The report was sent to the Home Secretary on 22 April 2018.
The Home Secretary has laid my report ‘A re-inspection of the Family Reunion process, focusing on applications received at the Amman Entry Clearance Decision Making Centre’ in parliament, together with the Home Office’s formal response.
I first looked at the Home Office’s handling of family reunion applications in 2016, when I made 10 recommendations for improvement, all of which were accepted. The thrust of these recommendations was that these were not like other visa applications, and the Home Office needed to demonstrate that it understood that the majority of applicants were living in difficult and sometimes dangerous circumstances and to show flexibility and compassion when making its decisions.
Since 2016, I have re-inspected two of the three visa posts covered in the original inspection: Istanbul in 2017, and now Amman. These Entry Clearance Decision Making Centres (DMCs), alongside Pretoria, were chosen originally because they received the highest number of family reunion applications and also made the most refusals.
My report on the re-inspection of Istanbul was published in July 2017. It found that Istanbul had improved its handling of family reunion applications, but noted that while the Home Office had made progress towards implementing most of the recommendations, there had been no movement in some areas. I therefore concluded that all 10 recommendations should remain “open”, pending a more comprehensive re-inspection.
This latest ‘interim’ re-inspection report, which was sent to the Home Secretary on 26 April 2018, moves the story forward. It follows my visit to Amman in November 2017, and subsequent examination of a sample of applications received at Amman between 1 April and 30 October 2017, and a series of exchanges with the Home Office (UK Visas and Immigration) up to April 2018 to establish the latest position on family reunion applications at Amman and overall.
Predictably, the Home Office’s formal response accentuates the positives in my report, and I agree that in general things appear to be moving in the right direction. However, the report shows that most (8 out of 10) of my original recommendations remain “open”. The Home Office has challenged my conclusion that, after initial efforts to address the issues identified in the 2016 report, this has ceased to be a priority. It has pointed to the revision of guidance in July 2016, and referred to ongoing work on family reunion policy as part of a wider review of its approach to asylum and resettlement strategy, citing its interest in the passage of two Private Members’ Bills on this issue.
I accept that care is needed when considering changes to policies and practices, and that it is important for the Home Office to listen to others. However, the pace at which it is moving is far too slow given the profound impact on the lives of families seeking to be reunited, and I would expect it to be looking to lead the way.
At the time of this re-inspection, the Pretoria DMC was receiving the largest number of family reunion applications. During the next year, subject to the Home Office’s progress in moving family reunion decision making to the UK, I plan to carry out a re-inspection of Pretoria. In the meantime, I hope that the Home Office pushes on with implementing the improvements I have recommended and it has recognised are needed.