22 February 2023: Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration – ICIBI: Inspection report published: A reinspection of family reunion applications September – October 2022
This inspection examined the Home Office’s management of family reunion applications between 1 January 2022 and 30 September 2022, focusing on progress relating to implementation of recommendations two, three and four from ICIBI’s ‘An inspection of family reunion applications (June – December 2019)’.
I welcome the publication of my reinspection report of family reunion applications. The family reunion immigration route allows close relatives of an individual who has been recognised as a refugee in the UK to obtain permission to join their family member in this country. This report follows, and builds upon, four previous inspections of this area carried out by my predecessor.
Sadly, my inspection team found that rather than building on the recommendations resulting from ICIBI’s last inspection in 2019, the Home Office’s performance has actually deteriorated. This inspection reveals a system beset with delays and a team ill-equipped to manage the complexity and volume of applications awaiting consideration. The result has been unacceptable waiting times for applicants.
The backlog of undecided applications stood at almost 8,000 at the time of this inspection, with applicants consistently waiting over double the 60-working-day service standard for a decision. There was no evidence of any prioritisation of these based on vulnerability; applications sat in a pile and would only be expedited as a result of MP correspondence, threat of litigation or sheer luck. Only then was any assessment of vulnerability made by a decision maker. This is unacceptable.
The inspection found that work on family reunion applications was hindered by the redeployment of experienced staff to work on the Homes for Ukraine scheme, at a time when their expertise was urgently needed to support the transfer of responsibility for family reunion decision making from Asylum Operations in Sheffield to the Reunion and Returns team in Croydon. The Home Office is rightly proud of the way that staff respond to crises, but the redirection of resources to meet the demands of the latest crisis can have a negative impact on business-as-usual activity, often to the detriment of vulnerable individuals who may themselves have been victims of earlier crises. This leads to an inefficient and ineffective approach which requires confident and assured leadership to overcome.
Once again, I find evidence of the commitment and hard work of the majority of staff, whilst identifying leadership and management failures of senior staff who inadequately plan for, and fail to deliver, effective change, and who are then distracted by the latest crisis, in this case Ukraine.
Because the Home Office has failed to give this area an appropriate level of attention and priority, what should be a safe, legal, and accessible immigration route is failing both applicants, who are predominantly women and children, and refugees hoping to be reunited with their family members as they rebuild their lives here. As stakeholders have highlighted, the lack of an effective family reunion route carries with it the risk that vulnerable people will resort to dangerous journeys to join their family members in the UK.
Urgent attention must be directed to family reunion, to ensure that the system to deliver a safe and legal route is working, and to address the current backlog. The Home Office must prioritise family reunion and build a structure that is sufficiently robust to respond to world events rather than be derailed by the next one.
This report was sent to the Home Secretary on 14 December 2022 and makes five recommendations. The Home Office has accepted all five recommendations, though some points on areas of policy relevant to family reunion that were raised in the inspection are not addressed in the department’s response.
Nonetheless, I am pleased to hear that work is already underway to address some of the issues identified through this inspection.
27 January 2023: ICIBI: Role and remit review of ICIBI discontinued
The Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration expresses disappointment at decision not to proceed with the Windrush Lessons Learned Review’s Recommendation 10.
This Government is not accepting the recommendations arising from the Windrush Review to expand the powers of ICIBI (not surprisingly as Dave Neal has been very vocal). He writes: ‘I look forward to engaging with ministers and officials to ensure further progress towards meeting Williams’s call for the Home Office to become ‘an organisation that is more confident under the gaze of external scrutiny’.
Updated 17 January 2023: ICIBI: A re-inspection of Border Force’s management of Project Kraken at small seaports
The Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration has commenced a re-inspection of Border Force’s management of Project Kraken at small seaports.
The inspection team will visit small seaports across the United Kingdom in the coming weeks and engage with industry stakeholders and Border Force staff. The scope of this inspection will focus on the effectiveness of Project Kraken following its relaunch in the summer of 2022.
While this inspection was not included in my 2022-23 inspection plan, I had previously indicated that I would revisit Project Kraken before Spring 2023.
