No exit record of 600,000 overseas nationals who should have left UK

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The Home Office has no record of the departure of more than 600,000 overseas nationals who should have left the UK, an inspection report reveals.

In a highly critical assessment, the immigration watchdog revealed the figure as he accused the department of “over-promising” when setting out plans for exit checks.

Rolled out in 2015, the Government has repeatedly trumpeted the scheme, claiming it will give a much clearer picture of movements across Britain’s borders.

But a review published on Wednesday flagged up a catalogue of shortcomings that have blighted the programme.

As of the end of August, there were around 10 million individuals recorded on a Home Office system whose last period of leave to be in the UK expired in the preceding two years.

Of those, the database contained no evidence of departure for 601,222.

An officer checking passports (Steve Parsons/PA)
An officer checking passports (Steve Parsons/PA)

The remaining 88,134 individuals are “visa nationals”,  those from countries outside the EU who must obtain a visa prior to coming to Britain.

The Home Office told inspectors that where no evidence of departure was found, this is not confirmation that an individual remains in the country, only that they have not been matched to a departure record.

It also detailed how:

– The operational value of data from a system created as part of the exit check programme was “severely hamstrung”.

– Tens of thousands of Chinese nationals initially identified as possibly remaining beyond their visas were found to have returned to their home country.

– Home Office staff spoke openly to inspectors about their lack of confidence in the system, with one saying: “We were certainly mis-sold the programme”.

– Representatives from the travel industry lamented the planning and execution of exit checks as “shambolic”.

– In response to a query from a check-in agent about a person attempting to depart the UK using an expired passport, the Home Office said: “It’s up to you.”

– Police warned that carriers regularly submitted data too late for law enforcement to take any immediate action.

– Of 50 “hits” for “persons of interest” departing the UK via Eurostar over a 10-month period, law enforcement was able to intercept only four  individuals as the travel data was not transmitted until after the train had left.

– Some larger groups travelling on privately chartered flights were not recorded on departure – including four football teams and the entire staff of two Gulf ruling families.

Mr Bolt said: “Overall, the sense was that the Home Office had over-promised when setting out its plans for exit checks.

“The Home Office needed to be more careful about presenting exit checks as the answer to managing the illegal migrant population, which for now remained wishful thinking.”

Labour MP Yvette Cooper, who chairs the Commons Home Affairs Committee, said: “This is a very critical report on the operation and design of the exit checks programme.”

She said the committee had recommended that the policy should be expanded so it can play a more effective role in immigration enforcement, adding: “Instead the Chief Inspector’s report shows that serious limitations and gaps in data mean it isn’t even doing the job it was supposed to.”

A Home Office spokesman said: “Exit checks are helping us focus operational activity better on those people who do not comply with our immigration rules.

“Information gathered has also been invaluable to the police and security services who have used it to help track known criminals and terrorists, supporting wider work taking place across government and law enforcement.”

The department acknowledged that “more work can be done to realise the full operational potential of data collected”.

Statistics for the first full year of exit checks data collection showed that for visa holders whose visas or extensions expired in 2016/17 without them being granted an extension to stay longer in the UK, the vast majority (96.3%) departed in time, the Home Office added.

Eurostar said passenger data is submitted in line with regulations set by relevant authorities, who have not raised any issues with the quality or timings of its submissions.

A spokesman added: “Our processes are audited regularly by the authorities and we have had feedback that we are fully compliant.”

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