration history policy to children.

Both are truly, genuinely astonishing. It is easy to see how immigration history became so problematic in adult cases. An inspection report in 2014 led to a fundamental change of Home Office policy and a new section was introduced into the Nationality Instructions on good character and immigration history. 

It is impossible to see how this ended up being applied to children.

What sort of brainless, heartless automaton applies a blanket policy clearly aimed at adults that denies citizenship on good character grounds to a child who otherwise qualifies because that child was brought to the UK with no immigration status? Why would someone not have raised this with senior managers? And if this was spotted by senior managers or the policy people at the Home Office, how on earth have they allowed this perverse practice to continue?

The Home Office states, belatedly, that it is reviewing the policy as it applies to children. Hopefully we will very soon see some movement on that. In the meantime, it seems that, at least without some careful representations and a good lawyer, any child applying for registration who has a poor immigration history runs a risk of refusal on good character grounds.

Refugee family reunion

The re-inspection report on refugee family reunion is equally depressing. The background to this report is that a recognised refugee is generally entitled to be joined by family members from the country of origin. The humanitarian reasons for this are, hopefully, obvious.

The original report found that the refusal rate for family members applying to join recognised refugees in the UK had shot up since the Home Office stopped offering DNA testing to select applicants who were struggling to find paperwork to prove their cases:

Nationality

% refusal 2013

% refusal 2015

Eritrean

15

46

Somali

17

80

Sudanese

9

34

Syrian

9

35

Iranian

9

36

The Home Office is supposedly reconsidering its position, but that position has not yet changed. Further, the original report recommended more use of interpreters and interviews where applicants struggled with paperwork and there was a risk of refusal. The Home Office has also declined to act on this recommendation.

The Home Office position is a stone faced insistence that it is for these extremely vulnerable applicants, often from countries with little or no functioning government, to prove their own cases.

If you spot anything interesting in any of the other reports, drop me a line or leave a comment below.

Annual report: is the Home Office ready for Brexit?

There is no mention at all of Brexit in the annual report, either explicit or implicit. Given that EU work for the Home Office and Brexit generally are what one might call “Threats” in one of the SWOT analysis things, this seems like a bit of an omission.

There is a short section early in the annual report on thematic and structural problems at the Home Office, though, which is worth reading in full with one’s Brexit Goggles on:

Overall, the areas of concern remained much the same as in 2015/16, specifically:

• levels of customs activity at the border (especially relative to immigration activity)

• identification and removal of those with no right to remain

• failure of quality assurance processes to identify and correct errors

• poor record keeping

• poor communication with those directly affected by Home Offce decisions.

Concerns also persisted about other areas noted previously, such as the proper and proportionate use of powers, management awareness of backlogs and the reliability of management information, careful planning and implementation of change, and the availability of staff with the right training and skills.

In my last Annual Report, I referred to issues that I had identified through my own observations and through discussions with the Home Offce and with stakeholders in my first year in post, namely:

• the effectiveness of interactions with other government departments, agencies (including the police) and with private contractors

• the diffculties of running prevention, protection and enforcement agendas, and of managing unpredictable volumes, alongside commitments to excellent customer service

• the capability to identify, develop and deploy technological solutions to achieve greater effectiveness and efficiency

I have seen nothing in 2016–17 to suggest that these issues can now be set aside as no longer relevant or resolved.

Previously, I also raised a concern about the Home Offce’s ‘agility to respond quickly to new threats and challenges’. In 2016–17, I found evidence of the responsible directorates mobilising quickly to respond to new or emerging threats. One such example was the response to the increase in clandestine entrants (‘lorry drops’). However, this also highlighted that resources are already fully committed, and that prioritising a new threat involves hard choices and comes at a cost to existing work.

So, the Home Office struggled with existing customs arrangements, struggles with quality of decisions, keeps poor records, is poor at communications, is ineffective in interacting with other government departments, struggles with unpredictable volumes of cases, struggles with technological solutions and struggles to deal with new challenges. 

This does not exactly inspire confidence in the capacity of the Home Office to manage Brexit, said by the UK Brexit Secretary to be the biggest and hardest undertaking for civil servants since the Second World War.

Colin Yeo

Immigration and asylum barrister, blogger, writer and consultant at Garden Court Chambers in London and founder and editor of the Free Movement immigration law website.

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