The inspection team anticipates reporting to the Home Secretary by March 2023.
Updated 12 January 2023: Guardian: Suella Braverman has just scrapped regular inspections in detention centres – has she forgotten Manston?
The more the Home Office cracks down on the ‘small boats’, the greater its responsibility to their vulnerable passengers
- David Neal is the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration. Stephen Shaw CBE is the former prisons and probation ombudsman
The arrival of increasing numbers of people in small boats, and a growing backlog in the asylum system, is giving rise to a perception that the UK’s immigration system is in crisis. In response, the government has said it intends to reassert control over the country’s borders through measures that include the expanded use of immigration detention.
Some recourse to detention may be necessary to ensure that those with no right to remain in this country do not avoid immigration control. But the risks both to individuals and to our international reputation were highlighted by the recent revelations that thousands of people had been held in wholly inappropriate and unhealthy conditions for extended periods of time in the Home Office’s processing facility at Manston in Kent.
Even in a highly charged political environment marked by calls for a hard line on immigration, the government must not lose sight of its responsibility for the welfare of the people in its care. Safeguarding is particularly important in the case of immigration detainees, as people held under immigration powers lack the protections of citizenship, may have a history of trauma and may be prevented by linguistic or cultural barriers from explaining their circumstances or asserting their rights.
It is therefore disappointing to us that the home secretary has now discontinued the standing commission for the independent chief inspector for borders and immigration (ICIBI) to carry out annual reviews on the effectiveness of the Home Office’s practices and policies towards adults at risk in immigration detention.
The ending of this commission brings to a close a process of scrutiny and reform of the immigration detention system that can be traced back to 2015, when the then-home secretary, Theresa May, commissioned one of us, former prisons and probation ombudsman Stephen Shaw, to examine this area. It was in response to a second Shaw review in 2018 that one of May’s successors, Sajid Javid, requested regular ICIBI inspections to ensure that policies to protect vulnerable people in detention were working as they should.
ICIBI: Inspection report published: Third annual inspection of ‘Adults at risk in immigration detention’, June – September 2022. This inspection identified shortcomings in the Rule 35 process, a vital safeguard for vulnerable detainees
Borders inspector blames unfounded suspicions by ministers that detainees are gaming the system
Torture victims and suicidal people in immigration detention centres are not receiving adequate help because of unfounded suspicions from ministers and officials that they are cheating the system, the UK borders watchdog has found.
David Neal, the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration (ICIBI), also questioned why Suella Braverman had ended annual investigations into the treatment of vulnerable adult detainees.
The report comes as the home secretary pledged an expanded use of detention centres amid concerns about where to hold thousands of people arriving the UK on small boats across the Channel.
In the third annual report into the “Adults at risk in immigration detention” policy, Neal examined why vulnerable detainees were not receiving help after reporting serious health problems.
Under rule 35, a report is supposed to be issued by the detention centre’s GP if a detainee has suicidal intentions, if there are suspicions they are the victim of torture, or if a detainee’s health may be “injuriously affected” by detention.
“The perception that the rule 35 process was being abused by detainees was common across teams in the three locations I inspected. I do not accept the limited evidence provided to support this assertion and there were few obvious activities under way to address this concern,” he said.
Neal said there had been “a significant increase” in rule 35 reports, resulting in considerable pressure on healthcare and Home Office systems. “This pressure had a negative impact on an already flawed rule 35 process notable for a lack of training for GPs, some poor-quality rule 35 reports, and a failure by detention engagement teams and rule 35 team managers to adequately review reports.”
Neal’s report, which is being published by the government seven weeks late, makes 10 recommendations.
Updated 28 October 2022: Call for Evidence: An inspection of Home Office operations to effect the removal of foreign national offenders
The Chief Inspector invites anyone with knowledge and experience of the Home Office’s operations to effect the removal of foreign national offenders to submit evidence for his next inspection.
