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David Neal details ‘shocking’ findings over care visas and border security at City Airport in final reports as Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration


New inspection reports of immigration system relating to social care sector and Border Force operations at London airport

Date of Publication:

Two inspection reports by David Neal, the former Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration (ICIBI), were released today by the Home Office.

ICIBI logoThe reports were not among the large batch of reports published last month following David Neal's sacking. Home Secretary James Cleverly announced last month that Neal had been sacked with immediate effect because he had breached the terms of his appointment and lost the Home Secretary's confidence. Last year, the Government decided not to renew Neal's contract after Home Office officials criticised his reports for being "excessively critical" and not positive enough.

The 86-page An inspection of the immigration system as it relates to the social care sector (August 2023 to November 2023) can be downloaded here.

It is yet another highly critical report by David Neal, which finds the Home Office's introduction and implementation of the Health and Care Worker visa route was ill-thought through. Neal calls it a "debacle" and says the results of the visa policy were "shocking".

He states in the report's foreword: "This inspection report details the consequences of the Home Office's limited understanding of the social care sector, its underestimation of demand for the Care Worker visa, the inappropriateness of its sponsor licensing regime for low-skilled roles, and the mismatch between its meagre complement of compliance officers and ever-expanding register of licensed sponsors. There are echoes of previous inspections that have highlighted the consequences of the Home Office's failure to accurately forecast, such as small boat arrivals. Fundamentally, the Home Office selected a route that was designed for a largely compliant sector and applied it to a high-risk area – migration into an atomised and poorly paid sector is miles away from the recruitment of highly skilled workers being sponsored by multinational corporations. This should have been obvious to Home Office policymakers.

"The net effect of these mistakes is that the Home Office created a system that invited large numbers of low-skilled workers to this country who are at risk from exploitation. Moreover, its control measures to mitigate the risk were totally inadequate. There is just one compliance officer for every 1,600 employers licensed to sponsor migrant workers.

"This report details the shocking results of the policy's implementation, including the case of 275 certificates of sponsorship being granted to a care home that did not exist, and 1,234 certificates being granted to a company that stated it had only four employees when given a licence. In just these two examples, up to 1,500 people could have arrived in this country and been encouraged by a risk of hardship or destitution to work outside the conditions of their visa. While the inspection does not detail the extent of this abuse, my inspectors encountered migrants with care visas working illegally in two out of eight enforcement visits they observed during my inspection of illegal working enforcement (August to October 2023)."

The ICIBI inspection finds the Home Office took a relatively "light touch" approach to applications for sponsor licences, and it did not have the resources or staff to monitor the ever-increasing register of licensed sponsors. While the Home Office introduced new measures to strengthen the sponsor licence application process, they were too recently for ICIBI inspectors to meaningfully assess their impact

More generally, David Neal added that he was especially worried to see that the Home Office does not appear to have any process to identify and learn lessons from what went wrong with care visas to ensure that they are not repeated.

"Sadly, this is a pattern that inspectors identify in far too many inspections. Accountability for failure is all too often lacking. While ministers are ultimately responsible, they depend upon the advice of senior leaders within the Home Office; once more this advice has either been ignored or has proved to be poor," the Neal said.

The second ICIBI report released today is the heavily redacted 26-page A spot check inspection of Border Force's operational response to general aviation flights at London City Airport. You can download it here.

It is another investigation that leaves David Neal shocked.

Summarising the findings in the report's foreword, he states: "This spot check inspection identifies a significant risk to security at the border at London City Airport (LCY). It highlights failings at a local, regional, and national level in Border Force's response to general aviation (GA). This needs to be addressed by the Home Office as a matter of urgency.

"Guidance designed to keep the country safe directs that all GA flights identified as high risk are met by Border Force staff, except in exceptional circumstances. At LCY, only [redacted] were met in 2023. Guidance also directs that a third of low-risk flights are met. Only [redacted] were met at LCY in 2023. This is shocking and something is clearly very wrong.

"Local managers told inspectors that they approached GA operations on a 'resource to risk' basis given the other priorities they have to resource under the Border Force Operating Mandate. They were satisfied that their operational response was adequate. By any measure this is not acceptable. This is compounded by the observation that nobody in the chain of command for LCY appeared to be taking action, even though they were aware that this was taking place.

"On the basis of this spot check inspection, the Home Office needs to urgently examine failings in the Border Force response to GA flights at a local, regional, and national level, and take rapid action to address the GA system failings this report identifies at LCY."

The Standard reported, however, that the ICIBI report was criticised for being inaccurate by Phil Douglas, the Director General of Border Force at the Home Office. Douglas was quoted as saying: "As I previously explained to Mr Neal, some of the information in this report is factually inaccurate. Border Security checks were carried out on all general aviation arrivals at London City Airport."