Consuls could play a useful role in helping to identify systemic problems in Britain’s immigration and border functions, the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration (ICIBI) told diplomats at a recent gathering.
Addressing the Consular Corps, David Bolt said the ICIBI was set up as an independent body to inspect the efficiency of the British immigration system. By referring him to difficult cases, consuls could be “enormously helpful” in identifying potential systemic flaws that may require further investigation.
“I have complete freedom of choice over what areas I inspect and when,” he said. In April, Bolt published a three-year plan, but added: “As it was written before the decision was taken to leave the European Union, it is likely it will need adjusting.”
To date the Inspectorate has produced over 100 reports and the most recent, put before Parliament in October, covered a number of areas of relevance to consuls. These included a critical probe into the Home Office’s ‘Hostile Environment’ agenda to discourage illegal immigrants; the referral for immigration enforcement action of individuals who have made right of abode applications and have been refused; the checking of immigration status within civil registration processes; and the extent to which police are flagging foreign nationals they have arrested to the Home Office so that their immigration status is checked.
Consuls pointed out that the lack of immigration checks by police led to delays when consulates were requested to provide travel documents for deportees who had given false nationality information on arrest.
The lack of checks also meant foreign offenders, particularly those from the EU, had been able to return repeatedly to the UK.
Bolt outlined the main areas of his work: firstly on airports and Border Force inspections; and secondly investigations into Immigration Enforcement, such as tackling illegal working or the removal of individuals from the UK. A third area of his work covers probes into the Visa and Immigration Directorate. These included a report on shortcomings in administrative reviews which had replaced the right of appeal in most visa case refusals. He also investigated visa applications for family reunions of refugees and asylum seekers; family visitor visas; and the impact of new student visa rules.
Home Office culture needs to improve
The Home Secretary has eight weeks to respond to ICIBI reports, but Bolt added that he cannot compel the Home Office to act on his recommendations. However, he has introduced a programme of re-inspections to check that the Home Office has done what it committed to do to improve.
Since taking over his role in May 2015, Bolt has produced 24 reports, which have included 162 recommendations, most of which (82%) have been accepted by the Home Office.
Many relate to improving the Home Office’s consistency in its decision-making and the need for more clarity and transparency.
Bolt also said improvements could be made to the general culture at the Home Office, such as its interactions with other government departments, agencies and with the private sector. Consuls agreed it was difficult to engage with the Home Office, even when they had wanted to report cases of immigration crime.
In other areas, the Home Office could be more agile in responding to new threats and it could make better use of technology, said Bolt.
The Chief Inspector concluded by saying he was eager to share views with consuls on immigration watchdogs in their countries.