Amber Rudd has been forced to admit that the Home Office sets local targets for the deportation of illegal immigrants, despite denying their existence during a Home Affairs Committee hearing yesterday.
The home secretary told Parliament today that her department was committed to increasing the number of illegal migrants it deports, and had been using local targets for internal performance management.
Both Rudd and the top official in charge of immigration at the Home Office denied that the department used “removals targets” yesterday, which directly contradicted evidence given by the general secretary of the ISU, a union for border and immigration staff.
Responding to an urgent question in Parliament today, Rudd said: “I have never agreed that there should be specific removals targets and I would never support a policy that puts targets ahead of people.
“The immigration arm of the Home Office has been using local targets for internal performance management. These were not published targets against which performance was assessed but if they were used inappropriately then I am clear that this will have to change.”
Rudd said she had asked officials to provide her with a “full picture of performance measurement tools” used at all levels.
During a hearing on the Windrush children yesterday, Home Affairs Committee chair Yvette Cooper, a Labour MP, asked Rudd when the target for net removals was set. The committee had been told by the ISU’s Lucy Moreton that the Home Office had regional targets for removing illegal migrants during an earlier hearing.
Rudd responded: “We don’t have targets for removals.”
Pressed on the point, she added: “I didn’t hear the testimony, I’m not sure what shape that might be in, but if you ask me ‘are there numbers of people we expect to be removed?’, that’s not how we operate.
She later added: “It is correct that I have asked for more removals to take place because I would like to see people who are here illegally removed.”
Glynn Williams, director general for border, immigration and citizenship, was asked to clarify whether there were removals targets in place for different regions. He responded: “I’m not in charge of enforcement but not as far as I know, no.”
Cooper, who has since described the response as a “complete fudge”, then said: “I think we need to clear this up pretty quickly because if there are removals targets in the Home Office and the two people who are supposedly in charge don’t know about them, then that feels pretty serious and feels like a kind of lack of grip anywhere in the system.”
A report by the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration published in December 2015, spotted by the Guardian, revealed that the Home Office also had a target for voluntary departures. The annual target was increased to 12,000 in 2015-16 – 160 per week – up from 7,200 in 2014-15.
Voluntary departures are when people who are in the country illegally or those denied leave to remain notify the Home Office with their intention to leave the UK.
Moreton had told the committee: “There’s increasing pressure across the civil service as a whole to demonstrate value for money… and as that requirement to reduce public sector spending has begun to bite we’ve seen more and more challenging targets starting with the announcement of the net migration target [to reduce total migration to less than 100,000 a year].
“That is translated down through the operational arms of the Home Office to a certain number of decisions made within 180 days unless they are exceptionally complicated, a net removals target that enforcement teams have to meet…[and] seizures target at the border.”
She also said that the target for removals had become more challenging, partly as the number of experienced staff reduced at the Home Office. She said that some decisions were now being taken by staff at a lower grade, and said the quality of the data upon which caseworkers had to base their decisions was “particularly poor”.
Moreton previously wrote in Civil Service World that the “ability for the staff in Home Office’s operational arm to exercise any discretion has been all but entirely removed” since structural changes made following the sacking of UK Border Force chief executive Brodie Clark in 2011.
The issue of removals targets was raised as part of the Home Affairs Committee’s inquiry into the Windrush children, who came to the UK legally in the 1950s and 60s but have since been threatened with deportation or denied access to public services because of uncertainty about their immigration status.
Many have been asked to provide large amounts of documentation to prove how long they have been living in the UK.
Williams told MPs on the committee that the Home Office since 2008 had been moving away from interviewing applicants in the case of economic and student migration, towards greater use of “prescriptive lists of documents”, in order to make the process more objective.
He said the question had now arisen as to “whether that’s gone too far” and said Rudd had asked the Home Office to “row back from that and to introduce more face-to-face and more subjectivity, or judgement, into the process as opposed to only looking at evidence”.
Elsewhere in Wednesday’s committee hearing, Rudd outlined her plans to create a “more personal service at UKVI” and to change the culture at the Home Office.
She said she had told the Home Office to take a more proactive role to help people from the Windrush generation in future. A call centre staffed by 30 people will open in July to support people making immigration applications, while 50 additional senior caseworkers have been appointed to ensure key decisions are escalated to experienced staff, she said.
“I do think it’s important that we introduce more of a personal support service at the Home Office so that there is that personal engagement that I think will make a difference,” Rudd told the committee.