UK Border Agency loses track of 124,000 asylum seekers

UK Border Agency has lost track of 124,000 asylum seekers, the equivalent of the population of Cambridge, a new report by the Home Affairs Committee has revealed.

The Committee’s report shows that the UK Border has not resolved all of the asylum ‘legacy’ cases first identified in 2006 within the promised five year timeframe. Instead, 18,000 ongoing cases are still awaiting a final decision.

The Committee also expressed concern at the dramatic increase in files transferred to the “controlled archive” in the past six months. The files, which are placed in the archive when every effort to track an applicant has been exhausted, numbered 40,500 in March 2011. By September 2011, it had increased to 124,000.

The Committee has recommended that guidance be produced on the management of the controlled archive and has stated with conviction that any further rise in the number of files transferred to the archive will be considered a failing on the part of the Agency.

The Committee also criticised the UK Border Agency for failing to explain why 350 foreign national prisoners due to be deported are still in the country.

The Agency provided the Committee with a breakdown of the issues with the deportation process of 1,300 prisoners who were released between 1st April 2010 and 31st March 2011. The largest group, making up 27% of the total, was labelled ‘unknown’.

The MPs also criticised the Agency for its inability to disclose how many individuals were removed from the country due to intelligence provided by members of the public.

The Committee emphasised the importance of intelligence provided to the Agency in stopping abuse of the system, but warned that unless the public can see that the Agency uses the intelligence provided, it will simply lead to further public frustration with the immigration system as a whole.

The Committee objected to the Agency’s use of the euphemistic term “controlled archive” to describe the applicants with whom it has lost contact. It would be more appropriate, the Committee said, to describe it as the archive of lost applicants.

The MPs were surprised by the claim that the UK Border Agency does not recognise the term “bogus college” given that the Home Office recently released a press notice which focused on colleges which had their licences revoked, some of which were described as ‘bogus’.

The Government should commission a detailed investigation into financial waste, including the writing-off of bad debts, overpayments to staff and asylum applicants, and failure to collect civil penalties, the Committee said.

MPs also called for better liaison between the Agency and HM Prison Service to ensure that foreign national prisoners are deported, where appropriate, rather than released into the community.

Noting that the Agency is losing too many appeals at immigration tribunals, the MPs urged the Agency to raise the quality of its representation and commit to being represented at every hearing so that the case for refusal can properly be made.

The Agency needs to ensure that all their staff are aware of the existence of “bogus colleges”, which exist only to sponsor visa applications, the MPs said.

Rt. Hon Keith Vaz MP, Chairman of the Committee said: “The UK Border Agency is still not providing the efficient, effective service that Parliament expects. The so-called ‘controlled archive’ has become a dumping ground for cases where the UK Border Agency has lost track of the applicant. From 18,000 files last November, it has now grown to 124,000—the equivalent of the population of Cambridge.

“The Prime Minister himself recently called for members of the public to provide intelligence on immigrants. There is little point in encouraging people to do this if the border agency continues to fail to manage the intelligence it receives or to keep track of those who apply to stay. A fit for purpose immigration system needs to keep track of applicants rather than allowing them to go missing.”