UKBA backlogs: Inspectors find thousands of new cases


John Vine, chief inspector of immigration: "The agency is bedevilled with paper"

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Immigration inspectors have discovered more UK Border Agency (UKBA) backlogs, totalling more than 16,000 cases.

The chief inspector of immigration said the latest backlogs, relating to requests to settle through marriage, were "unacceptable".

The backlogs included people waiting a decade to hear if their partner had permission to live in the UK.

Immigration Minister Mark Harper denied the Border Agency was a "shambles", and said managers were "getting a grip".

The marriage or civil partnership-related backlog is thought to be the 10th category of unresolved cases that has emerged in the past two years.

Inspectors looked at how well the agency was handling applications from people from outside the European Economic Area who have a partner already in the country, such as a husband or wife who is British.


Graphic showing the size of the backlog against the total number of immigration cases.
  • Live asylum cases: 25,500
  • Asylum controlled archive: 74,000
  • Live immigration cases: 3,500
  • Immigration controlled archive: 21,000
  • Migration Refusal Pool: 174,057
  • Ex-Foreign National Offenders living in the community: 3,954
  • Ex-Foreign National Offenders untraced: 53
  • Student visa checks backlog: Unknown number
  • Rejected Spousal application seeking reconsideration: 14,000
  • Temporary migrants including marriage applicants: 2,100 (now closed)
  • Total: 316,000

Sources: Home Affairs Committee and inspection reports, Home Office

John Vine, the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration, said the majority of decisions were reasonable and caseworkers checked whether applicants were known criminals.

But he said his team had found a backlog of 14,000 cases where the UKBA failed to deal with requests to reconsider decisions after an initial rejection.

When inspectors visited a UKBA office in Sheffield they found a further backlog of 2,100 "complex" temporary migration cases. These included 180 marriage entry or settlement applications which had not received an initial decision. Some dated back to 2003.

One inspector said the unresolved applications had been effectively "dumped" on the Sheffield team after being transferred in a box from the UKBA's Croydon offices. Officials have since dealt with these cases.

At the time of the inspection last year, the marriage-related backlog was growing at a rate of 700 cases a month. Caseworkers told inspectors they could not deal with them until they had received new policy guidance.

However, a senior manager told inspectors that agency chiefs were unaware that these cases were not being dealt with and staff could make decisions without waiting for new policy.

'Not acceptable'

Mr Vine said: "I don't think I should be discovering these backlogs. The agency should know about its workload. It should prioritise its resources and, at the very least, have a plan to deal with some of the things that we come across in inspection.

"For people to be in such a backlog of cases is not acceptable and I urge the agency to deal with the cases swiftly. To wait such a long time, even if your case is complex, is completely outside any service standards."

Case study

Gerard Hearne, from Rotherham, has been trying to bring his Thai wife to the UK since last year.

"We got married in early February out there. I came back after two weeks, I had to get back to the UK," he says.

"I kept thinking... two months, three months, she'll have her visa.

"When she was turned down in October and I organised the appeal, I went out there in late November.

"I went to spend a month with her and I naively thought that by having sent the appeal into Leicester that that would be forwarded to Bangkok, they would quickly check it through, 'say yes, ok'.

"And I, naively, thought my wife would be coming back to me for Christmas on 22 December.

"As the month went on it became apparent that that was never going to happen. I did actually ring the embassy at one point to say 'have you got the documentation?'

"I just try and get through each day. Some days are better than others. Some days I feel reasonable ok and other days I feel so low, so down. It's difficult to know how to keep going. "

The immigration minister said: "We inherited an agency which had a lot of problems, we've got a new management team to deal with it. They're getting a grip and dealing with it."

Mr Harper said 14,000 of the cases "weren't people waiting for a decision", but people "who didn't like the decision and didn't go through the proper appeal mechanism".

"And what the Border Agency should have said in the past, it should have said 'no, there's an appeal process, if you don't like the decision, appeal'," he told BBC Radio 4's Today Programme.

