Africa APPG - John Vine on visas: There is a lack of procedural fairness & inconsistency in decision making

Friday, 30 January 2015
Author: 
Hetty Bailey, Coordinator for the Africa APPG

On the 28th January 2015, the Africa APPG met with John Vine CBE QPM, the recently retired Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration. The APPG is currently making enquiries into the current decision making process for visa applications from Africans attempting to visit the UK and John Vine has carried out a number of in-depth inquiries into the UK visa application process from African countries. (Links below). 

 

  • 2012 comparative study of four African visa sections Nairobi, Abuja, Pretoria and the UK Visa Section (dealing with North African cases). 

  • Also in 2012, inspection of the visa section in Accra, Ghana. 

 

John reported that the "hub and spoke" model in Africa, whereby decisions are made at regional hubs and applications made at the spokes, is being increasingly rolled out across Africa. The spokes are run by a commercial company (Teleperformance in Africa). He explained that the sole purpose of this was to cut costs through reducing the number of decision making visa centres. 

 

However, he identified a number of general recurring issues and problems associated with the current approach- 

 

  • Loss of local knowledge that the decision makers would previously have had about the applicant before the reduction in visa decision making centres 

  • Inconsistency in the quality of decision making across posts. He expressed concern that this was very common and that when comparing similar cases he found that the decision outcomes were often very different. 

  • Entry Clearance Officers (ECOs) have independent targets set each day on how many cases they must clear and make decisions on- sometimes this can be up to 60 a day. This can have an impact on decision making quality. 

  • Lack of quality assurance due to the blurring between management and workers due to the close working relationships formed amongst ex-pat workers.  

  • Quality assurance mechanisms often fail as managers are supposed to have a formulaic approach whereby files are pulled and checked and incorrect decisions overturned. However, this is something that rarely happens in practice due to lack of time and most managers just pay lip service to this. 

  • Lack of "procedural fairness"- applicants are often refused based on a lack of evidence or information that was not required under the rules for the application. He said this was unfair and that applicants need to be told what is required in order to be successful and have the opportunity to submit this evidence before the application is rejected.   

  • The discontinuing of personal interviews and the replacement with credibility interviews via Skype means that there is now a very blanket approach to interviewing and it is unclear whether any value is added by the process.  

 

The discussion then opened up, issues raised by attendees included- 

 

  • Concerns over the negative image delays and inconsistency within the visa service presents for trade and business relations with African countries. When the FCO had more involvement in these processes the image was better and more welcoming. Now the message being sent out is unwelcoming and one of securitisation.  

  • There is a lack of human contact within the system generally. Consequently, the amount of influence High Commissioners have over visa cases vary greatly and is largely dependent on having a good relationship with the Entry Clearance Managers 

  • The visa service has no Customer Service Charter- 85% decisions are made within 40 days but targets are not qualitative and the data doesn't address issues of quality.  

  • The lack of transparency around decision making and tracing back the decision to an individual. Sponsors of visitors should be able to call the ECO and submit evidence to support their application. This is usually not straight forward. John Vine said he has made recommendations on this and that they had been accepted but not necessarily acted on. 

  • Whether the cost charged by the commercial visa companies is reflected in the service and the real costs. Staff at the commercially run spokes are no longer able to provide assistance in filling in the forms correctly.  

  • The need for the applicant to prove they have enough money for an onwards or return flight or to support themselves. It was discussed whether this was necessary and should be waived if the sponsoring body was to take responsibility. However, in the event the applicant did abscond, the sponsoring organisation is not culpable and so it was also discussed whether sponsors should be made legally responsible. 

  • One attendee said they had carried out a Freedom of Information requests into the evidence to support policy that believes poorer people are more likely to break their visa conditions than those of wealthier applicants and apparently there was none. (not verified) 

  • Under the former points based system there was no room discretion by ECOs. However, now it is unclear what level of discretion and common sense can be exercised by ECOs in making decisions.  

  • Concerns over the division found in some posts between national staff and British staff, the national staff felt they were not treated as equals within the organisation.  

  • The disconnect between the 'batch' applications process allowed for commercial companies but not for NGOs. 

 

That afternoon there was also Westminster Hall debate on the issue of Commonwealth Immigration and Visas. In response to a question from Jeremy Lefroy MP, the Minister, Karen Bradley MP agreed to undertake "customer feedback" from MPs who have relevant examples from casework where legitimate visitors have been repeatedly denied a visa, adding that such "feedback gives us on-the-ground evidence about what is happening and how it is working. I welcome comments from all Members about how the system affects their constituents and those constituents’ families".    

 

The recording is available here and the Hansard is available here (2.30pm, Column 224WH)