Hi, you may be interested to know that the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration is going to be looking at the way in which the Home Office tries to Deport people, and he wants to include people who have been in this situation. This is his call:
“In line with his 2022-23 inspection plan, the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration has commenced an inspection of Home Office operations to effect the removal of foreign national offenders.
This inspection will examine the processes and procedures in place to remove foreign national offenders with a particular focus on:
the effectiveness and quality of the services provided by the Immigration Prison Teams
the prioritisation of cases for removal and the effectiveness of the early removal and facilitated returns schemes
the Home Office’s strategy for the collection, monitoring and reporting of FNO data, and how this data is used to capture best practice and drive improvements
The Independent Chief Inspector invites anyone with knowledge and experience of these Home Office teams and functions to submit evidence to inform this inspection and would be pleased to hear both what is working well and what could be improved. Submissions touching on any and all areas of interest, including those that may not be mentioned above, are therefore welcome”. The information is here: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/call-for-evidence-an-inspection-of-home-office-operations-to-effect-the-removal-of-foreign-national-offenders
Home Affairs Committee 26 October 2022 – Channel crossings
Oral evidence session: Witnesses:
- Dan O’Mahoney Clandestine Channel Threat Commander at Home Office
- Abi Tierney Director General, Customer Services Capability at Home Office
- Dan Hobbs Director, Asylum, Protection and Enforcement at Home Office
- David Neal, Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration
Transcript of the session is here: https://committees.parliament.uk/oralevidence/11390/pdf/
Information is here: https://committees.parliament.uk/event/14980/formal-meeting-oral-evidence-session/
Updated 13 October 2022: Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration – ICIBI update: Inspection work in progress
For information: when the ICIBI sends a report to the Home Office Minister there is an expectation that it will be published within 8 weeks and then presented to Parliament. This is the current list of reports that have been submitted but not published. Dave Neal has been quite vocal with the Home Affairs Committee about his frustrations regarding this situation – this is how he publicly holds the Government to account and he’s not being allowed to do it:
Completed inspections awaiting publication
- An inspection of juxtaposed controls (19 May 2022)
- An inspection of Family Visas (20 May 2022)
- An inspection of the use of hotels for housing unaccompanied asylum-seeking children (9 June 2022)
- An inspection report on Country of Origin Information – Afghanistan and China (20 June 2022)
- An inspection of the Hong Kong British National (Overseas) visa route (11 July 2022)
- An inspection of the immigration system as it relates to the agricultural sector (28 September 2022)
- Third annual inspection of ‘Adults at risk in immigration detention’ (30 September 2022)
- An inspection of the Home Office Intelligence function
- An inspection of the Home Office’s Afghan resettlement activity
- A reinspection of family reunion applications
- An inspection of Home Office operations to effect the removal of Foreign National Offenders
- A re-inspection of ePassport gates
Read more here: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/work-in-progress
Updated 23 July 2022: ICIBI: Inspection Report Published: An inspection of the initial processing of migrants arriving via small boats at Tug Haven and Western Jet Foil December 2021 – January 2022
The inspection focused on protecting the border through security checks, and the identification and safeguarding of vulnerable people.
Three years into the small boats crisis, the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration has found the Home Office response is both ineffective and inefficient, exposing gaps in security procedures and leaving vulnerable migrants at risk.
In 2021, 28,526 people arrived on the south coast in small boats, according to Home Office statistics – a significant increase from 236 in 2018.
An inspection of the Tug Haven processing facilities, which have since closed, along with those at Western Jet Foil, both in Dover, found the Home Office’s response to the challenge of increasing numbers of migrants was poor, particularly in terms of systems, processes, resources, data collection and accurate record keeping. A new processing centre for migrants opened in January 2022 at a former Ministry of Defence site at Manston, also in Kent, and further facilities are also due to open later this year at Western Jet Foil.
David Neal, the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration (ICIBI), said:
These migrants crossed the Channel in dire circumstances. Many were vulnerable and at risk, including children and women on their own, and when they arrived in Dover the way they were dealt with was unacceptable. This is because the Home Office has failed over the past three years to move from a crisis response to having better systems and procedures in place and treating this as business as usual.
