Speaking today in Parliament, Theresa May said that the performance of UKBA was “still not good enough”, despite organisational reforms last year, and that she would be bring forward a new immigration bill in April. This would split the agency into 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,” she said.
“By creating two entities instead of one, we will be able to create distinct cultures”
“Second, an organisation that has law enforcement at its heart and gets tough on those who break our immigration laws.”
She added that the entities would lose their “agency status”, after a “closed, secretive and defensive culture” had emerged. Instead they will sit within the Home Office, reporting directly to ministers.
A new strategic oversight board, meanwhile, will coordinate all constituent organisations in the immigration system – immigration policy, the Passport Service, Border Force and the two new entities – with information sharing improved between them.
The news comes after a report from the Home Affairs Select Committee on Monday revealed that UKBA faces a backlog of 312,000 immigration and asylum cases which could take some 24 years to tackle at current rates. Student visa processing delays were said to be up, with only 14% of Tier 4 visa applications processed within the promised four week time in Q3, down from 28% in previous quarter.
UKBA had promised to process 85% of Tier 4 applications on time.
May blamed the agency’s problems on its “sheer size”; lack of transparency and accountability; inadequate IT systems; and the policy and legal framework within which it had to operate.
“The Home Secretary has cut UKBA’s budget by 34%…it’s little wonder that they are struggling to keep up”
However, Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Fielding said the agency’s problems had got worse on the government’s watch.
“Enforcement has got worse, visa delays have got worse, 50% fewer people are being refused entry at ports and borders…The Home Secretary has also cut UKBA’s budget by 34% since the election. So it’s little wonder that they are struggling to keep up.”
May blamed Labour for allowing the backlogs to begin when it was in power, but conceded it would take years to clear them and “fix the system”. “I believe the changes I have announced today will put us in a much stronger position to do so,” she said.