The Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, David Bolt, has published his inspection report on Exit Checks.
The completed report was sent to the Home Secretary on 30 January 2018.
The Home Office’s Exit Check Programme ran from April 2014 until 31 May 2016 when it was formally closed. This inspection examined what the Programme had delivered and how far it had met its stated aims.
The re-introduction of exit checks, which had been phased out in the 1990s, was announced in 2010 in the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition’s ‘Programme for government’. The Home Office subsequently committed to delivering “100% exit checks” by March 2015.
However, in early 2015 the Home Affairs Committee expressed concerns that this would not be achieved, and highlighted that a number of significant exclusions had crept into the government’s pledge.
Nonetheless, in March 2015, the Home Office’s Exit Check Programme ‘Factsheet’ stated that exit check data would improve its ability to identify and tighten immigration routes and visas most vulnerable to abuse, help to target those who had overstayed their visas and were in the UK illegally, and help to track the movements of known or suspected criminals and terrorists.
The inspection looked at what data was being collected, the gaps and what was being done to fill them, and at what the Home Office was able to achieve from its analysis of the data it had.
Overall, the sense was that the Home Office had over-promised when setting out its plans for exit checks, and then closed the Exit Check Programme prematurely, declaring exit checks to be “business as usual” when a significant amount of work remained to be done to get full value from them.
This work needed better coordination within the Home Office, and externally with carriers, with other potential contributors to and users of the data, and with Common Travel Area partners. In the meantime, the Home Office needed to be more careful about presenting exit checks as the answer to managing the illegal migrant population, which for now remained wishful thinking.
My report contains one overarching recommendation: that the Home Office re-establishes the Exit Checks Programme, with appropriate Programme oversight, governance and documentation, in order to drive the improvements needed in data quality and completeness and to coordinate and encourage its effective operational use. There was also a need to refresh and restate the ‘vision’ for exit checks, and reset expectations.