Home Affairs Select Committee Chairman Keith Vaz MP acidly remarked last week that the UK Border Agency (UKBA) has “acquired its own Bermuda Triangle” of backlogged cases.  The Committee has frequently reviewed concerns about immigration queues at airports, ineffective enforcement and systemic failures which led a former Home Secretary to declare it “not fit for purpose”. The British entrepreneur Sir James Dyson has again voiced concern at the effect on the UK’s economic competitiveness of increasing delays and restrictions.

This month, Heathrow airport anticipates its busiest ever day as the London Olympics become, according to the responsible Government minister “the largest peacetime event ever staged in this country”. A strike by immigration staff was narrowly averted 36 hours before the opening day, but morale and industrial relations are at a very low ebb.  Immigration application volumes are rising and security concerns are heightened. Some UKBA case working staff are being redirected from their roles to border operations;  many more have been made redundant.  Add to this the coalition Government’s stated policy of reducing net migration from hundreds to tens of thousands a year by the end of this Parliament by imposing numerical caps and category restrictions, and there is a perfect storm. The system is so overloaded that businesses and employers cannot get the right people into the UK, and Government cannot get the wrong people out.  Here are some consequences we see every day:

  • Businesses applying for sponsor licenses find their applications delayed for months rather than taking weeks, as they should, thereby preventing key transfers and hires from taking place
  • Even businesses willing to pay an additional £6,000 per application for a UKBA “super premium” fast track service cannot access it because demand far exceeds supply
  • Key individuals and their families are “locked in” the UK because they have to use the slow postal route to extend immigration status due to fast track unavailability
  • Senior business people face long airport queues.

In most cases, lobbying will not help.  There is just not enough resource in the system to deliver.  Businesses should take advice if in doubt, and always leave plenty of time: plan ahead and then assume it will take longer than you planned.  For some, it is already too late.

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