I welcome the publication of my inspection report on the Home Office’s visit visa operations. Managing this high-volume area of the immigration system is challenging for the department; it must balance the competing priorities of delivering efficient customer service and facilitating legitimate inbound travel, on the one hand, and ensuring the security and integrity of the UK border, on the other.
The inspection found that, overall, this area of the Home Office is functioning well, despite operational challenges resulting from the lifting of travel restrictions in place during the Coronavirus pandemic.
The ‘workflow routing solution’, a tool that uses ‘person-centric attributes’ to assess the ‘complexity’ of visit visa applications, appears to be generally accurate in directing work to the correct grade of decision-maker so that robust, evidence-based decisions can be made. There are, however, some areas requiring improvement.
The inspection found that equality impact assessments and other important policy documents were of good quality, but that reviews of these materials were not routinely being undertaken. A tighter review process would ensure that these are done according to a regular schedule, or when a change to policy or approach is proposed.
Operationally, the inspection found some practices occurring that are outside of published Home Office policies, particularly in areas such as workflow management and when visit visa applications require further checks. Such practices must be stopped as a matter of priority, and this has been recognised by the Home Office. A more robust assurance regime would pick this up and stop it.
There appears to be a focus on improving the operational effectiveness of the workflow tool. I was reassured to hear that new initiatives are being planned to enable the department to respond more effectively to potential immigration risks. These risks should be identified using reliable information and data, and by addressing them, the department will be better able to secure the border in a way that is fair to applicants.
Overall, though, and most importantly, this was a refreshingly well-run area of business. Staff working in this area said they felt valued and supported by managers who have an interest in their welfare and wellbeing. The caseworkers I spoke to were a particularly cohesive group: well-led, well-managed and benefitting significantly from working collaboratively together in a shared workspace. I hope I will find similar good practice in the imminent inspection of asylum casework.
This report was sent to the Home Secretary on 10 February 2023. I am encouraged that the report has been laid in Parliament within 10 weeks of its submission, a significant improvement on the 15 weeks or more it took on average for reports to be published during my first two years in post. When I met the Home Secretary in November 2022, I made the point robustly that I considered that her department had previously sat on my reports. Though the timing of the publication of this report remains outside the 8-week agreed timeframe, and though it remains my position that I should have control over the publication of my reports – as other independent inspectors do, and as was advocated in the 2021 Windrush Lessons Learned Review – I hope I will find that the relatively speedy publication of this report reflects an ongoing commitment on the part of ministers and the department to make my reports available in a timely fashion.
I am also pleased that all five recommendations made in the report have been accepted by the Home Office and that work is already underway to address some of the issues identified through this inspection.
First appeared on https://www.gov.uk/government/news/inspection-report-published-an-inspection-of-visit-visa-operations-december-2022-to-january-2023 and can be found at https://www.gov.uk/search/news-and-communications.atom?keywords=immigration&level_one_taxon=ba3a9702-da22-487f-86c1-8334a730e559
The original publication date of this post was April 20, 2023 12:10 pm