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UK Border Agency to be abolished

On Monday this week, the British House of Commons Home Affairs Committee published a report that was highly critical of the UK Border Agency’s performance and reporting to British MPs. By Tuesday, British Home Secretary Theresa May had announced that the agency would be wound up and its work brought back within the Home Office.

The Home Office is the lead British ministry for immigration, passports, counter-terrorism, policing, drugs and crime.

The UK Border Agency (UKBA) is one of three Home Office agencies that provides directly managed frontline services for the Home Office. It was formed in 2008 through a merger of the Border and Immigration Agency, UKvisas, and with additional units from Revenue and Customs.

The merged agency was responsible for securing the UK border and for immigration controls, including the issuance of visas.

However, this week’s developments mark the second time the UKBA has been reorganised within the past year. The Home Office spun the UK Border Force out of the UKBA in 2012, and established it as a separate law enforcement agency.

And now, citing a “defensive and secretive culture” within the UKBA along with a range of persistent performance issues, Secretary May has announced that the agency will be split into two separate entities within the Home Office: an immigration and visa service and an immigration law enforcement organisation.

In her remarks to the House of Commons this week, the Secretary said:

“Since we split the Border Force from UKBA last year, 98% of passengers go through passport control within target times and Border Force meets all of its passenger service targets.

But the performance of what remains of UKBA is still not good enough.  The Agency struggles with the volume of its casework, which has led to historical backlogs running into the hundreds of thousands [312,000]. The number of illegal immigrants removed does not keep up with the number of people who are here illegally. And while the visa operation is internationally competitive, it could and should get better still.

The Home Affairs Select Committee has published many critical reports about UKBA’s performance. As I have said to the House before, the Agency has been a troubled organisation since it was formed in 2008, and its performance is not good enough.”

On the matter of performance, the Home Affairs Committee report released this week notes that only 14% of Tier 4 (student visa) applications were processed within a target four-week processing window in the third quarter of 2012, a decline from the 28% that were processed within the target time in the previous quarter.

The Secretary continued in her statement to the House of Commons:

“In [the UKBA’s] place will be an immigration and visa service and an immigration law enforcement organisation. By creating two entities instead of one, we will be able to create distinct cultures. First, a high-volume service that makes high-quality decisions about who comes here, with a culture of customer satisfaction for businessmen and visitors who want to come here legally. And second, an organisation that has law enforcement at its heart and gets tough on those who break our immigration laws.

Two smaller entities will also mean greater transparency and accountability and that brings me to the second change I intend to make. UKBA was given agency status in order to keep its work at an arm’s length from ministers. That was wrong… So I can tell the House that the new entities will not have agency status and will sit in the Home Office, reporting to ministers.”

In further UK news, several additional changes to the Immigration Rules will come into effect on 6 April 2013, and will include:

  • “The Tier 1 (Graduate entrepreneur) route, to include additional places for talented MBA graduates from UK Higher Education Institutions (HEIs). This will also include the UK Trade and Investment’s elite global graduate entrepreneur scheme.
  • The Tier 1 (Exceptional talent) route, to split the application process so that applicants will no longer have to pay the full fee up front. This will also mean applicants will not have to submit their passport while their application for endorsement by a designated competent body is being considered.
  • Tier 2, to improve the flexibility for intra-company transferees and for employers carrying out the resident labour market test.
  • The shortage occupation list and the codes of practice for skilled workers.
  • Tier 4, to allow completing PhD students to stay in the UK for one year beyond the end of their course to find skilled work or to set up as an entrepreneur.
  • Family and private life – these are minor changes to reflect feedback from legal practitioners and our caseworkers.”

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