Blunkett admits diplomat was right over visas fiasco

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The diplomat who blew the whistle on the chaos over East European visas, losing his post as a result, was "substantially right" in his complaints, David Blunkett conceded yesterday.

The diplomat who blew the whistle on the chaos over East European visas, losing his post as a result, was "substantially right" in his complaints, David Blunkett conceded yesterday.

The Home Secretary's admission came as a government inquiry disclosed that nearly 23,000 Romanians and Bulgarians came to Britain under the controversial work permit system over two years.

The investigation concluded there had been serious failures in issuing visas and widespread exploitation of the system by fraudulent applicants, but cleared ministers and senior officials of responsibility.

The fiasco led to the resignation of Beverley Hughes as Immigration minister, while the whistleblower, James Cameron, Britain's consul in the Romanian capital, Bucharest, was hauled back to London.

Mr Cameron, who leaked details of the visa irregularities to the Tories, is understood to be taking legal advice after being given a final disciplinary warning, a pay freeze for a year and a three-year block on promotion.

Mr Blunkett said he regretted that senior staff in the Immigration and Nationality Directorate had not acted on Mr Cameron's warnings.

"He was substantially right that the system they were operating had misinterpreted in our view the law. I have conceded that entirely," the Home Secretary told BBC Radio 4.

"What I am not conceding is that contacting the opposition spokesman and making a cause célèbre of something is an alternative to getting in touch with ministers and dealing with it through the normal process."

Home Office staff had approved 23,000 applications for Romanians and Bulgarians to work in Britain, in the vast majority of cases dismissing the objections of consular staff.

The internal inquiry by a senior civil servant, Ken Sutton, published yesterday, exposed "clear evidence" that the visa system had been exploited because Home Office officials believed the law did not allow them to be tougher on Bulgarian and Romanian applications then on other nationalities.

Mr Blunkett said they had been mistaken - and said a "more challenging approach" would be taken in determining future applications from the two countries.

The inquiry also found Bulgarians and Romanians were allowed visitor's permits - for example, to attend a football match - before easily swapping to longer-term visas.

Mr Sutton's report coincided with a National Audit Office inquiry, which found that embassy staff would have rejected at least nine out of ten Romanian and Bulgarian applications later approved by the Home Office.

Most of the 23,000 successful work permit applicants now in Britain are due to re-register with immigration officials within 12 months, when they face new checks on whether they are observing the terms of their work permits.

David Davis, the shadow Home Secretary, said: "James Cameron accused the Home Office of granting visas in the UK that the embassies abroad were advising against.

"I find it astonishing that Mr Cameron has been punished. If heads are going to roll, it should be those who let this situation continue, not the man who uncovered it all."

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