John Vine’s successor has a hard task ahead of them

The resignation of the man in charge of immigration and borders is further evidence of problems at the Home Office.

The resignation of the man in charge of immigration and borders is further evidence of problems at the Home Office

Today John Vine, the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration has announced his resignation. For those who work on immigration policy, it is surprising he has lasted so long. Over the last two years he has sounded increasingly frustrated by failures of the government to act on his recommendations.

His exit is further evidence of on-going and wider problems in the Home Office.

The last Labour government set up role of the chief inspector and the legal framework for this post was outlined in the UK Borders Act 2007. John Vine, formerly chief constable of Tayside, came into post in 2008. He reports to the home secretary who sets his work priorities, but the chief inspector can inspect outside these areas.

Over the last six years, John Vine and his 30 staff have carried out inspections and spot-checks in the UK and overseas. They have looked at issues such as asylum support, border and customs controls at ports, visa procedures, asylum decision-making and the removal of overstayers from the UK. The chief inspector’s office also oversees the work of the Independent Advisory Group on Country Information. This group of academic advisers commission human rights reports that are used to help make decisions on asylum cases.

John Vine has a difficult role. There are longstanding concerns about the competency of borders and immigration staff. In 2006 then home secretary John Reid declared the UK Border Agency ‘not fit for purpose’. In 2012 Theresa May split up the UK Border Agency, after revelations – some from John Vine – that thousands of people had been let into the UK without any immigration checks.

A year later, the UK Border Agency was brought under direct Home Office control, although UK Visas and Immigration remains as a separate agency. But crisis and mismanagement continue, some of which has been made worse by cuts to funding for border and immigration staff.

There is a consensus that John Vine has done a good job in highlighting ineffective borders and immigration control, as well as ensuring that migrants are treated fairly and law and policy are upheld. In the last two years John Vine’s reports have highlighted backlogs of asylum cases, poor record keeping and that the planned e-borders alerts for high risk passengers only covering 65 per cent of incoming visitors to the UK.

His office has also highlighted the need for rigorous checks on those seeking to enter the UK on the basis marriage to an EU-national, and the ‘archiving’ of asylum and immigration overstayer cases. A particularly critical report on student migration showed a failure by the UK Border Agency to follow up on notifications it received about students who have failed to turn up to classes, with a backlog of 153,000 cases in May 2012.

Unfortunately there is little evidence to show that the government has acted on many of John Vine’s concerns. It has set up high profile stunts, the ‘go home’ vans and the prime minister’s participation in an immigration raid are just two examples. But asylum backlogs are increasing, and there is no evidence to show that ‘archived’ cases of undocumented migrants are being reduced. In May this year, incoming passengers to the UK were faced with long delays when the border IT system failed.

Public hostility to immigration remains high in the UK and a major issue that plays into this are the operational failures of borders and immigration staff. If, as a country, we are to become more comfortable with immigration, the government needs to address these failures so as to build greater trust in the immigration system.

For this to take place, we need competent political leadership and high quality staffing, and a Home Office that is adequately resourced. We also need an independent chief inspector who can highlight any failings. John Vine’s successor has a hard task, but his or her role is an essential component of an effective and fair immigration system.

Jill Rutter writes on immigration and is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward

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