Warning over Ukraine visa checks
Tens of thousands of UK visa applications made in the Ukraine are being approved, despite the country being considered a high-risk location for forged documents, an inspection report has warned.
Border inspectors visited the Warsaw Visa Section, in Poland, a huge processing hub that deals with 56,000 applications a year from foreign nationals based in 12 countries including Ukraine, Bulgaria, and Romania among others.
But inspectors found that 81% of all "other visitor" applications between August 2012 and July this year were from Ukraine.
Intelligence officers, entry clearance staff and managers told inspectors that a higher proportion of applications in the Ukrainian capital Kiev were supported by "forged or counterfeit documents", making the location a "high-risk post".
Despite this, an application for entry clearance in Ukraine was found to be much less likely to result in a refusal than an application made in Austria or Latvia, which would be considered a much lower risk of fraudulent behaviour.
The report said: "We were surprised to find that the refusal rate for Kiev was significantly lower than for other posts in the region.
"We would have expected a post which the risk profile indicated was a high risk, and which reportedly received a high number of applications that were not genuine, to have had a refusal rate exceeding that of locations deemed to present a lower risk."
Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration John Vine said: "I was concerned to find that the risk profile used at Warsaw was not properly aligned with decision outcomes. The profile should be reviewed to ensure it accurately reflects the application types that pose the greatest risk."
However, managers did tell inspectors that although Kiev was considered a high-risk post, the vast majority of applications originating in Kiev were "genuine".
Mr Vine said he was pleased to find that customer service targets were being met across most of the categories of visa applications in Warsaw and in Dhaka, in Bangladesh, where a separate inspection took place.
However, he said he found " the quality of decision-making was poor in all the visa categories" in both Dhaka and Warsaw.
In Dhaka, which is considered a high-risk post, the inspectors identified problems with half of the cases examined, including misinterpreting evidence and not recording clear grounds for evidence.
Mr Vine went on: "It is vitally important, if the visa application process is to be fair and transparent, that the Home Office corrects these serious failings in its decision making.
"Given the poor level of decision quality, the Home Office should also review the target for Other Visitor applications in Warsaw to bring decision quality and ultimately customer service to an acceptable standard."
Prior to July 2012, the Warsaw Visa Section processed around 12,000 visa applications per year, but in September 2012 the processing of visa applications made in Ukraine was moved to the Warsaw Visa Section, resulting in a 460% increase.
A Home Office spokeswoman said: "Protecting the border is our top priority. The UK is not a member of the European free movement zone and so visa holders have their visas and documentation checked again at the border.
"We have reviewed the cases highlighted by the Chief Inspector, and we are satisfied that no individual was issued with a visa when they should not have been.
"We are determined to improve further, which is why we have accepted and begun implementing all of the recommendations.
"Immigration reform is working and net migration is down by almost a third since 2010.
"We have tightened immigration routes where abuse was rife, while at the same time welcome genuine visitors and encourage the brightest and the best students and skilled workers to come to the UK."
Andrew Green, chair of campaigners Migration Watch UK, said: "This report shows how the new 'hub and spoke' system saves money at the cost of having effective immigration controls.
"We have cut out the local knowledge that is vital to intelligent decisions and replaced it with a brainless box ticking system.
"If we want a system which can protect our borders we must be prepared to pay for it."