Immigration chiefs were accused yesterday of presiding over "complete chaos" when the bungled introduction of a new student visa regime led to an influx of migrants to Britain to work illegally.
The exchanges came ahead of today's appearance before MPs of Damian Green, the Immigration minister, to explain how three-hour long queues were allowed to build up last month at Heathrow Airport.
The Commons public accounts committee (PAC) expressed astonishment that the UK Border Agency (UKBA) brought in the new student visa system in 2009 before proper controls were put in place. The public spending watchdog, the National Audit Office, estimated that up to 50,000 people could have entered the country to work rather than study in the first year of operation.
Margaret Hodge, the PAC's chairman, said: "It is one of the most depressing reports that I have read in terms of policy implementation." She said there was "complete chaos" with one-third of so-called students coming to work.
Dame Helen Ghosh, the Home Office permanent secretary, admitted that the surge in applications "was indeed a surprise". Lin Homer, the former chief executive of UKBA, said: "It didn't feel like that when we were doing it... [the system] has proved very useful."