MPs slam UK Border Agency over systems failures

The UK Border Agency's systems for measuring the amount of students entering the country have been slammed by the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

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The UK Border Agency's systems for measuring the amount of students entering the country have been slammed by the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

In a report, the PAC said the UK Border Agency introduced its new points based system for students before proper controls were in place to replace the old ones, leading to "chaos". As a result it said larger numbers of migrants who had no intention to study had applied for student visas to enable them to work illegally in the UK.

The troubled e-Borders system for counting all migrants in and out of the UK through all routes will not fully be in place until 2015 at the earliest.

Margaret Hodge MP, chair of the PAC, said, “The result of the Agency’s poorly planned and ill-thought out course of action was chaos: an immediate high level of abuse of the new system and a surge in the number of student visas."

Hodge said, "In 2009 the number of migrants who abused the student route to work rather than study went up by as much as 40,000 to 50,000.

“Since then, the Agency has been playing catch-up, continually adjusting the rules and procedures in order to try and tackle abuse."

The e-borders programme began life in 2003 and has been pushed forward by successive governments. In May the parliamentary Home Affairs Select Committee slammed the failure to deliver the system

“The e-Borders programme, which has resulted in the loss of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money, highlights the need for procurement to be carried out correctly and to include clear goals for private sector companies,” said MP Keith Vaz, chairman of the committee.

“It remains a huge disappointment that e-Borders is not fully in place in time for the Olympics.”

The UK Border Agency experienced a number of IT headaches related to the original £1.2 billion e-borders programme. Last summer, the Agency was said to be locked into a binding arbitration process with supplier Raytheon after the company was sacked from the programme in July 2010. Up until being removed from the e-borders contract, Raytheon had been paid £188 million out of its £742 million contract.

IBM and Serco were selected to replace Raytheon to implement the airline systems in time for the Olympic Games, but the contract for rail and shipping, which the report states will be a much more significant undertaking, has not yet been awarded.

In today’s PAC report committee Hodge said failures to deliver robust systems had been created a "huge amount of bureaucracy for universities" and "an increasingly complex system for students to navigate".

Despite the "surge" in the number of people abusing the student route, said the PAC, the Agency had not done enough to remove those who are here illegally. Even where it has been told by colleges that so-called students are not studying, "it has been unacceptably slow to act", the PAC noted.

The Home Office, through the UK Border Agency, introduced Tier 4 of the Points Based System for student immigration in March 2009 to control the entry of students from outside the European Economic Area who come to the UK to study.

Under Tier 4 students have to be sponsored by an educational institution licensed by the Agency, and responsibility for testing whether applicants are likely to comply with their visa conditions has been transferred from the Agency to these "sponsors".

Before the PAC's report was published one university, London Metropolitan, had its license revoked by the Agency after being accused of not making proper checks, leading to protests by students who feared being thrown out of the country.

The PAC said the Agency had implemented the new system before proper controls were in place. It removed the controls it relied on under the old system - primarily intentions testing and spot check interviews by entry clearance officers - before it had replaced them with new checks and controls.

The Agency did not make its secure electronic system, which demonstrated that a student had been sponsored by a licensed sponsor, mandatory until February 2010.

In the meantime the Agency had to rely on letters from sponsors, which were easily forged, said the PAC. The Agency had also only visited 30 percent of the education institutions it had licensed as sponsors by March 2009, when it launched Tier 4.

The PAC said the measurement of net migration is still based on "inaccurate" International Passenger Survey data. The e-Borders system for counting all migrants in and out of the UK through all routes will not fully be in place until 2015 at the earliest.

"The Agency has no measures or targets relating to migrants overstaying and students working illegally and it has poor management information on student compliance," said the PAC.

It said the e-Borders system only covered 55 percent of flights, and it did not cover flights via other EU countries or rail and sea routes. At the moment the Agency relies on the International Passenger Survey for information about migrants entering and leaving the UK, which the parliamentary treasury committee described as "not fit for purpose" in 2008.

The International Passenger Survey is used to measure net migration. The Home Office has a policy to include students in net migration as there is an international agreement that net migration includes all migrants staying for over 12 months.

