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Border Agency’s backlog spiralling out of control

8 November 2012

The Home Affairs Committee carries out quarterly inquiries into the work of the UK Border Agency (UKBA). Its latest report covers the second quarter of the year April– June 2012.

The Committee is most concerned about the growth in the number of backlog cases the Agency is dealing with. This report also focuses on new asylum cases, enforcement and issues connected to immigration detention.

A growing backlog

The Agency’s backlog is growing at an alarming rate–it has increased by over 25,000 cases since the first quarter of this year.

The backlog consists of:

The Migration Refusal Pool

  • These are records of individuals without leave to remain in the UK, who cannot be traced
  • The pool has grown by 24,000 records since the first quarter of this year-it now totals 174,000
  • Capita have been awarded a contract worth £30m to tackle this backlog; payment will be gradated according to performance but UKBA has not specified the performance thresholds.

Ex-Foreign National Offenders:

  • Little progress is being made in deporting ex-foreign national offenders quickly at the end of their sentence. There are 3,954 ex-FNOs living in the community whilst deportation action against them proceeds, 63% of these have been released for more than two years.
  • This backlog will continue to grow-94% of the individuals released from prison in the second quarter of this year still had their cases outstanding at the end of the quarter.
  • The Committee welcomes the Home Secretary’s move to provide clear guidance for cases dealt with under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and expects to see the proportion of ex-FNOs that UKBA is able to deport increase.
  • In addition there are still 53 ex-FNOs living in the community who should be considered for deportation action but whom UKBA is not able to trace.

Asylum and migration ‘controlled archive’

  • The so-called ‘controlled’ archive consists of cases the Agency has no control over -it does not even know where the applicants are.
  • There were 95,000 cases in the ‘controlled archive’ at the end of June this year, 74,000 in the asylum controlled archive and 21,000 in the migration controlled archive.
  • UKBA has said it will close the controlled archive at the end of this year. The Committee believes that UKBA’s optimism is misplaced. It has called on UKBA to make sure that final checks are not rushed and emphasised the importance of making preparations for dealing with any untraced applicants subsequently found to be living in the UK.

Asylum and migration live cohorts

  • These are cases where the UKBA has managed to trace an applicant thought to have been lost and is working to close their case. There were 29,000 cases in the live cohorts at the end of June this year, 25,500 in the asylum live cohort and 3,500 in migration live cohort.

Other areas of concern:

New asylum cases:

  • The Committee doubts that the Agency is adequately equipped to deal with the increase in asylum applications.
    - Cases receiving an initial decision within 30 days has declined by 12%.
    - Cases waiting for an initial decision after 6 months has risen by 36% since June 2011.
  • The Committee is also concerned about the quality of decision making. So far this year 13 people have been granted asylum in the UK following rejection of a previous claim and removal to their country of origin. Poor decision making may result in people being returned home when they face persecution and torture. The Committee is particularly worried about the plight of Tamils being returned to Sri Lanka and calls on the Agency to push for a re-evaluation of the risks posed to Tamil asylum seekers on return.


  • Sponsors and licensing-Following the events at London Metropolitan University the Committee recommends that the Agency should conduct further checks on international students who have already been accepted by the University to make sure they have permission to be in the UK and are complying with their visas. However, those that are found to be genuine should be allowed to continue their studies at the University.

Rt Hon Keith Vaz MP, Chair of the Committee, said:

“There are now about the same number of cases awaiting resolution by UKBA as there are people living in Iceland. The backlog is spiralling out of control and stands at a third of a million. It has grown by 25,000 cases in just 3 months.

Entering the world of the UKBA is like falling through the looking glass. The closer we look the more backlogs we find, their existence obscured by opaque names such as the ‘Migration Refusal Pool’ and the ‘Controlled Archive’. UKBA must adopt a transparent and robust approach to tackling this problem instead of creating new ways of camouflaging backlogs.

Senior management promised to clear the ‘controlled archive’ by 31 December and that will mean writing off 81,000 files, some of which have been shown to contain real people. They need to get a grip.

Until the entire backlog is cleared the Committee does not believe that senior staff should receive any bonuses.”

Further information