As many as 10 per cent of Nigerians applying for visas to settle in Britain are wrongly being allowed to stay indefinitely in the country, a watchdog has found.
The Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration uncovered “serious errors” in the handling of cases, with vital checks being ignored and bad decisions being made.
In one case a woman was allowed to move to Britain even though she had previously overstayed and had a baby on the NHS without paying.
The watchdog, John Vine, warned the “disturbing” mistakes made by UK Border Agency staff in Africa meant that people were wrongly gaining access to Britain’s welfare system. But unless fraud can be proved, previous court cases suggest such immigrants are usually allowed to remain in the country.
He wrote: “It is therefore all the more imperative that the Agency takes steps to ensure such basic mistakes with long-term impacts on the United Kingdom are not made in the future.”
The inspector, best known for uncovering problems in the passport controls at Britain’s airports, looked at visa offices in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, as well as those in Pretoria, Nairobi and one in Croydon that handles applications from Algiers.
He said it was “frustrating” that little progress had been made in implementing recommendations he had made several years earlier, and was “disappointed” to find so much room for improvement.
In many cases applicants were “unfairly” not told of all the documentation they needed to provide, yet were still refused visas to come to Britain. Elsewhere audit trails were poor.
Some of the worst problems were encountered in Nigeria, where fraud is endemic.
The Abuja office handled 498 settlement applications in 2010-11, out of a total of 101,209 visa applications, and the inspectors looked at a sample of them.
In all 37 where settlement had been granted, there were mistakes in the decision-making process.
In five cases, border officials had wrongly stamped visas with “indefinite leave to remain” rather than limited leave of 27 months.
The report said that “given the gravity of this error”, the inspectors looked 135 similar cases and “disturbingly” found another nine where indefinite leave had been granted.
“Overall this meant applicant in 14 out of 135 cases (10 per cent) had been incorrectly granted ILE to the UK.” The Agency “accepted it was a serious error”.