19 November 2008

Britain may be approving 300,000 wrong visas annually

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An independent visa monitor told a committee of MPs Britain may be approving up to 300,000 wrong UK visas every year, reports the BBC.

Linda Costelloe-Baker told the Home Affairs Committee it is likely that the British Home Office issued 15 per cent of short-term UK visas for the wrong reasons.

Ms Costelloe-Baker said the Home Office puts UK immigration officials under pressure to meet certain targets, and this is possibly to the detriment of the integrity of the immigration system.

Approximately 2.4 million people lodge UK visa applications worldwide on an annual basis to visit the UK temporarily, including tourists, businesspeople, and those visiting relatives.  Immigration officials check all applications to ensure the applicant intends to leave once the visa has expired, and that the applicant is able to support oneself financially while staying in Britain without obtaining work. 

Ms Costelloe-Baker said the problem in the application process comes after the approval of the visas; immigration officials issue around 80 per cent of UK short-term visas and while the 20 per cent rejected visas undergo a second check for accuracy, the rest have "no external scrutiny".

According to the visa monitor, officials have a tendency to approve more visas than not because the process is much easier and faster than if they were refused. 

"I don't think there has been adequate scrutiny of decisions to issue," she said.  "I think there is pressure to issue visas because it helps people hit their productivity targets."

Ms Costelloe-Baker said it was "a reasonable supposition" to say that if 15 per cent of rejected visas were mistakes, then it would stand that a similar amount of approved visas would fall under the same class of error. 

Conservative MP David Davies questioned the suggestions put forward by Ms Costelloe-Baker, to which she confirmed was reasonable.  

"I'm trying to make an assumption here which is reasonable based on the evidence and that is that a large number of visa applications have been incorrectly approved in the country where they were requested."

Despite this, Ms Costelloe-Baker feels the new points-based immigration system would play a large part in reducing the margin of error in short-term UK visa approvals and rejections. 

"The quality of decision making and refusal notices there was poor but the quality of work on the points-based system was excellent and that is because it's a much clearer, simpler system," she said after reviewing the British Embassy in Tehran.

Mark Sedwill, the international director of the UK Border Agency, said his team of officials work under strict conditions to maintain the integrity of the UK immigration system, and that every application is scrutinised and checked against several watch-lists, plus biometrics are now becoming a major component of visa applications. 

"Our decisions are fair and objective, and last year the Independent Monitor determined they were right and reasonable in 99 per cent of cases. 

"It is untrue to claim our staff give out visas when people do not meet the criteria set out in the immigration rules," Mr Sedwill said.

He also said the UK Border Agency implements stringent checks at its borders, has fingerprinted over 3 million people and identified 4,600 cases of identity fraud. 


The UK Visa Bureau is an independent consulting company specialising in UK visa and immigration services.

Article by Jessica Bird, UK Visa Bureau.


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