Concerns Over Checks On Visa Applicants From Pakistan

Concerns over checks on visa applicants from Pakistan
Fewer than one in every 2,000 visa applicants from Pakistan are being interviewed by British immigration officials.

By Tom Whitehead, Home Affairs Editor
Published: 7:00AM BST 10 Sep 2009

The lack of backup checks on those wanting to come to the UK from the high risk country renewed fears that terrorists or illegal immigrants could slip through the net.

It is the latest concern surrounding security checks in Pakistan just two months after The Daily Telegraph disclosed officials there have just 11 minutes to check applications.

There have also been no telephone interviews to back up applications since a controversial outsourced system began last year.

Chris Grayling, the shadow home secretary who obtained the figures, said: This is a quite extraordinary situation.

There are very real concerns that the system is being abused by people who have no right to come to the UK.

And more importantly there are clear security issues too. Yet it's clear that the checks in our immigration system are wholly inadequate.

In October, a new “hub and spoke” network was implemented by the Home Office to deal with visa applications which saw those from a number of countries, including Pakistan, being decided in Abu Dhabi.

Applications from Pakistan are still initially checked for fraud and forgery by entry clearance officers in Islamabad before being passed on to Abu Dhabi for a decision.

However, as a back up there is scope for officials to request a face-to-face interview if there are concerns around the application.

Between October 27 and May 31 there were 66,415 applications in Pakistan to come to the UK but officials interviewed just 29.

It emerged in July that officials also have just the equivalent of 11 minutes to check documentation because there are only 11 officers and two managers based there.

While all passports are checked, officials only examine supporting documents in 80 per cent of cases, meaning some 13,283 applications did not have this level of scrutiny.

Officials in Abu Dhabi also have the right to make further checks over the phone but the Home Office has already admitted that not a single telephone interview has so far been carried out on Pakistan visas.

It raises the prospect of terrorists, illegal immigrants or criminals being granted visas in a country that is an international hotbed.

All but one of the 12 suspects arrested over an alleged plot to bomb shopping centres in Manchester earlier this year came from Pakistan using student visas. The men were all later released without charge.