Immigration Officers ‘Face Perverse Incentives To Grant Visas’

Immigration officers 'face perverse incentives to grant visas'

Immigration officers face “perverse incentives” to grant visas to foreigners rather than refuse them, an influential group of MPs warns today.

By Tom Whitehead, Home Affairs Editor
Last Updated: 7:55PM GMT 11 Jan 2009

Staff must provide far less evidence as to why they have approved an application to come to Britain than they do if they want to reject it, leading them to potentially approve more than they should.

The warning comes less than two months after a watchdog said around 300,000 foreigners who should not be granted visas are allowed in to Britain every year.

A report by the Commons Homes Affairs Select Committee today warns that while the reasons for a visa refusal are regularly reviewed, and therefore subject to detailed scrutiny, those for an approval are not.

Therefore, the evidence needed for a refusal is far more detailed and MPs questioned whether that would lead to a “tendency to be tempted to approve more applications that one should on the basis that that work is never going to be checked”.

They conclude: “We share the concern of the Independent Monitor that the substantially lower level of evidence that entry clearance officers are obliged to record for a visa issue than for a visa refusal may provide a perverse incentive for officers to issue visas rather than refuse them.

“However, the extent to which this has happened in practice is far from clear.”

Sir Andrew Green, chairman of Migrationwatch, said: “This is a very serious issue.

“There is strong pressure on entry clearance officers to grant visas rather than refuse them. This will lead to an even greater number of visitors overstaying their visa and becoming an illegal immigrant in Britain.”

Nearly two million visas are approved each year, giving the right to enter the UK for six months. Reasons for refusal can involve doubts over whether they will return home, questions about their true reason for coming and concerns about their identity.

But in evidence to the select committee in November, Linda Costelloe-Baker, who officially monitors visa refusals, said around 15 per cent of short-term visas were wrongly approved because it was easier than rejecting applications.

She said officials were “under pressure'' to issue visas in order to hit productivity targets.

Monitoring of visa decisions is being incorporated in to the newly created office of Chief Inspector of the UK Border Agency,.

But in their report, the MPs warn the new inspectorate may not be fully operational by the time the independent monitor role is scrapped in April and call for the role to continue to allow a sufficient overlap.

It also criticises the fact recommendations from Mrs Costelloe-Baker for better training for staff to spot fraudulent applications had not been accepted by the Home Office because it was “too difficult” to put in place.

Keith Vaz, chairman of the committee, said: “The Independent Monitor has been doing important work overseeing the entry clearance process and the fact that some of the concerns and recommendations regarding the visa clearance system remain unaddressed indicates to us that there must be no gap in the scrutiny of this process.

“We strongly urge the Government to ensure that the Independent Monitor remains until the new inspectorate is fully up and running.

“To abolish her post without a fully resourced replacement would mean less scrutiny of the government in this crucial area of work. ”

A Home Office spokeswoman said:”The allegation that our staff give out visas when people do not meet the immigration rules is untrue and a distortion of what the Independent Monitor said at the Home Affairs Select Committee, as her mandate has never covered the granting of visas.

“Every application is scrutinised, fingerprints are taken, and the individuals checked against a range of watch-lists. Visas provide the first line of defence against those who seek to abuse the system. Travellers are subject to further tough checks at the border.”

“Already we've fingerprinted more than three million people and identified 4,600 cases of identity fraud. Last year we refused visas to nearly 20 percent of applicants.”