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A UK National Audit Office report has concluded that the Home Office contrived to grant more than 7,000 visas incorrectly, overruling Visa Agency staff who thought the applications should have been rejected. The visas represented more than 90 per cent of applications made locally in Bulgaria and Romania, and the issue puts the Home Office's obsession with immigration, biometric control and data gathering into a certain perspective.

The Home Office has, for example, started rolling out biometric visa schemes for East Africa on the basis that they'll catch a few hundred fraudulent applicants a year. And a few hundred is the number of applicants it should have let in, in this case, as opposed to the few thousand it did. Currently, the Home Office is probably granting in the region of 40-50,000 asylum applications a year (the 2002 number was 42 per cent of 84,130 applications), so 7,000 incorrectly issued visas makes a noticeable impact on the overall picture.

According to the NAO, UK visa staff granted visas to known illegal entrants and failed asylum seekers, applicants who had no idea about the content of the purchased business plans (numerous of which were identical) used to support the application, and to people who clearly did not have the skills to run the business they were proposing to set up in the UK. And a cursory glance at the overall numbers for the particular programme (for European Economic Area applicants) gives us an indication of how good the Home Office is at dealing with those big, expensive databases it's so keen on.

The total number of applications in 2003-4 was 27,000, and 19,000 of these were made in the UK. Virtually all of the applications made locally came from Bulgaria and Romania, 6,659 and 1,375 respectively. Whereas 72 people applied locally in Poland and 8,444 in the UK, the local applications in Bulgaria represented over 75 per cent of the Bulgarian total. Even without information (which, after denials, it turned out the Home Office did have) that there were scams operating, one might reasonably wonder what it was that was driving these hugely disproportionate numbers. Only 1.6 per cent of the local applications were refused, whereas if the NAO is to be believed, the figure should have been more like 95 per cent.

So would you buy a biometric ID card system from an outfit that can't find its immigration controls with both hands? ®

Related links

NAO release plus links to report
Blair puts compulsory ID card on fast track for UK

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