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UK Border Agency

Volume 558: debated on Monday 11 February 2013

4. What assessment she has made of the recent performance of the UK Border Agency and the UK Border Force. (142179)

The performance of both organisations is improving. Border Force efforts mean waiting times at airports are now considerably better. I am pleased to say that, between July and September last year—an important time for the UK—99% of passengers were cleared within service standards. UKBA is working to ensure that more illegal immigrants leave the UK this year than last, but we recognise that there are some deep-seated problems that need sustained effort. We are driving that effort forward.

I thank the Secretary of State for her answer. I think the message is, “Still could do much better.” My constituent, Lynn Wyllie, has been waiting two and a half years for confirmation of her immigration status. Her children stay in Scotland and both have British passports. Despite her full co-operation, and that of my office team and her lawyer, she has had no response whatever with regard to her status. Her current application ran out on Friday. Will the Secretary of State arrange an urgent review—I am happy to give details—because Lynn is intensely stressed and worried about her situation and her family?

On the hon. Gentleman’s first comment, as I indicated in my answer, there are some issues that still need to be addressed in relation to the operation of the UK Border Agency. I am happy to look into the case that he has raised. If he provides the details, my hon. Friend the Immigration Minister will look into that with care.

The Home Secretary will be well aware of many of the long delays, and I, like many Members, have a number of constituents waiting for responses from the UK Border Agency. This is causing great concern for businesses and the universities in Cambridge, as are some of the over-bureaucratic controls that they feel they are being forced to apply on academics and students. Will she come to Cambridge to meet university and business representatives in order to discuss the details of how that is working?

I understand that the Immigration Minister has already agreed to come to Cambridge to meet representatives of the university on the issue. I met representatives of the Russell group and Universities UK when we were developing our policy on ensuring that we can drive out abuse of the student visa system. We have a student visa system that ensures that the brightest and the best students—those who are coming to an institution that is genuinely providing education, to study a genuine degree course or educational course, and are intending to be students and not to use the visa to work—can come to the UK, while we are driving out abuse. I am pleased to say that tens of thousands of people who were coming here or would have come here to work rather than to be students will not do so, as a result of the action that this Government have taken.

The Home Secretary was kind enough to write to me after the last Home Office questions to say that she is working on the group of lost cases, but I have a number of current cases of constituents who are losing their jobs because the Home Office has not replied to in-time applications, so they have no papers that they can show their employer and there is no way they can prove their right to work, as a result of which they are being sacked. Will she stand up in this Chamber and say that nobody who has an in-time application and who had permission to work should be sacked because of the Home Office’s inefficiency?

What I say to the hon. Lady is that we are working through and with UKBA to ensure that we can improve the processes that it operates in relation to applications. If she has particular cases that she wishes to raise with Ministers, she is free to do that. It is important that we ensure that, through the work that is developing to deal with the problems that still exist, UKBA is able to provide the efficient service that we all want to see.

Too many UKBA decisions are still wrong and the process is taking far too long, in which case does the Home Secretary not think it extraordinary that, notwithstanding the clear ruling of a judge on 29 November and previous tribunal decisions, UKBA is still seeking to prevent Roseline Akhalu from staying in this country, despite the fact that if she is deported she will die?

I will respond to my hon. Friend in relation to the individual case that he has raised, but he starts off by saying that too many decisions by the UK Border Agency are wrong. One of the problems for UKBA is that very often entry clearance officers take decision on the basis of the information in front of them, which may perfectly well be the right decision on the basis of that information, then further information is provided before an appeal is heard. That is an issue that we need to look at.

Further to the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart), I have many constituents who have submitted an in-time application and have not even received an acknowledgement from the UK Border Agency. When my office chases up some months later, it turns out that they have not even been input into the UKBA computer system. Perhaps the Home Secretary can tell us whether this is an attempt by the Home Office to massage figures about the number of applicants and the speed with which it is dealing with them.

No such attempt is being made in relation to what the hon. Lady says. She will have heard the answer that I gave. I acknowledged that there are problems in some areas of the operation of the UK Border Agency. That is why we are looking at the UK Border Agency, and why work is being done to improve the processes within it to ensure that we have a system that provides an efficient and effective response to those who are applying.