The Home Office has been accused of operating in a “continuous state of disaster management” as an increasing number of erroneous immigration decisions are being overturned only once they are publicly exposed.
A number of recent news stories about individuals being refused entry to the UK or threatened with removal have prompted officials to reverse decisions within hours or even minutes news articles being published online or in print.
In the last two weeks alone, The Independent has reported on two such cases. Both in involved people being barred from entering the UK because officials were “not satisfied” they would return home. Both were reversed within 12 hours of the articles being published.
Experts have warned however, that the speed at which the decisions were reversed following the media coverage raised serious concerns about the accuracy and fairness of the Home Office's decision making process.
A “popularity contest” whereby only those able to access journalists can get their cases resolved, they said.
Among the cases overturned after The Independent exposed them, was that of Yvonne Williams, the 59-year-old daughter of a Windrush generation immigrant who was served with a removal order despite her whole family being in Britain.
The decision to prevent six-year-old, UK-born Mohamed Bangoura from returning home to his mother following a holiday, was also reversed, as was the case of Hafizzulah Husseinkhel, a 27-year-old Afghan man who was threatened with deportation despite having served in the British Army.
Journalists reporting on these cases are usually contacted by either the individual themselves, charities supporting them, or increasingly solicitors representing them. Immigration lawyers said media coverage was now often the only way to obtain a “fair and timely” resolution from the Home Office.
Chai Patel, legal director at the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), said that while it was good for individual cases to get resolved, the process exposed a “completely dysfunctional” system which is “incredibly unfair” for those unable to get their cases in the media.
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He added: “It shows how little faith or consideration immigration official have has in their own decision-making that they’re willing to reverse them in a matter of hours, minutes sometimes, of them getting a bit of bad publicity. And it’s seriously concerning that instead of having proper processes, we now have a popularity contest where if you can get enough people to shout about your case the Home Office will just change its mind.
“Many will never going to have their case in the press because it’s too sensitive, or they don’t have the contacts or the lawyers to get in touch with journalists and they don’t have communities building campaign groups around them. They’re never going to come to the press’s attention.”
Mr Patel said each Home Office U-turn was an admission that there is no solution to the underlying problem whereby people are "consistently – almost as a matter of course – given entirely unfair decisions that will destroy their lives until they’re lucky enough to get them turned around".
Danielle Blake, a legal expert from the Immigration Advice Service (IAS), said it was a “big ask” for clients to willingly expose their personal circumstances to the world, but conceded that media exposure was often required to obtain a fair and timely resolution from the Home Office.
She added: “As advisors we come across many clients who are in the most desperate of situations, a lot of them are separated from their loved ones and have been for a very long time. All of this adds several months onto an already long and emotionally draining process. It's very upsetting to think that for those who wish to keep their story private, they face being stuck on a never ending merry-go-round of paying exorbitant Home Office fees, only to come up against a brick wall of non-communication.”
With Brexit on the horizon, campaigners raised concerns that an already “broken” system is going to be placed under even more pressure, with potentially disastrous implications.
Mr Patel said: “The Home Office can’t function with the number of applications made currently. It’s going to get a lot worse when the government has to develop an immigration system that includes EU nationals as well. Whatever happens, the pressure on the Home Office both in terms of future migration and dealing with the people here already is going to be huge. To prevent disaster they need to completely reform every part of the immigration system, because currently it is completely broken.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “The Home Secretary has been clear since his first day in office that he wants a different approach to the immigration system which provides control, but is fair and humane. If evidence about a case comes to light then it will be considered by caseworkers but solely because a case is covered in the media does not mean it will receive a favourable decision.”