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Volume 408: debated on Thursday 3 July 2003

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To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what recent assessment he has made of the performance of the Immigration and Nationality Enquiry Bureau in Croydon; how many applications where the applicant clearly falls under the immigration rules have been delayed beyond the expected minimum over the last year; and if he will make a statement. [121844]

The performance of the Immigration and Nationality Enquiry Bureau (INEB) has improved significantly in recent months. It is now answering between 24,000 and 25,000 calls a week compared to 17,000 a week at the beginning of this year. Callers now regularly get through to the Bureau in one or two attempts and average time in a queue has reduced from six minutes to two minutes. In a recent customer survey over 85 per cent. of those questioned described their experience of INEB as satisfactory or better.We normally aim to screen all postal applications within three weeks and decide at least 70 per cent. at that point. Because of the high number of applications in the latter part of 2002, it was taking up to 10 weeks on average at the end of last year and the earlier part of this one to take decisions on these cases. As a result of measures to improve this situation, the processing time for straightforward applications has reduced to four weeks on average and continued progress is being made towards our three-week target. At present where further inquiries are required, most cases are being decided within six months but because of the very high intake a small minority have taken up to 12 months to decide.