In September 2016, I published my report ‘An inspection of family reunion applications’. In it, I made ten recommendations for improvements in the Home Office’s handling of these applications. The Home Office accepted all ten recommendations.
Between November 2016 and March 2017, I carried out an inspection of entry clearance operations in Istanbul, which along with Amman and Pretoria, was one of the posts inspected for the family reunion inspection. This provided an opportunity to check on the progress made in Istanbul towards implementing the recommendations from my family reunion report.
I found that Istanbul’s handling of family reunion applications had improved. Guidance had been revised; there were no longer delays in obtaining copies of asylum screening and interview records held in the UK; evidence relied upon in either refusing or issuing applications was retained or recorded; ‘General grounds for refusal’ was being used correctly; ‘exceptional circumstances’ or ‘compassionate factors’ were being considered; and Customer Service Standards were being met.
However, in two areas there appeared to have been little movement. These were access to interpreters to enable interviews of applicants to clarify points of detail, and the commissioning and funding of DNA tests.
I remain of the view that interviews and DNA evidence have the potential to tip the ‘balance of probabilities’ argument, but it seems that the Home Office’s default position is still to refuse applications rather than to defer a decision to obtain best evidence, which is inefficient and could be traumatic for applicants.
I plan to carry out a more extensive re-inspection of the family reunion recommendations during 2017/18. Pending this, while noting that the Home Office has made progress in some areas, the ten recommendations remain open.