Home Office over-ruled embassies over visa applications

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The Independent Online

More than nine out of ten work permit applications from Romania and Bulgaria were approved in Britain in the face of opposition from local embassy officials, the spending watchdog disclosed last night.

The National Audit Office painted a damning picture of confusion within the Home Office over the visa scandal that led to the resignation of Beverley Hughes as Immigration Minister.

Her successor, Des Browne, last night launched a fresh attempt by the Government to regain the initiative on immigration.

He said the much-predicted flood of workers to Britain from former Iron Curtain countries that joined the European Union on 1 May had failed to materialise. Just a "trickle" of east European economic migrants had arrived in Britain in the last six weeks, he said.

He will also today announce an overhaul of the rules on the issuing of visas to Romanians and Bulgarians, which are not among the new EU members, wanting to work in Britain.

The visa row brought disastrous headlines for the Government and David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, admitted public confidence in the handling of the immigration system had reached an all-time low.

The NAO said visa unit staff at embassies in Romania and Bulgaria would have allowed less than 10 per cent of the 8,000 visas which were granted. But the applications were approved by Home Office staff against the advice of colleagues on the ground who had "concerns" the system was being exploited.

In his first major policy speech, Mr Brown focused last night on the 1 May enlargement, which had brought dire forecasts that 50,000 migrant workers from new EU members such as Poland and Slovakia could be drawn to Britain.

Ministers took emergency action to tighten the controls on east European migrant workers, but this country still has a more liberal regime than France, Germany and Italy.

Speaking to the Institute for Public Policy Research, Mr Browne argued that allowing the new EU citizens to work in this country made "good economic sense".

Meanwhile, police launched dawn raids yesterday to smash a student visa scam believed to have brought more than 1,000 people, mainly South Africans, into the country illegally.

Some 120 officers from Scotland Yard's specialist crime directorate raided 12 addresses across London and Essex and arrested 20 people.

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