Inspection report published on 'onshoring' of visa processing and decision making to the UK
Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration calls for greater transparency over the way visa decisions are made
07 February 2020
David Bolt, the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, yesterday published the report of his inspection into the Home Office's 'Network Consolidation Programme' and the 'onshoring' of visa processing and decision making to the UK.
The 84-page report can be read here.
The report considers whether the processes for closing and reducing the number of overseas Decision Making Centres (DMCs) were efficient and effective.
The 'Network Consolidation Programme' saw the Home Office close 101 overseas DMCs between January 2008 and October 2018, leaving just 11 remaining. As the report notes, visa decision making is now concentrated in the UK, primarily in Croydon and Sheffield, with some visa decisions also made in Liverpool.
This has coincided with a large increase in the number of visa applications handled by the Home Office, up from 1.95 million in 2008 to 3.4 million in 2018.
The report notes: "The closure of overseas DMCs has been of concern to a number of stakeholders, including the FCO, and the education, tourism and business sectors. At the macro level, the concern is about the UK's international reputation and whether it appears 'open for business' and welcoming. There are also concerns about the effects on decision quality, particularly in light of the loss of local knowledge. Decision makers and managers also raised loss of local knowledge as an issue. However, UKVI management was less convinced, pointing to the body of outcome-based data that UKVI had amassed that enabled it to make more consistent and evidence-based decisions."
David Bolt found that the Home Office needs to do more to evidence that its network consolidation strategy not only saves it money but that the results are at least as efficient and effective.
He said that the Home Office's costings to show savings between running a UK operation and posting staff overseas were "opaque," and "the absence of individual business cases makes it harder for the Home Office to articulate why onshoring is the right option both in particular instances and as an overall strategy."
The Independent Chief Inspector's report also considers the controversial 'streaming tool' used by the Home Office to sift visa applications. As we reported on EIN last year, the campaign group Foxglove and the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) launched a legal challenge over the tool as they argue it works as a digital 'hostile environment' and is discriminatory.
The streaming tool software allocates one of three ratings for individual visa applications: red (high risk); amber (medium risk); green (low risk). David Bolt notes that the tool has attracted criticism from stakeholders, with some believing that it unfairly discriminates against particular applicants, resulting in high levels of refusals.
The report found: "Inspectors were confident from these interviews and observations, together with data on grant rates, that applications streamed RED were not automatically refused and that, having assessed the application individually and, where necessary, tested the evidence, decision makers were comfortable in recommending a visa be granted. However, given the 'daily expectation' levels and the near 100 per cent grant rates (in Croydon inspectors were told the rate was 99.5 per cent), and a limited capacity for quality assurance, it was less clear that all applications streamed GREEN were being assessed on their individual merits."
David Bolt added, however: "Whatever the true effects of the Streaming Tool on the way decision makers approach their task, [Visas & Citizenship] needs to make an effort to demystify the Tool and how it works to at least try to address stakeholders' concerns. There may be elements to this that are sensitive, because they involve political rather than immigration considerations, but the more that V&C is able to be transparent about the Streaming Tool the better it will be able to show that its decision making is evidence-based and fair."
Overall, the Independent Chief Inspector found that the Home Office should be more straightforward and more transparent about its plans, processes and performance.
He added: "The more cryptic the Home Office is seen to be about the way visa decisions are made, the more it will fuel concerns about bias and poor practice. The department's reputation and the staff who work in this area would be better served if its first instinct were to be open and engaging rather than seemingly reluctant to reveal more than it absolutely has to."
The Home Office's response to the Independent Chief Inspector's report is here.