The removal of the full right of appeal from family visitor visa applicants had not led to a higher refusal rate or an overall reduction in decision quality. However, record keeping and quality assurance was inconsistent across visa posts, which created a risk of unequal and unfair treatment of applicants.
Foreign nationals wishing to visit family members in the UK can apply by making a family visitor visa application from overseas. Applications are made to the UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) Directorate of the Home Office through one of its global network of visa posts and should be considered against a specific set of requirements.
In 2013, the full right of appeal for applicants seeking entry to the UK as a family visitor was removed. The Home Office stated that by lifting the burden of processing 40-50,000 family visitor visa refusal appeals a year staff could concentrate on UKVI’s core visa business. It believed that this change would result in improved customer service and decision-making.
This inspection therefore examined the impact of the removal of full appeal rights on family visitor applicants, by assessing the quality and consistency of decision making in respect of applications.
The Chief Inspector found that:
- there was no evidence that the removal of the full right of appeal from family visitor visa applicants had led to a higher refusal rate or to an overall reduction in decision quality
- at some visa posts, particularly those that had been criticised in previous inspections, there had been significant improvements in decision quality
- UKVI had implemented a training programme which had led to clearer, more personalised refusal notices, with the reasons for refusal set out in a comprehensible way
- entry clearance staff were using risk profiles to inform decision-making, and in general had a good appreciation of risk factors. Additional verification checks were being used effectively to support decision-making, and had added value in 90% of the cases where they had been carried out
- the UKVI Operating Mandate, introduced in November 2014 was a positive development, setting out mandatory checks to assure the identity and security of visa applicants
- overall the visa sections inspected were meeting their customer service standards
The Chief Inspector also found that:
- of the cases sampled, 65 (13%) refusals and 111 (56%) cases where a visa was issued contained insufficient evidence or notes to enable a full audit of the decision. Practice regarding the retention of evidence varied widely between posts, despite eight previous reports making recommendations on this issue
- in 211(42%) of the refusal cases sampled the refusal notice provided to the applicant was not balanced, and failed to show that consideration had been given to both positive and negative evidence
- posts were using different decision-making criteria and these inconsistencies risk applicants receiving unequal and potentially unfair treatment
- quality assurance of decisions was not working as well as it should, and issues had not been picked up in 28 (26%) of the refusal cases that had been quality assured by an Entry Clearance Manager (ECM)
- rather than re-apply, as the quicker and cheaper alternative to pursuing an appeal, as the Home Office had expected and had factored in to the benefits case for removing appeal rights, some refused applicants were putting in informal reconsideration requests. Visa posts were not dealing with these requests consistently, leading to some long delays and to variable responses
Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, David Bolt:
The inspection found that removal of the full right of appeal from family visitor visa applicants had not led to a higher refusal rate, or to an overall reduction in decision quality. UKVI had taken steps to train staff, to improve processes, and to balance the requirements of risk management and customer service.
However, the handling of applications was inconsistent across different visa posts, with some inadequate record keeping, which created a risk of unequal and unfair treatment for some applicants. The recommendations therefore focus primarily on clarifying the standards expected and improving consistency of delivery.
The Chief Inspector made 7 recommendations for improvement. These included that the Home Office ensure that relevant supporting documents are retained or notes made to enable a full audit trail of decisions, decisions are made consistently and fairly against the correct criteria at all posts and clarifies its policy on reconsideration requests.
Full report: An inspection of family visitor visa applications
The report was laid in Parliament on 16 July 2015.
David Bolt took up the post of Independent Chief Inspector on 1 May 2015.
With effect from 25 June 2013, the full right of appeal for applicants seeking entry to the UK as a family visitor was removed, by virtue of section 52 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013, bringing appeal arrangements for family visitor visa applicants into line with those for other categories of visitors. An appeal may still be made on human rights or race discrimination grounds.
With the removal of a full right of appeal, family visitor visa refusal cases fall within the Chief Inspector’s statutory remit as the independent monitor for entry clearance refusals without the right of appeal, which requires that applicants are safeguarded from wrongful decision-making by reviewing entry clearance decisions to ensure that they are fair and consistent.