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Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee Report - Immigration enforcement

Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee published a report on  Immigration enforcement on 18 September 2020.  The report considers the work of the Home Office’s Immigration Enforcement Directorate,  which has a £400 million annual spend.

The report is 22 pages and can be accessed: here

Making Decisions on ‘Anecdote, Assumption and Prejudice’

The summary points out the real and substantial concerns the Committee has for decision-making, operation and diversity: 

“We are concerned that if the Department does not make decisions based on evidence, it instead risks making them on anecdote, assumption and prejudice. Worryingly, it has no idea of what impact it has achieved for the £400 million spent each year by its Immigration Enforcement directorate. There are major holes in the Department’s understanding of the size and scale of illegal immigration and the extent and nature of any resulting harm. It does not understand the support people need to navigate its systems effectively and humanely, or how its actions affect them. In 2019, 62% of immigration detainees were released from detention because the Department could not return them as planned to their country of origin. The Department does not really understand why this figure is so high or what it can to ensure these returns are completed as planned”.

The report looks at the “‘big challenges’ ahead for the directorate, including leaving the EU, new immigration system, implementation of Windrush and ‘damage done to its reputation’”. 

Scale of Immigration Offending and Future Development

The committee heard evidence from the Home Office.

The report highlights the lack of statistical knowledge: “We heard that the Department does not know how many people are living or working in the UK without permission, and the Department admitted its frustration at not knowing this figure. The NAO reported that the Department has not updated its 2005 estimate of 430,000 people, and the Department claimed this situation reflected the extreme difficulty of producing such an estimate”.

This continues: “When asked about the possible scale of illegal migration, the Department was unable to tell us how many people came to the UK legally and did not renew their visa, and how many deliberately came illegally. We heard that it largely knew how many people come into the country and, to a degree, how many leave, but it was not yet able to assess the status of everybody that enters the country. The Department recognised that there are significant gaps in its data, though it believes its modernisation programmes will provide digital evidence of an individual’s immigration status at the border, in country and on departure”. 

In respect of the future and lessons to be learned from the Windrush Lessons Learned Review by Wendy Williams,  the Committee found:

“The Department reiterated its commitment to implementing the 30 recommendations of the Windrush lessons learned review. We heard that it was making progress with the Windrush compensation scheme but was unwilling to set itself targets on the number of cases or amount of money it would deal with.58 It underlined its commitment to include people from non-Caribbean Commonwealth countries in the scope of its Windrush response and offered to write to us with further details of those efforts.59 The Department acknowledged that the review had been a difficult read and stated it had no intention of turning its response into a box-ticking exercise”.

Conclusions and Recommendations

The Committee concluded:

  • The Department still does not know the size of the illegal population or insight into the harm it may cause;
  • Highlights the general reliance on weak evidence;
  • Questions the culture and makeup of the department;
  • Points to the failure to develop an ‘end-to-end’ understanding of the system;
  • Stresses that the Department is unprepared for the challenges that the exit from the EU presents to operations;
  • The Department is not safeguarding individuals while introducing new systems and managing a response to Covid-19.

The Committee recommended:

  • The Department should improve its understanding of the illegal population, analysing age, length of time in the UK and method of  entry, legally or illegally;
  • Formulate a plan for the collection of data and how it is analysed;
  • Build on the Windrush Lessons Learned Review;
  • Develop a ‘joined-up approach across the full end-to-end immigration system to ensure people get the right support at the right time’;
  • Formulate a plan to ensure there are working reciprocal arrangements with EU partners.

Perhaps most urgently, given the current global Covid-19 pandemic, the last recommendation reads:

“Within six weeks of this report, the Department should write to this committee to explain its priorities while implementing these significant changes. Specifically, it should set out:

  • How it will balance risks to delivery against the risk that these changes will unfairly affect the lives and rights of individuals;
  • What practical steps the Department has taken and will take to achieve this balance; and
  • What testing it has conducted to ensure that its information systems can fully support these steps.”

Whether the recommendations are followed remains to be seen. 

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