My Lords, the Immigration Rules contain provision for an applicant to be granted settlement in the United Kingdom as the dependent relative of a person present and settled in the United Kingdom. The term “dependent relative” includes a son, daughter, sister, brother, uncle or aunt, all over the age of 18, if living alone outside the UK in the most exceptional compassionate circumstances and mainly dependent financially on relatives settled in the UK.
My Lords, that is very interesting, but is the noble Lord aware that the dependent children of Latin American diplomats whose student visas expire while their parents are still accredited have to return to their country of origin and reapply for a visa at considerable expense and inconvenience? Is that really a sensible way to proceed?
My Lords, the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery, was kind enough to let me know of this issue beforehand and I have looked into it in some detail. Within the rules, we are able to make sure that that does not happen and I shall be talking to the noble Viscount about this specific case to see how it came to happen. If a diplomatic family is sent here with a child under 18 who is studying, they are allowed to remain until the diplomat goes back with his family. That is effectively the position. I shall be talking to the noble Viscount on the specifics to see exactly what happened in that case.
My Lords, I refer the Minister to a Question that I asked on 25 June 2007. I shall not read it because it is too long but I asked about a Latin American person who, at that time, had lived in this country for 27 years invisibly because her passport had been stolen and so on. The reply given to me by the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, was that she should,
“apply to the Home Office Border and Immigration Agency to regularise her position and apply for indefinite leave to remain; that is, to settle in the United Kingdom”.—[Official Report, 25/6/07; col. 410.]
Does the Minister realise how extremely difficult that is? I saw her recently and for the past two years she has been trying to apply. She has been told to produce details of the school that she went to but it has closed and the company that she worked for originally went broke. She lost her passport and reported that to the police, so she could not leave the country. Again, no records were kept. What is the answer to those who are in a difficult and invisible position for a long time?
My Lords, it is very difficult for me to give an answer on a specific case. It sounds very bad. We are now a lot harder and more careful about people coming into the country. I came into this arena late—two and a half years ago—but for many years, through successive Administrations, I do not believe that we were tight enough on our border controls. In the past two and a half years, that has changed dramatically; for example, net migration dropped by 44 per cent between 2007 and 2008. These measures are beginning to have a real impact, which is crucial. Immigrants have given a huge amount to our country, but we have to control the situation and we are beginning to do that.
My Lords, the last time the independent monitor for entry clearance visited Latin America was, I think, 2006, when she made a report about the inconsistencies and lack of fairness faced by people when applying for visas. Can the Minister say how the inspection regime for that region is finding the situation now?
My Lords, 204 years ago today, the victorious British fleet was off Cadiz with its prizes and was hit by a great storm. In the same way, I feel taken flat aback by that question. I do not know the exact answer to it, so perhaps I may respond in writing.
My Lords, the Minister answered the noble Viscount’s supplementary question in terms of diplomats with children under 18, whereas the Question specifically refers to those over 18. Can the noble Lord also explain why I am getting reports of British nationals in South America having to send their passports for renewal and extension to New York, rather than to the country in which they reside?
My Lords, I apologise if I did not answer the Question of the noble Viscount correctly. I meant to indicate that, even when such children are over 18 and they are still in full-time education, they are allowed to be here. They are allowed to be with their families under other circumstances as well, but those circumstances are too complex to list them all. If they are over 18 and in full-time education, it is absolutely right that they should stay with their families.
On the passport issue, this is the hub-and-spoke system, which we have talked about a number of times in this Chamber. There have been teething problems with it, but it has saved the Foreign and Commonwealth Office a gigantic amount of money, which it needed to save. We need to squeeze down and give better value for taxpayers. I accept that there have been teething problems, but I believe that we are overcoming them all. This is done very efficiently with standardised procedures and we do it in various parts of the world. I know that some people have felt that there are delays and that this has slowed things down, but overall we are very satisfied. We shall have to keep refining it and do better, but I think that it is the right thing to have done.
My Lords, notwithstanding the need for proper border controls, is there a general predisposition by the Government to encourage skilled and highly trained immigrants from Latin America in view of the huge talents existing now in the Latin American communities already in Britain?
My Lords, as I said, there is no doubt that immigrants have added huge value to our country. However, we have to be much tighter on our controls as regards South America, as with everywhere else in the world. We now have our points-based system, which is working well. It enables people to get into this country and it enables flow and movement. Interestingly, the net migration figure is dramatically down, which shows that there are checks and balances. People move to where there are opportunities. We have tightened the controls and I think that we are going in the right direction, but it will take time to get this sorted out. E-borders will help. At long last, we are getting real control of the borders, which had not really happened for 40 years or so.