Britain’s immigration system is now in “intensive care”, MPs have warned, painting a damning picture of multiple blunders by the Home Office.
Disclosing that nearly 400,000 immigration cases were unresolved, the Commons home affairs select committee warned that the Government's broken promise to slash migration levels had undermined public confidence in the system.
It condemned the Home Office’s “inexcusable” failure to deport more foreign prisoners and expressed “serious doubts” over whether it would hit its target to introduce full exit checks at ports and airports by April.
The Home Secretary’s frequent delays in releasing reports by the independent Chief Inspector of Immigration – highlighted by the Independent last month – was also attacked as “unacceptable”.
The MPs said the number of missing migrants had reached 89,000 while the Home Office faced a separate backlog of 304,222 visa applications.
The number of unresolved immigration cases therefore stands at 393,222.
“In addition to this is the Government’s missed immigration target. Our immigration system has left A&E and has entered intensive care,” said the all-party committee’s chairman, Keith Vaz.
Its report was scathing about the promise from David Cameron and Ms May to reduce net annual migration from hundreds of thousands to tens of thousands by the next election. The Home Secretary has conceded the target will not be met.
The MPs said an individual target was “too blunt an instrument” as many factors affecting immigration could not be controlled.
“An arbitrary target set by ministers, however well intentioned, only serves to reduce public confidence in the ability of any Government to deliver a future pledge on immigration,” they warned.
The MPs spelt out their scepticism that the Home Office would meet its exit check pledge, saying: “Transport companies have, for some time, expressed serious doubts that the exit checks can be put in place according to the Government’s timetable, which will require full exit checks by 1 April 2015. We share these concerns.”
The MPs said the public “simply cannot understand” why foreign national offenders remained in British jails or were at large in the community.
They said the Home Office’s failure to act on the issue and the quality of its record-keeping were “inexcusable”.
They said: “We know that the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary have, in the past, expressed exasperation over this situation. However, unlike this committee, they can take action to do something about it.”
In other criticisms, the MPs said it was “entirely unacceptable” that almost half of asylum applicants waited six months just for an initial decision and said the Home Office hailed failed to explain adequately why there was a backlog in straightforward immigration cases.
James Brokenshire, the immigration minister, said: “This Government is building an immigration system which is fair to British citizens and legitimate migrants, and tough on those who flout the law. Our reforms have curbed abuse, clamped down on nearly 800 bogus colleges, slashed 45,000 visas from the further education route, and cut family visas by nearly a third since it came to power.”
He said: “There are 50,000 fewer migrants coming to the country from outside the EU than in 2010. But it will take longer to clear up the mess we inherited. Comprehensive exit checks are a crucial part of our work to build an immigration system that works in the national interest.”