Visa process not unusual, says Home Office

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Indy Politics

The Home Office tried last night to defuse the growing storm over whether David Blunkett accelerated the award of a visa to his former lover's nanny, insisting it was "not unusual" for such applications to be rushed through.

The Home Office tried last night to defuse the growing storm over whether David Blunkett accelerated the award of a visa to his former lover's nanny, insisting it was "not unusual" for such applications to be rushed through.

But the revelation that Leoncia Casalme received permanent leave to stay in Britain just 19 days after she was warned that she might have to wait a year for approval intensified the pressure on the Home Secretary. Mr Blunkett insisted he had done nothing wrong and, in a brief statement, the Home Office said Ms Casalme had not been treated any differently from other applicants. The Home Secretary has admitted looking through the application to see it was in order, but strongly denies playing any further role in processing it.

Documents obtained by the Daily Mail disclosed that the nanny was warned by the Home Office on 23 April 2003 that she could wait about a year for her application to be processed. Yet 19 days later, on 12 May 2003, she was told that the visa approving permanent residency had been approved.

It was also granted less than four years after she arrived in the country, the normal qualifying period for applicants to qualify for visas.

The Home Office explained that charging for visa applications had been introduced in August 2003. It added: "In the months in advance of that, to be in a position to deliver a good service to applicants when charging began, the Home Office made efforts to process existing applications as quickly as possible.

"It was not unusual for straightforward cases to be dealt with within a few weeks."

Guidance to speed through visas more quickly in an attempt to clear the backlog was issued in April 2003, at a time when the Immigration and Nationality Directorate was in turmoil and the time to process applications could be hard to predict. It was also the moment Ms Casalme's application arrived at the IND's headquarters in Croydon.

Agencies recruiting nannies said it was common for them to be rubber-stamped quickly.

But Keith Best, chief executive of the Immigration Advisory Service, said granting a residency application in just 19 days was "very unusual".

He said: "There may be a wholly innocent explanation but there are a lot of questions."

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