Secret Home Office memo orders officials to STOP deporting bogus foreign students
By MATTHEW HICKLEY
Last updated at 00:34am on 8th January 2008
Immigration officers have been ordered to stop deporting foreign students who overstay their visas.
A leaked memo obtained by the Daily Mail suggests they are not regarded as a high enough priority.
The secret edict makes a mockery of Government claims to be running a “robust” immigration system.
Last night, insiders in the service said hundreds of thousands of students – including many who never had any intention of studying – could be staying on illegally and were effectively being granted an amnesty.
Union chiefs said immigration bosses were setting their deportation priorities on the basis of “what the media is paying attention to” – meaning that only foreign prisoners and failed asylum seekers were currently targets while thousands of other illegal immigrants were ignored.
They blamed the fiasco on a crippling cash crisis, claiming there were simply too few officers to enforce the law.
Students are by far the biggest category for long-term visitors to Britain, with 1.6million visas handed out in the last five years.
No figures are available on overstayers because no checks are made on who leaves Britain.
The memo was written on December 17 by Jonathan Lindley, director of enforcement at the Border and Immigration Agency, which is struggling against a massive budget overspend.
Sent to the agency's six regional directors, it reveals how the organisation's chief executive Lin Homer personally intervened to halt one deportation.
The note describes a recent rule change which was meant to crack down on student overstayers, making them automatically liable for refusal if they sought a visa extension.
“A proportion of these refusals have led to removal, some of which have been enforced.
“One such case came to Lin Homer's attention last week, resulting in the removal being cancelled and some critical comments from Lin.
“I am surprised that any of these cases have come sufficiently high within enforcement teams' priorities to merit such quick removal action.
“Please instruct your enforcement teams not to proceed with enforcing any student refusal cases unless they are deemed, at at least inspector level, to be a priority due to Harm (a reference to the Home Office system of gauging how harmful it is for an illegal immigrant to remain in the country).
“Student case working teams have been instructed not to pass any further student refusal cases linked to this issue to enforcement teams.”
Huge numbers of students flock to Britain, with 309,000 arriving in 2006, up nine per cent in a year, and more than double the number of foreigners granted work permits.
The personal intervention of Miss Homer, the 200,000-a-year head of the immigration system, to stop an illegal overstayer from being deported, raises grave questions over political interference in the work of frontline staff.
Just days before the secret memo was written, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith gave a speech in London boasting of plans to toughen up the system, promising “robust management” to ensure that all migrants “play by the rules”.
John Tincey, of the Immigration Service Union, said yesterday: “This is an astonishing order. But this is the way the BIA is going in an era of “risk-assessment” and “intelligence-led operations”.
“The main priorities are removing foreign national prisoners, followed by failed asylum seekers. Student visa overstayers aren't on the list at all.
“Home Office priorities depend on what the media are paying attention to at any particular time, and officers find themselves trying to second guess what their targets will be next month.
“It all comes down to the service running out of money.”
Shadow Home Secretary David Davis said “warped Government priorities” were forcing immigration officers to “turn a blind eye to those with no right to stay in the UK”.
Sir Andrew Green, chairman of the MigrationWatch think tank, said: “This document exposes the failure of the Government to develop a removals capacity which is remotely sufficient for the massive scale of immigration.”