"But it didn't do that, it kind of accepted these requests [and] didn't have a process to deal with them.

"We have now got a clear policy, published, about how we deal with those - which is people should appeal properly and those people who have been refused are not allowed to stay here. Should leave the country and we will be taking steps to make sure that they do."

Lin Homer, who headed the Border and Immigration Agency and later the UK Border Agency, between 2005 and 2010, is currently chief executive of HM Revenue and Customs.

Chart showing the number of spouses and civil partners granted leave to remain in the UK since

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  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    This is not about asylum seekers (#21) or benefit claimants (#22) but spousal visas - people who want to bring their non-EU spouse here and are willing to pay and jump through all manner of hoops to be together. I'm sure those demanding all immigration is banned and those awaiting decisions be rounded up and deported would change their tune if they met the love of their life online or on holiday.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    Sham marriages mostly I suspect... I'm not bothered by this at all.

    Once bitten, twice shy... let them all wait

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    UKBA were a failing organisation which was improving markedly by 2010 due to the work of the staff. But the 20% staff cuts came at the wrong time. The board in UKBA do need removing as they do not have a grip on what is happening in their organisation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    Remind me again,


  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    Fire these people!

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    Poor management, poor communication and poor systems. The back log shouldnt really be a surprise, immigration is out of control as it is not selective enough.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    Would it not be easier to cancel everyone's application and then make them all apply again?

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    21. Half Pint Bob
    One of the biggest problems is that they catch illegals, take their details at let them go to return at a later date.
    They should be imprisoned and then like Australia we get rid a.s.a.p
    Or we could just deport them to Australia - why did we stop doing that ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    Easy solution, stop ALL immigration until we sort out the mess of these backlogs. Then we can introduce a proper immigration policy and not a Labour 'open door' one either.

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    What crime up,immigration up,the ecconomy worse.lies,lies lies.Blaming labour for everything after 2 1/2 yrs in power.When will this lot take ownership.Apart from making soldiers,nurses etc redundant.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    It is disturbing that we dont know who or what we are allowing to let into the country.

    To resolve this Government must make the decision to stop all new applications, unless required for essential posts (Dr's etc), and clear the backlog. It must be done before the next influx of Bulgarians and Romanians which will only add to the problems we have and cant cope with.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    What chance is there of finding the illegal imigrants if we can't even find the paperwork.

    UKBA still manages to astound the public by it's incompetence!

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    Well if Theresa May pulled her finger out and the government as a whole didn't spend money on worthless crap then they might be able to hire more security at our borders.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    Shock horror. Another central government administration cock up.

    Just another normal day for Britain these days it seems.

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    The borders agency is one of the few government departments that people in the UK want to see well funded and fully staffed.

    Why can't they just hire as many people as it takes to do the job?

    The cost to the economy, and even just the costs of paying benefits for all these people waiting to have their cases heard is far more than the cost of hiring enough staff to do the job.

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    One of the biggest problems is that they catch illegals, take their details at let them go to return at a later date....and suprise suprise they vanish. They should be imprisoned and then like Australia we get rid a.s.a.p. We are pathetic soft touch and that is why these scroungers by-pass hundreds of other safe countries to come here. An utter scandal. Kick them all out!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    Hardly surprising when the Department was reorganised by the Civil Servant that had just failed in Birmingham then went onto fail at the Ministry of Transport (the West Coast franchise debacle). She is now head of HMRC!

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    "More backlogs discovered"...? Sounds like someone hid them, hoping they'd never be found. What is the point of the UKBA if they can suddenly 'find' thousands more people who shouldn't be here?

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    The way to reduce the immigration backlog is to transfer the immigration staff who are slow in processing claims to the benefits office.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    Governments don't fix problems, they shuffle them around

    I wouldn't call them smart, they're crafty

    In the Government, if you FIX a problem, then you're out of a job, you're toast

    So you "fix" problem A by creating problem B and give yourself a job for life with a nice income and a super pension

    Like I say

    Not smart


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