The Home Office has hired 700 new immigration caseworkers and will recruit another 500 by next April to deal with the additional administrative burden imposed by Brexit, home secretary Amber Rudd has confirmed, while the department has also confirmed plans to recruit 300 new Border Force staff.
Rudd told MPs that the Home Office would be looking to recruit more staff in the coming years to register the three million EU nationals currently living in Britain, while her permanent secretary Philip Rutnam added that the department was about to recruit 300 new Border Force staff.
Doubts have been raised about the Home Office’s capacity to cope with the additional workload in immigration and customs controls from March 2019, with the former head of immigration enforcement David Wood expressing concerns last week that the challenge of Brexit cannot be met “under current resources”.
Rudd told the Home Affairs Select Committee yesterday that all UK-based European nationals would be invited to apply for “settled status” following the UK’s departure from the EU, and that the government’s “default position” would be acceptance unless there are fraud or criminality issues.
On top of the existing 6,500 employees of UK Visas and Immigration who deal with around three million applications of various kinds each year, Rudd said the Home Office was recruiting 1,200 extra staff to help with its preparations for leaving the EU.
“We have already recruited 700 caseworkers dealing with European casework,” she said. “We’re in the process of recruiting another 500 by next April to ensure a system for registering European nationals is ready by next year.
“And we’ll also be looking to recruit further staff in the coming years.”
A report by the Institute for Government think tank published in May projected that the Home Office, based on its 2014 operating model, would require 5,000 additional staff to process up to three million applications from EU nationals.
It has been speculated that residency applicants from the EU would have to fill in a 85-page permanent residency form for EEA or Swiss nationals, which requires proof of address and earnings over five years.
But when pressed by Home Affairs Select Committee chair Yvette Cooper on whether the extra 1,200 immigration staff would be sufficient, the home secretary insisted that a completely different, more “user-friendly” online system would be used instead.
She said most applicants would be able to apply easily online, without documentation changing hands, under a new system that aims to be up and running by the end of 2018.
Under this system – which the government has promised will be “as digital… as possible” – the Home Office will be able to access data from HM Revenue and Customs and the Department for Work and Pensions to make the process more straightforward for applicants, she added.
“So, although we are tooling up with extra staff we expect the vast majority of people when they register to be able to do it very simply online,” she said.
Rudd also said the department would be “nimble on our toes to make sure that we recruit where necessary” as the negotiation process with the EU gets underway.
Rutnam told the committee that 300 new Border Force staff would be in place by September next year, to deal with the consequences in terms of additional customs and border checks of leaving the EU regardless of whether there is a deal by March 2019.
He said staffing capacity would be kept “actively under review”, and that he could not exclude the possibility of Border Force requiring additional staff.
Rutnam refused to rule out use of the armed forces in case of issues relating to capacity brought about by a “no deal”. Ahead of the London Olympics in 2012, the army was brought in to provide security following the failure by G4S to provide enough private security guards during the Olympics.
He said: “I think it would be unwise to rule anything out but it seems to me clear that any use of the military would be a last resort.
“Our preference – strong preference – is to deal with the border, the security that’s needed at the border, through Border Force and that is the basis upon which our planning is proceeding.”