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Immigration: Entry Clearance Refusals

Volume 689: debated on Monday 26 February 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

When they expect to respond to the 2005 report of the Independent Monitor for Entry Clearance Refusals without the Right of Appeal.

My Lords, on 15 January 2007, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State made a Written Ministerial Statement in another place announcing the publication of the independent monitor’s report on refusals without the right of appeal, made in 2005. Copies of the report were placed in the Libraries of the two Houses, and it was published on the UKvisas website. My right honourable friend also announced that UKvisas had placed on the website its response to recommendations made in the report.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend and hope that the Government will ensure that the issues and problems highlighted in the report are addressed. Is he aware of the media coverage and indeed the indignation in Gateshead and on Tyneside about the fact that, despite Gateshead’s huge and successful efforts to promote tourism using the Angel of the North, the Gateshead Millennium Bridge, the new regional music and arts venues and so on, the report recounts an entry clearance officer refusing a visitor entry into the UK on the grounds that Gateshead is not a credible tourist destination?

I am glad that noble Lords share my concern. Would the Government like to show some flair and reinvite the tourist whose application was thus blocked, perhaps together with the ignorant entry clearance official, and help not hinder the tourism image that the north-east richly deserves?

My Lords, that is an entirely appropriate question from my noble friend, who, I believe, got the freedom of Gateshead relatively recently, along with my noble friend Lord Burlison. I always love going to the north-east, except when my football team gets beaten up there. On all other occasions, there is a huge amount to recommend it to everybody as a destination. I encourage people to go. I am not certain whether the Government should pay for entry clearance officers or anybody else to learn that lesson, but I hope that they will take the spirit of the response that I have given.

My Lords, why are subjective criteria still being used to evaluate entry certificate applications for visitors and students, such as in the example cited by the noble Baroness, despite the fact that the Minister assured me in a Written Answer on 9 October last that instructions had been given on objective assessment on no fewer than three occasions: in March, August and November 2005? Does not the report confirm fears that we expressed a year ago about the number of people still wrongly denied their appeal rights? As the FCO already knew of that from reports going back three years, why has it done nothing about it?

My Lords, I do not accept the assumptions in the question. The overwhelming proportion of people who apply to come to this country get a visa. A relatively small proportion of those who do not get a visa have been shown by the independent monitor to have had misjudgments made in their case. Of those refused, 4.5 per cent were found to have been refused on the basis of poor judgment.

Principally the criteria are objective but some assessment must be made about the intent of the person who applies and whether they can honestly convince the entry clearance officer that they intend to leave the United Kingdom on the expiry of their visa. I do not think that human judgment can be completely excluded in these matters, even if the whole platform should be broadly objective.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that in the report to which my noble friend Lady Quin referred is empirical evidence of the need to move with all due speed towards the new managed migration system and the points-based system, and that anything done to delay the introduction of that system will leave us with more and more subjective and less objective decision-making in this area?

My Lords, the points-based system should, in general, across the categories that it covers, have a much more objective basis. As the Minister specifically responsible for that area in the Foreign Office, I am very insistent that the new pattern of training for entry clearance officers—proper qualifications to do the job, proper qualifications for promotion—should also be fundamental. People cannot do a modern, professional job in a modern, professional world unless they are properly trained to do it and there is some assessment of their ability.

My Lords, in her report, published on 11 January, the independent monitor referred to,

“clear, accurate and up to date policy and practice guidance”,

not being available and that in her experience she found the guidance,

“contradictory, incomplete and difficult to access”.

Does the Minister agree that some other solutions could be as simple as cutting material from a multiplicity of sources and pasting it into a single authoritative document, and that those and other improvements could be put in hand forthwith, without waiting for the Government’s reply?

My Lords, the advice issued has often come out in shorter pieces and has been added together cumulatively in a way that I do not believe has been effective. I share the noble Viscount's view about that. A major attempt is being made to get it into a single, simple, consolidated document. Given that the regulations go back for a very long period and you cannot simply take pieces out because they do not read as well as others, it is a rather laborious task but it is imperative.

My Lords, is the Minister aware of the judicial review announced on 9 February about doctors born overseas? The judge commented that the Home Office had failed to carry out a statutory race impact assessment and that no consultation had taken place. Were those criteria met when the rejection of appeal was being discussed?

My Lords, the role that UKvisas and the Foreign Office play mean that we must ensure that the Immigration Rules and the criteria, especially the objective criteria, have been followed. Any guidance from the courts that suggests that we, more broadly across government, should address issues further will of course be considered, but there is strong evidence from the monitor herself that there has been a very serious and qualitatively better application of the rules since she reported.