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Inspection of family visit visa system: serious problems remain
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The family visit visa system underwent an inspection by the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration last month. The posts inspected were Abu Dhabi, Accra, Amman, Dhaka, Kingston, Manila, Nairobi, New Delhi, Croydon and Sheffield. The Inspector confidently declares that there is “no evidence that the removal of the full right of appeal from Family Visitor visa applicants had led to a higher refusal rate or to an overall reduction in decision quality.”
There is also no evidence in the public domain which might either confirm or refute this claim. However, the assertion appears to conflict with the figures on family visit visa refusal rates which this blog uncovered just last year.
“The inspection found no evidence that the removal of the full right of appeal from Family Visitor visa applicants had led to a higher refusal rate or to an overall reduction in decision quality.”
It took this blog not only a FOI request but also an appeal to obtain family visit visa refusal rates from the Home Office. They showed a sudden jump in refusal rates after the abolition of appeal rights in July 2013. It cannot be a coincidence that precisely when immigration officers realise that their decisions will be given dramatically less scrutiny, the refusal rate leaps by almost 25%.
If we drill down into the detail of the report it turns out that the claim that the removal of appeal rights has had no impact on decision making is anecdotal. There is no analysis of global refusal rate and not even any analysis of benchmarks on quality. The report says of the removal of appeal rights simply:
We were concerned that no data was available on the impact of the change. However, we found no evidence in our file sampling to suggest that the removal of the full right of appeal had resulted in less careful attention to decision-making on the part of ECOs, or that refusal rates had risen significantly with the change.
The report goes on to say that further analysis is needed, particularly of the fall in the number of applications and reapplications, both of which has occurred since the removal of appeal rights.
The only real check on decision making since the withdrawal of appeal rights is the mechanism of Entry Clearance Manager reviews. The report finds that there were quality issues in over a quarter of the refusal cases that had been quality assured by an Entry Clearance Manager.
“Quality assurance of decisions was not working as well as it should”
Basically, family visit visa decisions and reviews are as weak as they have ever been.
The report also reveals that only 14% of those refused a visa make a new application. Some apply informally for reconsideration but the treatment of such request was problematic:
The inspection found that visa posts were not dealing with these requests consistently, leading to some long delays and to responses that varied widely between posts. Home Office policy on reconsideration requests needs to be clarified in order to provide better customer service in this area.
The online application process, which is now mandatory, also comes in for quite strong criticism for failing to give applicants an adequate opportunity to make their own case. In 8% of cases overall the ECO had invented additional requirements not set out in rules or guidance and about which the applicant was therefore unaware. The 8% global figure masks the fact that this occurs in as many as 20% of cases at Dhaka, though, and 16% in Accra. Managers were unrepentant about this practice, which as previous inspection reports show has been going on for years at some posts. The inspectors considered this “unfair”.
The consideration of positive evidence by ECOs was also found to be very variable, with some posts performing markedly worse than others:
Overall, in 10% of decisions the ECO had “misinterpreted evidence to the applicant’s detriment” but this was as high as 16% in Accra, for example, compared to 6% for Manila. Abu Dhabi, Nairobi, Manila and Sheffield are singled out for wrongly using lack of previous travel as a reason for refusal.
Overall, as many as 14% of decisions were considered unreasonable from Dhaka and Kingston but New Delhi and Manila come out very well with 0% of decisions judged unreasonable overall.
The report is hardly encouraging; there are clearly still very serious problems with the quality of decision making, particularly at posts like Dhaka, Kingston and Accra. We would welcome up-to-date figures on family visit visa refusal rates, either conclusively showing that the removal of appeal rights has not led to a rise in refusals, or that, predictably, there has been a rise in refusals since the abolition of the right of appeal.
With thanks to Paul Erdunast for his help with this blog post.