Tuesday, November 18, 2008

An estimated 300,000 visas giving foreigners the right to come to Britain may be wrongly approved every year, a committee of MPs has been told

Linda Costelloe-Baker, the independent visa monitor, told the Home Affairs Committee it was reasonable to assume 15% of short-term approvals were wrong. She also said officials were under pressure to issue - rather than reject - visas to meet productivity targets. The Tories said it made a mockery of Labor's claims to control immigration. Embassies and consulates examine 2.4 million applications each year from tourists, business people and those visiting relatives - they check applicants intend to leave after their visa expires and have enough money to live in the country and are not looking for a job, Ms Costelloe-Baker told the committee. Rejected applications were checked for accuracy but there was not a similar system in place to check applications that were approved, said Ms Costelloe-Baker. "About 80% of visas are issued and yet there has been no external scrutiny over that 80%." Officials considering visa applications found it much easier to approve visas than reject them, she said because issuing was a much faster process than refusal. "I don't think there has been adequate scrutiny of decisions to issue," she said, adding: "I think there is pressure to issue visas because it helps people hit their productivity targets." Conservative MP David Davies asked if it was reasonable to assume that, if 15% of rejections were found to be incorrect, a similar proportion of approvals were incorrectly approved. "I think that's a reasonable supposition," Ms Costelloe-Baker said, adding that that total would include cases where an applicant rightly got a visa but where there were errors in the way the visa was approved. Mr Davies continued: "I'm trying to make an assumption here which is reasonable based on the evidence and that is that a large number of visa applications have been incorrectly approved in the country where they were requested." Ms Costelloe-Baker said: "I think that's a reasonable assumption."

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