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Immigrant ID cards and border checks slip towards 2009

Byrne's 'challenging targets' challenge belief

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Immigration minister Liam Byrne has concealed what looks like further ID card slippage and set himself a remarkably unchallenging series of immigration and border control targets in a "ten point plan" for 2008. Humorously described by the Home Office as "challenging", the plan consists largely of low targets, targets already achieved, and harder targets lobbed off into the middle distance.

Check out the roadmap. Down at the bottom it tells us that Byrne won't start issuing immigrant ID cards until the second week in November (330 days, count them), won't start counting foreign nationals in and out of the country until the year end, and won't hit the target of processing 60 per cent of asylum claims within six months until the end of the year either.

Set against this we have the announcement this morning that fingerprint checks for all visa applicants have now been implemented ahead of schedule. This means he's already met the first target of doing this within 15 days, but as he won't be checking foreign nationals in and out of the country until next year, the 'fortress Britain' dream is still a long way off, and the achievement is of doubtful value.

Similarly, target two, on the spot fines for offending employers within 60 days, was already planned for implementation in February, and the fact that immigrant ID cards won't even begin to exist until November means that the system is just as unworkable as we predicted last month.

As for the rest, the single border force and the points-based migration system (wasn't this first floated two home secretaries ago?) were already planned, and the deportation of foreign prisoners targets are just plain silly. Look at it this way - they're in prison so you can't lose them (yes, we know they can really), so how hard can it be (yes we know, very, apparently)?

Effectively, Byrne's challenging roadmap describes an immigration system that will continue to dysfunction 'as is', with the all-singing all-dancing biometric magic fix now postponed until 2009 and beyond, and the Home Office continuing to boast about how good the immigration system is at chucking out foreign offenders, no matter what. Note that this largely irrelevant offender removal target has now replaced the previous irrelevant target of deporting more failed asylum seekers than there are new applications. The thing the two have in common is that they drain resources away from the central issue of managing the immigration system, such as it is, and it's real problems.

Take, for example, student visas. Hundreds of thousands of foreign students study in the UK, and the use of bogus colleges to back visa applications is a well known loophole for which Byrne seems not to have set himself any targets. Fortunately - last week it was revealed that since 2005 the government had inspected 256 registered colleges out of a total of approximately 2,000, and that 124 of these had turned out to be bogus. One might reasonably speculate that it takes a lot less time to set up a bogus college than it does to getting around to inspecting it, and that this aspect of the immigration control system is therefore a catastrophic failure. ®

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