The UK Border Agency has massive backlog of outstanding immigration cases equivalent to the population of Newcastle, MPs warned today.
Illegal immigrants, missing foreign criminals, failed asylum seekers and others refusing to leave the country make up more than 275,000 cases which the agency still needs to deal with, the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee said today.
Labour MP Keith Vaz, the committee’s chairman, said the backlog, which will take years to clear, was unacceptable, adding that the agency seems to have “acquired its own Bermuda triangle”.
“It’s easy to get in, but near impossible to keep track of anyone, let alone get them out,” the MP said.
“This is the first time that the committee has collated all the cases at the UK Border Agency that await resolution. This backlog is now equivalent to the entire population of Newcastle upon Tyne.”
The latest damning report on the agency’s work also said the committee did not believe the Government’s aim of cutting the 260,000 student visas issued each year by a quarter would benefit the UK.
Overseas tax paying students should be excluded from the net migration figures instead, it said.
Britain would then continue to attract international students, a market worth £7.9 billion, and still be able to aim to meet Prime Minister David Cameron’s pledge to cut net migration from 250,000 to the tens of thousands by 2015, the report said.
Mr Vaz added: “This will enable the Government to encourage students to come to the UK whilst maintaining their position on curbing immigration.”
Earlier this year, a group of UK universities called on the government to remove overseas students from immigration figures.
Tough anti-immigration rhetoric and visa restrictions are not helping, as UK universities heads complained to the government last month.
The latest warning came from 68 university chancellors who claimed that the UK’s Tier 4 visa immigration policy risked damaging the UK universities and genuine students could be discouraged from applying.
Today’s report, looking at the agency’s work between December last year and March, also called for the agency to make all its inspections of colleges unannounced, rather than giving them advance notice so key people and documents can be ready.
“If we are to eliminate bogus colleges from the education landscape and employers that abuse the immigration system then visits will have to be unannounced, robust and thorough,” it said.
On the backlog, the committee said it included at least 150,000 migrants who have been refused permission to stay in the UK but who may still be in the country illegally, 21,000 asylum cases, and 3,900 foreign offenders living in the community.
A further 57 foreign criminals who were released in 2006 without being considered for deportation have not yet been traced.
And the so-called controlled archive, used for cases where the agency has lost track of the applicant, contains 80,000 asylum applications and 21,500 immigration cases, the report said.
The agency “does not have a strong record in deporting foreign national offenders” and should set up a team to examine why the foreign criminals living in the community had not been deported and then to ensure that they are sent home, the MPs said.
In future, deportation proceedings should begin as soon as a prisoner is sentenced to speed up the process, they added.
A Home Office spokesman said: “This report highlights the improvements we have made to tackle the huge backlog of cases we inherited. Over 2,000 overstayers have recently been removed following targeted enforcement activity, foreign national offenders are being removed more quickly and we are performing well against visa processing targets.
“Talented students are welcome in the UK, but we have introduced new powers to toughen up the system, keeping out the fraudulent and unqualified while ensuring genuine students continue to benefit from our excellent educational facilities.
“The report has raised some legitimate concerns about issues that we are aware of and are already tackling.”
The MP’s findings will come of no surprise to Immigration Matters readers, many of whom have been waiting more than six months for a reply from the UKBA
On Thursday as many as 5,500 immigration officials could walk out in a dispute about job cuts and pay.
The industrial action will disrupt and cause misery to 130,000 passengers and UK tourists as they arrive the day before the Olympic opening ceremony.Last week the UK immigration system was thrown into chaos after senior judges said Home Office rules to curb the number of migrants were unlawful and not based on the Immigration Rules.
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