Inspection report published: A reinspection of family reunion applications September – October 2022

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.

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The original publication date of this post was February 21, 2023 1:21 pm