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Public Accounts Committee raises serious concerns over the work of the Home Office Immigration Enforcement directorate


Report calls for the transformation of Immigration Enforcement into a data-led organisation

Date of Publication:

Parliament's Public Accounts Committee has today published a report looking at the work of the Home Office's Immigration Enforcement directorate.

Border signImage credit: UK GovernmentYou can download the 22-page report here or read it online here.

In the report, the Committee is concerned to find that the Home Office "does not make decisions based on evidence, it instead risks making them on anecdote, assumption and prejudice," and it has "no idea" what its Immigration Enforcement Directorate's £400 million annual spending achieves.

The report's key conclusions are as follows:

• Despite years of public debate and interest in immigration, the Home Office still does not know the size of the illegal population or have a clear grasp of the harm the illegal population causes. Immigration Enforcement has a vision 'to reduce the size of the illegal population and the harm it causes', but it has not estimated what that population is since 2005.

• The Home Office relies upon a disturbingly weak evidence base to assess the impact of its immigration enforcement activity. The lack of reliable evidence on what works prevents it from planning and prioritising its activities effectively. The Home Office accepts that it cannot easily use data to measure the impact of the £400 million it spends each year in Immigration Enforcement and has a 'dearth of information' in some aspects of its activities.

• The culture and make-up of the Home Office have left it poorly placed to appreciate the impact of its policies on the people affected. The Home Office has done little to dispel accusations that its decisions are based on a lack of curiosity, preconceptions and even prejudice. The Home Office acknowledges how close it came to being declared institutionally racist in the Windrush lessons learned review and that it has to change its culture.

• The Home Office's failure to develop an end-to-end understanding of the immigration system leads to problems which it could avoid. At present, there are gaps in its digital and paper trail, and it is likely these have an impact on Immigration Enforcement's ability to remove individuals from the UK.

• The Home Office is unprepared for the challenges the UK's exit from the EU presents to its immigration enforcement operations. The Home Office relies on cooperation with EU partners to support its international operations, including the return of foreign national offenders and individuals who arrive in the UK illegally via EU transport hubs.

• The Public Accounts Committee is not convinced that the Home Office is sufficiently prepared to safeguard the status of individuals while also implementing a new immigration system and managing its response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Home Office faces several challenges in the immediate future. The extension of visas during the COVID-19 pandemic raises concerns that mistakes in case and data management could affect an individual's future immigration status.

Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said:

"The Home Office has frighteningly little grasp of the impact of its activities in managing immigration. It shows no inclination to learn from its numerous mistakes across a swathe of immigration activities – even when it fully accepts that it has made serious errors.

"It accepts the wreckage that its ignorance and the culture it has fostered caused in the Windrush scandal - but the evidence we saw shows too little intent to change, and inspires no confidence that the next such scandal isn't right around the corner.

"15 years after the then Home Secretary declared the UK's immigration system 'not fit for purpose' it is time for transformation of the Immigration Enforcement into a data-led organisation. Within six months of this report we expect a detailed plan, with set priorities and deadlines, for how the Home Office is going to make this transformation."

The Committee makes a number of recommendations in its report, including that the Home Office should undertake work to improve its understanding of the 'illegal' population in the UK. For some useful background on the issue, the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford last week published a briefing on irregular migration, which you can read here. It looks at the difficulties in defining and measuring irregular migration, and considers evidence on its nature and scale. See also this accompanying comment piece by the Migration Observatory on recent estimates of the UK's irregular migrant population.

In response to today's Public Accounts Committee report, a Home Office spokesperson told BBC News: "We have developed a balanced and evidence-based approach to maintaining a fair immigration system. Since 2010, we have removed more than 53,000 foreign national offenders and more than 133,000 people as enforced removals. On a daily basis we continue to tackle those who fail to comply with our immigration laws and abuse our hospitality by committing serious, violent and persistent crimes, with immigration enforcement continually becoming more efficient."