The immigration watchdog has told the Home Office to improve its record keeping for right of abode cases after it emerged the department could not show that it had refered people who had fraudulently applied for the immigration status for enforcement action
In an inspection last year, David Bolt, the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration found the Home Office was not following up on failed applications for right of abode applications – a status given to some British subjects and Commonwealth citizens proving they have the right to stay in the UK – in any consistent way.
The inspection also found the Home Office had wrongly added people whose right of abode applications were refused to a list of people with no right to be in the UK – an error it has since corrected.
Bolt’s report, published last week, found that the Home Office had failed to fully implement the recommendations of a report he wrote on the same subject following an inspection in 2016, which also found record keeping was poor.
The 2016 report found that although the refusal rate for right of abode applications was low, there was “no consistency about referring those individuals who did not have the right to remain in the UK at the time of their application for enforcement action”. Bolt's latest inspection found some improvements, but he said the problem had not been fully resolved.
Being refused right of abode does not always mean someone has no right to be in the UK, as the applicant may either have or be eligible to apply for another immigration status giving them the right to stay.
But Bolt found in 2016 that people were not referred for enforcement action – which can include deportation – even when the individual was “known or suspected to have used deception, typically forged or fraudulent documents, when applying for right of abode”.
And the 2019 reinspection again “raised doubts about the effectiveness” about the process for reporting cases where people may have used fraudulent documents to HM Passport Office, according to Bolt. Home Office records did not provide “a consistent picture of whether information regarding forged or fraudulently obtained documents or about the applicant’s attempted deception was sent to HMPO,” he said.
People 'wrongly considered for enforcement action'
The chief inspector also raised concerns about the measures the Home Office had taken to remedy the lack of consistency in how it handled concerns since his last report.
In 2017 the Home Office placed all of the applications it had refused for right of abode into the migration refusal pool – its record of people whose have no right to be in the UK, either because their leave has expired, or because an application to stay has been refused. However, Bolt said the department was wrong to do so because someone who has been refused right of abode may still have the right to remain in the UK, and a refusal has “no effect on immigration status”.
People in the migration refusal pool can face what the Home Office calls “enforcement action” such as removal from the country.
“When the Home Office recognised its mistake the practice was quickly stopped. However, over a period of several months, ‘a small number of cases’ were wrongly referred for consideration for enforcement action,” Bolt said.
Some of the people whose files were wrongly placed into the migration refusal pool were Windrush individuals. Bolt said it was “reasonable to assume” these people have since been identified and removed from the pool, given the Home Office’s efforts to address the Windrush scandal – but said it must now “provide assurances that all cases, not just Windrush ones, that were wrongly ‘pulled’ into the MRP have been identified and remedial action taken”.
In its response, published alongside the report, the Home Office confirmed for the first time that it had reviewed these cases.
“All decision that were ‘pulled’ into the migration refusal pool have been carefully reviewed. No cases that required any remedial action were identified,” it said.
The department said it accepted all of Bolt's recommendations.
"The Home Office remains committed to implementing recommendations made by the ICIBI and has noted the comments that some elements of recommendations made in the previous inspection remain open; these have been followed up robustly," it said.
Publication delays continue
The report was one of three published this month. The first, on visa onshoring, found a lack of transparency about a programme to close overseas visa decision-making centres.
Another, published the same week as the right of abode report, examined “country of origin” information compiled by the Home Office on conditions in Jamaica and Ethiopia to support immigration decision making. The report made a number of detailed recommendations about how to improve the guidance, as well as an overarching call to carry out an open analysis of the country of origin information it produces – which the Home Office accepted.
All three reports were published significantly outside the Home Office’s own target timeframe of eight weeks after receiving them. The right of abode report came three and a half months after Bolt submitted it, while the country of origin report remained unpublished for more than six months.
Last month CSW revealed that the department had failed to publish a single one of the 14 reports Bolt submitted in 2019 within eight weeks. Three from that year are still waiting to be published.