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Bonuses all round for failing Border Agency

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The UK Border Agency is paying out £295,000 in bonuses to senior staff despite its ongoing struggle with a backlog of thousands of mystery cases.

The Home Affairs Committee's latest report into the UKBA found that although it has worked through about half of its 450,000 backlog, it still does not expect to finish until summer 2011.

The Committee is even more suspicious that out of 220,000 cases concluded by the end of September 2009, 14 per cent were deported and 34 per cent were granted leave to remain in the UK. This leaves 52 per cent where files were closed with an "other" outcome.

The MPs asked the Agency for more information on what "other" conclusions there could be for the majority of cases. They were told 4,000 cases were duplicates, 88,500 were errors and 8,500 related to EU nationals.

Which leaves over 100,000 cases where the Border Agency does not know what has happened.

The Committee heard that 100,500 cases are in the legacy cohort - the Agency does not know where these people are. So they are put in an archive and after six months the case is considered closed. But names in the archive are checked against various watchlists every three months and can be reactivated should a match appear.

The Committee's report said: "We are very concerned by the high proportion of 'errors' amongst the cases concluded so far. We understand the difficulty in keeping track of people who may have made multiple applications, sometimes in different names, particularly in the years before the biometric information of applicants was recorded and at times when the numbers of people seeking asylum were at record highs.

"It is most regrettable, however, that the registration of cases became so chaotic."

The MPs said they were astonished that the UKBA recently found a batch of 40,000 files which mostly date back to before 2003 - some date back as far as 1983. The Agency hopes to clear this bunch of files by summer 2011, but told the MPs that it was likely many cases had been resolved in some way or another, it just wasn't sure how. So these people could have left the country, made another application, have died or be working for the Attorney General Baroness Scotland.

The Report noted that a previous Home Secretary described the UKBA as "not fit for purpose" and that it still had a long way to go before it could be described as efficient and effective. Given this situation it questioned the wisdom of handing over £295,000 in bonuses to 29 staff. Immigration minister Phil Woolas defended the payments to what he described as brave staff.

The UK Border Agency has suffered more embarrassment with its recent embrace of dodgy use of DNA testing of African asylum seekers to "prove" nationality. Various scientific advisers have pointed out the fallacy of such a system - one suggested checking the colour of applicants' shoes would be more accurate.

The madcap scheme was temporarily suspended in October, then reintroduced a week later.

The Home Affairs Committee Report is here. ®

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