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Visit visa operations are “refreshingly well run”


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The Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration has now published a report on visit visa operations between December 2022 and January 2023 which confirms that overall, this area of the Home Office is functioning well, with an apparent “focus on improving the operational effectiveness of the workflow tool”.

Post-pandemic, managers reported struggling to recruit staff at a relative pace to keep up with demand for visit visas which in some areas was higher than forecasted by as much as 700%. Delays on standard processing times crept in through most of 2021 and 2022, but these have been improving since October 2022 for non-complex cases in particular.

In his comments on the publication of the report, the Inspector said:

 “Overall, though, and most importantly, this was a refreshingly well-run area of business. Staff working in this area said they felt valued and supported by managers who have an interest in their welfare and wellbeing. The caseworkers I spoke to were a particularly cohesive group: well-led, well-managed and benefitting significantly from working collaboratively together in a shared workspace. I hope I will find similar good practice in the imminent inspection of asylum casework.

This report was sent to the Home Secretary on 10 February 2023. I am encouraged that the report has been laid in Parliament within 10 weeks of its submission, a significant improvement on the 15 weeks or more it took on average for reports to be published during my first two years in post…”

Recommendations from the Inspector predominantly focused on processes, including conducting routine reviews and equality impact assessments and risk profiles, ensuring that workflow processes reflect the full range of known immigration risks and has a mechanism for incorporating new and emerging threats in a timely manner.

The focus of the report and recommendations is the processing tool used by the visit visa team; the Complexity Application Routing Solution, otherwise known as CARS. It contains a number of nationality-based ‘risk profiles’ which it automatically checks an application against to identify applications which should be re-routed to an Executive Officer decision maker.

Most risk profiles contain very specific characteristics against which the system can match applications. But some had the potential to match a significant number of applicants and particularly those intending to visit the UK for the first time. For example, one profile targeted all applicants of a specific nationality who were applying for a six-month visit visa at a particular visa application centre. The justification was that around six per cent of applicants matching this profile had claimed asylum following a grant of a visit visa.

But a significant number of applicants were likely to match the criteria in this profile and since processing times are longer for complex applications, there is a potential for this to have a significant impact for a large number of people.

This is just one example. The Inspector found that applications were often being routed to the complex team on the basis of particular locations and on age. Using such approaches has the potential for indirect discrimination. The Inspector hoped to see further refinement of some risk profiles, and for the referral of the case to the complex team to include specifics on how to assess the credibility of applications that match these profiles.   

In general, visit visas applications are processed effectively and efficiently in comparison to a lot of other Home Office casework. The atmosphere in the team is central to this. As is the effective use of CARS for most cases, and specifically for non-complex cases. The Home Office have accepted the Inspectors recommendations, most of which relate to processing of more complex applications and ensuring that such process follow Home Office policy, and work is already underway to implement these.

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