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Fixing refugee family reunion system not a Home Office priority, inspector says


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The government’s immigration inspector, like the rest of us, is a little fed up with Home Office spin. David Bolt published the results of an re-inspection of the refugee family reunion process today with the acid comment:

Predictably, the Home Office’s formal response accentuates the positives in my report…

Mr Bolt goes on to agree that things do “appear to be moving in the right direction” since his 2016 inspection of family reunion, but notes that eight out of the ten recommendations made on the back of that investigation and accepted by the Home Office remain “open” two years on. (The department has form on this). Those recommendations included improving access to interviews, funding DNA testing, better considering of evidence and giving proper consideration to the “potential humanitarian protection consequences of family reunion refusals”.

Despite some improvements seen during last year’s inspection of the Istanbul decision-making centre, and in this latest report focusing on Amman, Mr Bolt thinks that the recommendations have “ceased to be seen as a priority”.

I accept that care is needed when considering changes to policies and practices, and that it is important for the Home Office to listen to others. However, the pace at which it is moving is far too slow given the profound impact on the lives of families seeking to be reunited, and I would expect it to be looking to lead the way.

Today’s inspection is peppered with conclusions like “no meaningful progress in relation to this issue” and “not provided with any evidence that this issue had been reviewed in any meaningful sense”. On the standards of decision-making, the report notes that decision-makers had been using a standard paragraph in refusal letters referring to lack of evidence about who where a given piece of documentary evidence came from and how the applicant got hold of it. This despite the fact that “family reunion guidance does not require applicants to provide evidence of who issued a particular document… nor does it require evidence of how the applicant acquired a particular document”. Review of decisions by Entry Clearance Managers was no guarantee of quality either:

In all, 28 applications from the sample of 48 cases had had an ECM review. In 9 of these, the reviewer had failed to identify 1 or more errors…

The percentage of family reunion applications accepted by the Amman branch fell sharply to just 61% last year, down from the mid-70s in 2015 and 2016.

The report — which the department has been sitting on since April — says that for the eight outstanding recommendations to be closed, the Home Office needs to improve:

  • the use of interviews to resolve questions or doubts the ECO has about an application, including access to interpreters where necessary
  • record keeping, decision quality, ECM quality assurance and refusal notices
  • timeliness of decisions
  • collection and analysis of relevant data/management information

The full inspection report is here and the Home Office response here.


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CJ McKinney

CJ McKinney

CJ McKinney is a specialist on immigration law and policy. Formerly the editor of Free Movement, you will find a lot of articles by CJ here on this website! Twitter: @mckinneytweets.