IMMIGRANTS from the Indian sub-contintent and Caribbean suffer discrimination and lengthy delays at the hands of the Home Office, according to a report published yesterday.
The National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux said the immigration service was 'heavy-handed' and fell below the standards set out in the Government's Citizen's Charter.
Of particular concern to the 95 CABS in England and Wales are mounting delays faced by applicants. Those seeking British citizenship are told to expect a 31-month wait and those appealing against immigration sevice decisions wait between seven and 12 months, according to Sean Roberts, a social policy officer at NACAB.
In the meantime, applicants are restricted in their ability to travel and find work.
Discrimination is also evident, the report says. For instance, the the refusal rate for people coming from Jamaica is 50 times greater than for those coming from the US. Mr Roberts said that people visiting Britain from some developing countries underwent long interrogations, answering 80 to 90 questions. Those arriving from Australia were ushered through with barely a hint of questionning.
Visitors from the Indian sub-continent and the Caribbean who subsequently applied to stay in Britain were almost invariably refused, Mr Roberts said. However, a South African man visiting his daughter in Cambridge applied to stay and 'got his status through in three weeks'.
Mr Roberts added: 'Normally it would take months and months, if it was considered at all. We are calling on the department to overhaul their services so that they meet the standards outlined in the Citizen's Charter.'
Robert Cattle, NACAB's deputy chief executive, said: 'Judging from the reports we are constantly getting from Citizens Advice Bureaux, the service being provided by the immigration and nationality department is severely lacking.
'Visitors, or indeed people who live in Britain, are being treated in a heavy-handed fashion.'
The report calls for greater openness and publication of the questions asked by immigration officers. At the moment, officers relied on their 'sixth sense', paving the way for discrimination, Mr Roberts said.
Applicants should also be supplied with better information in the main ethnic minority languages. At present, many immigrants were unaware of what evidence and information they needed to present.
A Charter for ALL? CAB evidence on immigration and nationality. Available from the Social Policy Section, NACAB, 115-123 Pentonville Road, London N1 9LZ. Price pounds 5.