The Home Affairs Committee’s latest report states that the “continued failure” by the Home Office to remove the equivalent of a “small town” of Foreign National Offenders (FNOs) remaining within the UK’s prisons and communities is undermining confidence in the immigration system, and indeed the UK’s membership of the European Union (EU).
Progress is “too slow” and the number of FNOs still in the UK is, at over 13,000, “the size of a small town”, with many being housed in prisons at great expense to the taxpayer. According to the Committee, the Home Office must immediately set out the practical steps which it will take to “significantly” reduce this figure or see the Committee set its own targets to be monitored in a series of future quarterly reports.
There are 5,789 FNOs living in communities (the highest number since 2012), over half of them for more than two years. The Home Affairs Committee suggests that the Home Office “must set out how many of these they have decided can remain in the UK, and how many they will seek to deport”.
Surprisingly, of the predominant foreign nationalities in UK prisons, the Top Three are from EU countries: 983 from Poland (representing just under 10% of all foreign offenders), 764 from Ireland and 635 from Romania.
The Home Office has “consistently failed to tackle this issue”. The Committee believes that EU prisoners should be the first to be removed and accepted by their home countries. The public is entitled to expect a more efficient process for prisoner transfers and removals between Member States, while the “clear inefficiencies” demonstrated by this process will lead the public to question the Government’s case for the UK remaining within the EU.
Full inquiry to be undertaken
The Committee says it must “seriously question” the Home Office’s judgement in light of the “extraordinary” decision it took to deport thousands of people on questionable or insufficient evidence of English test fraud. It has undertaken to conduct a full inquiry into this issue, including procurement and licensing, investigations, inspections and how much money has been spent.
As a starting point, asserts the Committee, the Home Office must set out the process for out-of-country appeals (many individuals were given no right of appeal before they were deported), the steps which will be taken to ensure a fair hearing and whether this will include appellants being given access to the evidence set out against them.
An expert court witness raised serious (and unchallenged) questions over the reliability and accuracy of ETS’ analysis, and first did so well over a year ago. ETS itself, which has made millions of pounds in test fees in the three years of licensed operation, notably refused to provide any evidence in court.
28,000 refusal, curtailment and removal decisions have been made in respect of ETS-linked cases and over 4,600 people have been removed from the UK.
Despite the number of people affected and the gravity of the situation, the Home Office was unable to say how many of the tests related to people not applying under the Tier 4 student visa process, how many cases relating to the ETS “debacle” were currently before a Tribunal or how many ETS tests were found to be valid. The Committee has launched a full inquiry into these matters.
ONS figures on immigration
The latest Office for National Statistics figures have showed that, in the year ending September 2015, net immigration was 323,000, representing an increase of 31,000 from the previous year and “not in line” with the Government’s target of reducing immigration to the “tens of thousands”.
According to the Home Affairs Committee, there are worrying signs that a potential new backlog is developing, with the number of cases that had been received, but had yet to be inputted, no less than 85% higher at the end of Q4 2015 than at the end of the previous quarter despite the overall number of applications being lower.
The current backlog is lower than in Q3 2015, but still over 16,000 cases higher than it was a year ago. “It is deeply concerning that there has been so little improvement,” commented the Home Affairs Committee.
The Committee says the “opaque” compliance regime around student visa sponsorship in general and the “lack of constructive engagement and feedback from the Home Office” is leading to thousands of “worthless” notifications each year, wasting time for academic institutions and the Home Office alike. The sector generates over £10 billion of export earnings for the UK economy and “deserves more respect”. The Committee will add the number of unnecessary notifications to future reports as a key indicator of the performance of UKVI.
There’s also “an ongoing issue” with the goalposts of service standards “being moved”, where more complex cases are excluded from the service standard assessments and the definition of complex appears to be adjusted according to the need to meet these “standards”.
The Committee stated: “If standards are to mean anything, then they must be applied rigorously and transparently. Any proposed changes must be justifiable and the Committee expects to be notified of such changes from now on.”
Immigration detention is costly, as is the compensation which has to be paid when detention is found to be unlawful. The Home Office should, in the view of the Committee, reduce the length of time that detainees are held and investigate alternatives to detention.
“Should have done better”
Keith Vaz MP, chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, stated: “Despite repeated warnings, the Home Office is still unable to remove foreign offenders from the UK. We agree with the Prime Minister that the Home Office should have done better. There are still over 13,000 foreign national offenders in the country who could fill towns the size of Louth in Lincolnshire, Beccles in Suffolk or Berwick-upon-Tweed in Northumberland, and almost 6,000 of these are living within communities.”
Vaz continued: “The general public would fully expect our membership of the European Union to make it easier to deport European offenders, but this is very clearly not the case. We continue to keep thousands of Foreign National Offenders on home shores at great and unnecessary expense. These failures are undermining confidence in the UK’s immigration system and in the UK’s membership of the EU.”
He went on to comment: “In stark contrast to these failures are the arrests, dawn raids and aggressive deportations of students from outside the EU. The Home Office appears not to have investigated English language testing fraud allegations before undertaking heavy-handed action. Recent legal cases, with their damning criticisms from senior Judges, have opened the door to a mass of expensive and damaging litigation.”
Vaz concluded: “Net migration now stands at 333,000, the second highest figure on record. It will now take a modern miracle for the Government to meet its targets.”