As an asylum law practitioner with Lifeline Options Community Interest Company (Birmingham), I am sure I am not alone in finding that communication with the various sections of UK Visas and Immigration is increasingly strange and Kafka-esque.
On about 22nd April I had to book “Further Submissions”, i.e. an appointment for an asylum seeker to hand in fresh evidence for consideration as a fresh application, in accordance with the rules laid down in October 2009. Handing in this evidence is often done at a statutory reporting occasion if the asylum seeker normally reports at an immigration centre, but in this case the client was based in Gloucester and he normally reports at a police station. The police are not allowed to forward evidence to an immigration centre, so I looked up the phone number of the relevant immigration reporting centre on his “IS96” reporting sheet. The number was a Bristol number and was part of “Wales and South West” region
When I got through I was told that this was no longer a reporting centre number: “We are the arrest team”. Could they give me the number? “We might have the number, but it’s not our role to give it to you”. “Where can I get it?” “I’ll look and see if I’ve got a number for you” The number given to me was the (somewhat dreaded) Naitonal Immigration Enquiry Line, which takes about 10 minutes for a live response. I decided to go ahead with the call. When it was eventually picked up a woman spent about five minutes investigating. She then told me to ring a number in Liverpool. I pointed out that this number was for “Legacy” cases dating before March 2007; my client’s case was from 2009. She was adamant: “They can take any case”. When I got through to Liverpool a friendly man spent another five minutes looking and finally said: “I can’t find a number, but if you ring Solihull they’ll tell you”.
Solihull is, of course for Midlands and East Region , not Wales and South West, but I decided it would be best to talk to my usual person down the road at Solihull. She quickly came up with the necessary number in Cardiff: “It’s the one on the web-site, you know!” I reflected that it is true that Gloucester is in the West Midlands, but as Immigration had placed it in Wales and South West, one might have expected the relevant number to be visible under that region. At least the Enquiry Line should have been able to find it. But, no. the correct information was stored in the West Midlands.
So I rang the Cardiff number. Yes, the client would have to travel to Cardiff (some 70 miles from Gloucester), but the woman could not tell me at what time and on what day. “It will probably be on 7th May. Do you want me to send the appointment to you or to your client?” “Can’t it be to both, as usual?” “No, we’re not allowed to do that” “All right then, send it to me”. The appointment which eventually came through a week later was for the morning of 6th May, just after the “Mayday” holiday.
What a surreal set of events! Why did the asylum seeker’s reporting notice (the IS 96) have a contact number which was actually for the Arrest Team? Since when has detention become “arrest”, a term normally reserved for criminal suspects? Why was there no information available in Bristol about the Further Submissions unit in Cardiff, when they are supposed to be in the same region? Why did the national enquiry line have no information, or even basic knowledge? Why did the Older Live Cases unit in Liverpool have no information about a major centre in Cardiff? Why was this information held in Birmingham/Solihull? And how did my Liverpool friendly operator know this was where the information was held? Finally, why were Cardiff not allowed to give an appointment over the phone as most Further Submissions always have done? It was all a bit like something out of Kafka’s “The Trial”.