The UK Border Agency's systems for measuring the amount of students entering the country have been slammed by the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

In a report, the PAC said the UK Border Agency introduced its new points based system for students before proper controls were in place to replace the old ones, leading to "chaos". As a result it said larger numbers of migrants who had no intention to study had applied for student visas to enable them to work illegally in the UK.

The troubled e-Borders system for counting all migrants in and out of the UK through all routes will not fully be in place until 2015 at the earliest.

Margaret Hodge MP, chair of the PAC, said, “The result of the Agency’s poorly planned and ill-thought out course of action was chaos: an immediate high level of abuse of the new system and a surge in the number of student visas."

Hodge said, "In 2009 the number of migrants who abused the student route to work rather than study went up by as much as 40,000 to 50,000.

“Since then, the Agency has been playing catch-up, continually adjusting the rules and procedures in order to try and tackle abuse."

The e-borders programme began life in 2003 and has been pushed forward by successive governments. In May the parliamentary Home Affairs Select Committee slammed the failure to deliver the system

“The e-Borders programme, which has resulted in the loss of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money, highlights the need for procurement to be carried out correctly and to include clear goals for private sector companies,” said MP Keith Vaz, chairman of the committee.

“It remains a huge disappointment that e-Borders is not fully in place in time for the Olympics.”

The UK Border Agency experienced a number of IT headaches related to the original £1.2 billion e-borders programme. Last summer, the Agency was said to be locked into a binding arbitration process with supplier Raytheon after the company was sacked from the programme in July 2010. Up until being removed from the e-borders contract, Raytheon had been paid £188 million out of its £742 million contract.

IBM and Serco were selected to replace Raytheon to implement the airline systems in time for the Olympic Games, but the contract for rail and shipping, which the report states will be a much more significant undertaking, has not yet been awarded.

In today’s PAC report committee Hodge said failures to deliver robust systems had been created a "huge amount of bureaucracy for universities" and "an increasingly complex system for students to navigate".

Despite the "surge" in the number of people abusing the student route, said the PAC, the Agency had not done enough to remove those who are here illegally. Even where it has been told by colleges that so-called students are not studying, "it has been unacceptably slow to act", the PAC noted.

The Home Office, through the UK Border Agency, introduced Tier 4 of the Points Based System for student immigration in March 2009 to control the entry of students from outside the European Economic Area who come to the UK to study.

Under Tier 4 students have to be sponsored by an educational institution licensed by the Agency, and responsibility for testing whether applicants are likely to comply with their visa conditions has been transferred from the Agency to these "sponsors".

Before the PAC's report was published one university, London Metropolitan, had its license revoked by the Agency after being accused of not making proper checks, leading to protests by students who feared being thrown out of the country.

The PAC said the Agency had implemented the new system before proper controls were in place. It removed the controls it relied on under the old system - primarily intentions testing and spot check interviews by entry clearance officers - before it had replaced them with new checks and controls.

The Agency did not make its secure electronic system, which demonstrated that a student had been sponsored by a licensed sponsor, mandatory until February 2010.

In the meantime the Agency had to rely on letters from sponsors, which were easily forged, said the PAC. The Agency had also only visited 30 percent of the education institutions it had licensed as sponsors by March 2009, when it launched Tier 4.

The PAC said the measurement of net migration is still based on "inaccurate" International Passenger Survey data. The e-Borders system for counting all migrants in and out of the UK through all routes will not fully be in place until 2015 at the earliest.

"The Agency has no measures or targets relating to migrants overstaying and students working illegally and it has poor management information on student compliance," said the PAC.

It said the e-Borders system only covered 55 percent of flights, and it did not cover flights via other EU countries or rail and sea routes. At the moment the Agency relies on the International Passenger Survey for information about migrants entering and leaving the UK, which the parliamentary treasury committee described as "not fit for purpose" in 2008.

The International Passenger Survey is used to measure net migration. The Home Office has a policy to include students in net migration as there is an international agreement that net migration includes all migrants staying for over 12 months.

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