Immigration watchdog launches hiring drive as ex-inspector says understaffing a 'nightmare'

Up to 14 jobs on offer as chief inspector begins new programme of work
Photo: David Pearson

The newly-appointed immigration watchdog has launched a recruitment drive to hire 14 more inspectors for the perpetually-understaffed unit.

Independent chief inspector of borders and immigration David Neal, who took up the position in March, said in an announcement yesterday that he was seeking “enthusiastic individuals with a well-developed sense of curiosity and excellent writing skills”.

The inspectorate is hiring up to 14 senior executive officer-grade staff, who will each earn between £37,450 and £46,144.

They will work with Neal as he undertakes a new programme of inspections of different areas of work across the Home Office and the borders and immigration system. Previous inspections have focused on asylum detention, the management of EU settlement scheme and family reunification, among other things.

“This is a unique opportunity to join the inspectorate as a new chief inspector introduces his first inspection programme. The areas to be inspected and new methods of inspection are currently under consideration and successful applicants will have the opportunity to contribute to setting the direction of the inspectorate,” the job advert reads.

Applicants must be “self-starters” but do not have to have experience of inspection or borders and immigration work. They must be good at working collaboratively, have strong written and oral communication skills and be able to analyse data and exercise good judgement.

“New joiners will be trained and mentored to ensure they become fully effective in their new role,” the advert says.

Neal said he wanted people with “as diverse a range of backgrounds as possible” to assist with his work. “In order to do this, I have cast my net wide to attract external candidates as well as existing civil servants.”

“The next few years promise to be very busy for the UK’s borders and immigration system and I am currently designing a plan that rebalances our inspections across all aspects of the Home Office’s immigration operation including Border Force activity at airports, seaports and juxtaposed controls, immigration casework units, and enforcement operations,” he said.

“We are adjusting the way that we are operating and re-introducing a mix of shorter as well as standard inspections, so there will be plenty of variety and the opportunity to play a key role in one of the most complex and challenging areas of our national life.”

Backfilling roles a ‘nightmare’ 

An April 2020 report by Neal’s predecessor, David Bolt, revealed the inspectorate had been understaffed for the last two years. In 2019-20, it had operated with “roughly half the number of inspectors it should have”, Bolt wrote in the annual report.

Despite a successful hiring drive in the second half of that year, Bolt told CSW that understaffing had remained a persistent challenge in his time as ICIBI.

In an interview to be published in the upcoming June issue of CSW, Bolt said the inspectorate had struggled to keep up with hiring new inspectors as staff left for new opportunities.

Because ICIBI staff – with the exception of the chief inspector – are employed by the Home Office, they are able to move quickly to other areas of the civil service when internal opportunities arise.

“Probably half of the staff who left the inspectorate during my time left on promotion – it was quite a good place to have been, to have that experience in your history when you're looking for the next step,” Bolt said.

He said smaller units within the Home Office, including the inspectorate, “suffer most from this lack of central management of the HR career function” in the department.

“Because the [HR] system is so slow, individuals can move relatively quickly, and backfilling is a nightmare. It takes forever. And that was the problem that I was suffering, that the people were moving on and I was struggling to backfill,” he explained.

“There was no central HR system that was supporting me by providing me with new staff. The inspectorate had to do that for itself and so in a sense, it was a sort of downward spiral – because as we have fewer [staff], so we were then struggling just to keep up with our programme, and create the capacity to run recruitment campaigns.” 

Applications for the inspector roles close on 21 June.

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