Home Office investigated over UK visa outsourcing law breaches

Sanwar Ali Comment:

There are numerous concerns over the services provided by UK visa at the Home Office and their subcontractors.  It is regularly the case that people lose money due to the confusing and complicated procedures.  It is very easy to make a mistake that results in having to make the same application again and having to pay again.  

On top of this mistakes by the subcontractor as in this case, also leads to lost UK visa fees and delays.  Unfortunately, the Home Office will frequently not admit to any mistakes being made.   Steps need to be taken to simplify the UK visa system such as the Tier 2 Sponsor Licence and Tier 2 visa system.  These problems have been happening under the Boris Johnson Government and previous Governments as well.

The Home Office is facing an investigation for breaching the law over its outsourcing of UK visa services. VFS Global, a private firm contracted by the government to manage overseas visa processes has received thousands of complaints, leaving the Home Office facing an investigation by the complaints watchdog.

A complaint regarding misconduct by VFS Global has been escalated by the parliamentary ombudsman, following the case of an Australian man who was given incorrect instructions about how to submit his UK visa application.

A formal investigation is understood to be underway after the Home Office refused to voluntarily cooperate with requests for information.

Lack of accountability over UK visa services

Lawyers slammed VFS Global’s handling of the Australian man’s case, while criticising the Home Office for completely abandoning accountability over the lack of poor service provided by the Dubai-based outsourcing firm.

Since the subcontracting agreement between the Home Office and VFS Global began in 2014, the outsourcing firm has been swamped with complaints and accused of exploiting vulnerable UK visa applicants for profit.

A report by The Independent revealed that the Home Office has made a staggering £1.6bn from visa applicants in the past five years, representing a nine-fold increase compared to revenue generated in the five years before the contract with VFS Global began.

The contract has continued, despite the Home Office being warned of gross misconduct and aggressive selling from the Dubai-based company.

Australian man misinformed

32-year-old Chris Williams claims VFS Global staff in Australia gave him completely the wrong information about his Tier 1 visa application. In August 2018, Mr Williams was told that he was not permitted to file two stages of his application at the same time, despite needing to do so in order to get a visa and start a new job in the UK on time.

Mr Williams filed a complaint with the Home Office about his experience with VFS Global, only to get no response for three months. During that time he was able to file his application, which was processed and he was able to come to the UK to begin work.

Despite the successful visa application, Mr Williams pursued his complaint with the Home Office after his local MP, Kate Hoey, intervened. The Home Office eventually replied to Mr Williams saying: “The complaint would not be upheld as VFS considered their actions to be in accordance with UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) requirements.”

However, in documents obtained by Mr Williams through a series of Freedom of Information requests, the Home Office appears to have privately acknowledged that VFS was wrong to deny the Australian national’s Tier 1 visa submission in two stages. Despite this, the Home Office still did not uphold Mr Williams’ complaint.

Parliamentary Ombudsman

In February 2019, Mr Williams alerted the parliamentary ombudsman to his case. The watchdog instructed the Home Office to disclose communications made between the government department and VFS Global. However, the Home Office refused, stating that VFS global had asked them not to.

In response, the ombudsman stated that unless the Home Office had legal grounds on which to withhold the communications, then the government department was breaking the law. At the time of writing, it’s understood that the Home Office has repeatedly failed to respond to the request.

The ombudsman has recently written to Mr Williams, notifying him that his complaint has been escalated. A further failure to respond by the Home Office will lead to a full investigation being launched, the ombudsman letter said.

Amid his ordeal, Mr Williams said: “I had hoped it would be resolved quickly and I would be able to get my UK visa and get back here so that I wouldn’t lose a job that I wanted, and because of the delays I almost lost that job.

“Now, I want an acknowledgement of the horrendous 14 months that I’ve been through, an acknowledgement of the dishonesty, of the breaking of the law. I know the Home Office has a bad reputation, but this has shown me that they have no obligation to truth or honesty or morality, and then whenever they are caught they just double down,” Mr Williams added.

UK Visa at Home Office lacks transparency

Chief executive of the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association, Nicole Francis, said Mr Williams’ ordeal demonstrates the blatant lack of transparency and accountability that the outsourced visa system is dogged by.

She said: “We’ve seen a number of people being caught between the Home Office and VFS in this subcontracting arrangement. Whose responsibility is it? How do people get redress when something goes wrong? What is the route to getting some kind of response?”

“When they set up these kind of arrangements, it’s not just that people get the poor service – a lack of availability of appointments, correct documents not being uploaded, people being made to pay for things they don’t need to pay for – it’s how do you then get things corrected,” Francis added.

The Home Office has declined to comment on Mr Williams’ case, other than to acknowledge that they are aware of the compliant and a potential parliamentary ombudsman investigation.

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