Border Agency has 'lack of control', say MPs

A UK Border Agency officer
Image caption The Border Agency's points-based entry system only applies to people coming from certain countries

The UK Border Agency has a "lack of control" over the system used by multinational companies to bring their own foreign staff into the UK, say MPs.

The Commons Public Accounts Committee said it was concerned by intra-company transfers, particular by IT firms.

The MPs' report said the UKBA estimates that overall 181,000 workers have stayed on without permission but it does not know for sure.

Immigration Minister Damian Green said the report showed the case for reform.

The coalition government has set an annual limit on the number of migrant workers who are allowed to come into the UK through what is known as the points-based system.

But the system only applies to people from outside of the European Economic Area. There is also an exemption for intra-company transfers, providing the worker switching to a UK office is earning at least £24,000.

But in its report, the Public Accounts Committee said it was very difficult to verify how much of each worker's salary was in fact an allowance for housing - meaning some firms could be tempted to exploit this loophole to bring in cheaper workers from abroad as opposed to similarly skilled British people.

Margaret Hodge, chairwoman of the committee, said the UKBA lacked the information it needed to ensure that the rules were complied with.

Unverified figures

"We are concerned at the lack of control of workers entering Britain through the intra-company transfer system," said Mrs Hodge.

Mrs Hodge also the agency did not have a grip on making sure that migrant workers whose visas have expired actually left.

She said: "[The UKBA] estimates that 181,000 such workers are staying on without permission - but it can't even verify the figures, and does not try to enforce the employer's duty to ensure that the people they bring in leave when they are required to do so.

"The Agency has not exercised proper checks on sponsoring employers. It has visited only one in five of those applying for licences. It does not know how many existing sponsors have been inspected and lacks the information required to take a robust risk-based approach."

Responding to the criticisms, immigration minister Damian Green said: "This report demonstrates why the immigration system needs radical reform.

"I want enforcement and compliance to be the cornerstone of our immigration system and we are making it more difficult for people to live in the UK illegally by taking action against employers that flout our rules.

"Any employers found to be abusing our immigration system risk losing their licence to sponsor any migrant workers."

He went on: "This government has already introduced an annual limit on economic migrants, including a significant tightening of the ICT rules, and sweeping changes to the student visa system."

But Sir Andrew Green, chairman of pressure group Migration Watch UK, said: "The main reason the system is so deeply flawed is that the basis of the UK's immigration control, the face-to-face interview, no longer plays any part in the process.

"The PBS (points-based system) has turned out to be a box-ticking exercise that places the initiative with those who have a financial interest in a visa being granted. No wonder employers prefer it."

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