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Easier to grant than to refuse visas, says report

Immigration officers must provide more evidence for visa refusals

13 January 2009 – A report by the Commons Homes Affairs Select Committee today warns that while the reasons for a visa refusal are regularly reviewed, and therefore subject to detailed scrutiny, those for an approval are not.

Immigration officers face "perverse incentives" to grant visas to foreigners rather than refuse them, warns an influential group of MPs.

Sir Andrew Green, chairman of Migrationwatch, said: "This is a very serious issue.

"There is strong pressure on entry clearance officers to grant visas rather than refuse them. This will lead to an even greater number of visitors overstaying their visa and becoming an illegal immigrant in Britain."

The evidence needed for a refusal is far more detailed and MPs questioned whether that would lead to a "tendency to be tempted to approve more applications that one should on the basis that that work is never going to be checked".

The MPs conclude: "We share the concern of the Independent Monitor that the substantially lower level of evidence that entry clearance officers are obliged to record for a visa issue than for a visa refusal may provide a perverse incentive for officers to issue visas rather than refuse them.

Linda Costelloe-Baker, who officially monitors visa refusals, said around 15 per cent of short-term visas were wrongly approved because it was easier than rejecting applications.

She said officials were "under pressure” to issue visas in order to hit productivity targets.

In their report, the MPs warn the new inspectorate may not be fully operational by the time the independent monitor role is scrapped in April and call for the role to continue to allow a sufficient overlap.

The warning comes less than two months after a watchdog said around 300,000 foreigners who should not be granted visas are allowed in to Britain every year.

Home Office spokeswoman said: "The allegation that our staff give out visas when people do not meet the immigration rules is untrue and a distortion of what the Independent Monitor said at the Home Affairs Select Committee, as her mandate has never covered the granting of visas.

"Every application is scrutinised, fingerprints are taken, and the individuals checked against a range of watch-lists. Visas provide the first line of defence against those who seek to abuse the system. Travellers are subject to further tough checks at the border."

"Already we’ve fingerprinted more than three million people and identified 4,600 cases of identity fraud. Last year we refused visas to nearly 20 percent of applicants."

Nearly two million visas are approved each year, giving the right to enter the UK for six months. Reasons for refusal can involve doubts over whether they will return home, questions about their true reason for coming and concerns about their identity. 

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