By a Newsnet reporter
The impending breakup of the UK Border Agency has sparked calls for reform, with SNP MSP Christina McKelvie having written to Theresa May calling for the changes taking place to be used as an opportunity to change the UK’s approach to immigration.
Earlier this week Ms May announced that the troubled agency will now be split into parts focusing on the visa system and on immigration law enforcement – both reporting directly to ministers.
The UKBA was set up in 2008 in an attempt to get on top of the growing backlog of asylum and immigration cases which the Home Office was struggling to cope with. Appearing before the Commons Home Affairs committee in 2006, then Home Secretary John Reid described the Home Office as “not fit for purpose”. The establishment of the UKBA was intended to solve the problem of Home Office officials being unable to process immigration and asylum claims.
However the new agency soon found itself mired in controversy over its handling of immigration and asylum cases. A report by the Independent Chief Inspector in 2010 found that the Agency suffered from serious shortfalls in its handling of student visa applications and had an “inconsistent response towards applications”.
In November 2011, the Home Affairs Select Committee issued a report that found that 124,000 deportation cases had been shelved by the UKBA. The report said the cases had been dumped in a “controlled archive”, a term used to try to hide the fact from authorities and auditors that it was a list of lost applicants.
In 2011 the Home Secretary suspended Brodie Clark, the Head of the Border Force, Carole Upshall, director of the Border Force South and European Operation, and Graham Kyle, director of operations at Heathrow Airport. The suspensions came after allegations that Mr Clark had agreed to “open up the borders” at certain times in ways ministers would “not have agreed with” in order to reduce queues at major airports during busy periods.
In a report published on Monday, the House of Commons Home Affairs committee complained that the UKBA had for years repeatedly supplied it with incorrect information about the size of the backlog of asylum cases. The backlog of cases is now estimated to exceed 150,000, with some cases going back to 2003.
The SNP believes that with such a radical overhaul taking place, there is a genuine opportunity to take a more sensible approach to immigration after the repeated failures of the previous agency.
Commenting, Ms McKelvie who convenes the European and External Affairs Committee said:
“Any changes made to the UK Borders Agency should result in its organisations operating in a more dignified manner, treating all people fairly and humanely.
“But it is clear that Theresa May’s current plans to break up the UKBA will not address its fundamental problems.
“It is also clear from the abject failure of the UKBA over the years that the requirement to determine the trafficking status for children and vulnerable adults cannot be met by a UK-wide organisation.
“This aspect of immigration control should be determined by local authority social work departments who are best-placed to make these decisions in a far more humane way within the local community.
“The UKBA has got it badly wrong in the past and I can only hope that Theresa May will recognise that these changes are a clear opportunity for a fresh start and a new approach.”