To move migrants quickly through Tug Haven, effective safeguarding was sacrificed because of the large numbers of migrants from small boats coming into the country. There was limited reflection by staff at all grades of the connection between vulnerability and security – that identifying a trafficking victim could feed the intelligence cycle and reveal intelligence about organised criminal gangs. The ability of staff to identify and safeguard vulnerable migrants was also hindered by the fact that no interpreters were used in the procedures carried out at Tug Haven.
Many of the issues identified were also picked up in a separate inspection undertaken last year by Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons, which found that migrants were being held in unsatisfactory conditions, with weak Home Office systems relating to governance, accountability and safeguarding.
Mr Neal added that the Home Office team charged with responding to the crisis, the Clandestine Channel Threat Command, is pulled between day-to-day operations and developing a deterrent, as well as responding to the constant requests for strategic briefings. The majority of its Campaign Plan objectives focus on strategic effects at the expense of delivering security and dealing humanely with the here and now. In simple terms, the focus on the ‘Prevent’ function has eclipsed the need to do simple things well on the quayside in Dover.
He added that although staff were doing their very best, they were tired, and high volumes of migrants led to poor record keeping and data collection and processes that do not work.
The workforce can do no more. They have responded with enormous fortitude and exceptional personal commitment, which is humbling, and they are quite rightly proud of how they have stepped up. However, we found there was a lack of effective and visible leadership.
This is not about rank and file staff working hard on the quayside at Dover, this is about effective leadership, grip and the ability to bring in systems that work. Border Force and Immigration Enforcement officers at home and overseas are doing a great job on a daily basis.
A new model for Borders and Enforcement is desperately required if our border is to be secured and vulnerability effectively addressed. There needs to be a strategic approach by the Home Office to regularise their response to small boats, as this has become business as usual and moved beyond an emergency response.
The inspection was undertaken between December 2021 and January 2022 and the report made four recommendations, all of which the Home Office has accepted, with priority placed on ensuring that staff received training and updated guidance by March 2022 in security matters, including how the Biometric Recording Stations are operated.
By June 2022 further improvements needed to have been made, including identifying migrants who are vulnerable such as children, single women and families, and ensuring information is properly recorded and acted upon. Further detailed recommendations call for the improvement of overall data quality and resourcing needs.
Our recommendations are not intended to supersede those provided by Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons and the Home Office’s own Joint Review, but clearly point to a need for the Home Office to urgently implement all recommendations as a priority.
We will reinspect the processing facilities later this year.
- An inspection of the initial processing of migrants arriving via small boats at Tug Haven and Western Jet Foil December 2021 – January 2022
- The Home Office response to the Chief Inspector’s report
Updated 19 July 2022: ICIBI: Chief Inspector increasingly frustrated with Home Office publication delay to his small boats report
Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, David Neal, said today that he is becoming increasingly frustrated at the Home Office’s delay in releasing his report into small boats crossings. Mr Neal submitted the report to the Home Secretary on 24 February 2022 and it has still not been published nearly 5 months later..
The Home Secretary has committed to publishing my reports within 8 weeks of receipt. By that agreement this report should have been published no later than 25 April 2022.
The inspection examined border security and vulnerability at Tug Haven and Western Jet Foil and there is a strong public interest that it is published. I fear that unless it is laid before Parliament this week there will be yet further delay over the summer recess.
I have spoken with senior officials at the Home Office, and I do not think that there is any disagreement with the content of the report or the recommendations. I understand they have some concern about the tone of my foreword, and I suspect this is part of the reason for the delay.
My report made 4 recommendations, all of which were timebound. The failure to publish within the period suggested begins to devalue the purpose of independent oversight, and continued failure to publish such an important report infringes on my independence.
1 April 2022: Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration: ICIBI Inspection Plan 2022-23:
The Plan includes completed reports that are with the Home Secretary awaiting publication and inspections that were started in 2022-23 and will report over the next few months. These two may be of particular interest:
A (re)inspection of the Home Office response to small boat arrivals
An inspection of Home Office operations to effect the removal of Foreign National Offender.