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UK closes loophole in immigration process

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First discovered six years ago, a loophole that allows immigrants to illegally use a fabricated National Insurance number toward their residency process has now been closed down.

Individuals who wish to work in Britain must have a National Insurance number. It is used to deduct taxes, determine national insurance contributions, and to generally track movement of an individual through the work force. Various benefits are also allocated based upon these statistics.

Persons applying for a job position must provide their NI number. For immigrants, the number is directly tied to their residency and employment eligibility. Up until now, it has been possible to forge such a number, either using a falsified one or that of another individual.

JobCentre Plus administers these applications for NI numbers. Employees at JobCentre Plus can and have noticed suspicious documentation and irregular applications, last year referring 3,300 for investigation. Only four of these in 2005 lead to prosecutions.

However, even when a suspicious application is noted, JobCentre Plus staff are required to process the application anyway, allowing potentially fraudulent applications to continue instead of suspending them for further investigation. Or, rather, they were required prior to now, that is.

It was publicly revealed that staff were being forced to process suspicious applications when an internal memo from June 2005 was recently published. Reaction to the media coverage was swift, with several government officials reacting with statements and vowing to shut down the loophole.

As of 05 June a new rule has been written into the procedure, allowing JobCentre Plus personnel to turn down applications that they determine to use false NI numbers. Further, they are asked now to report such activity to the Immigration and Nationality Directorate for investigation. Of potential controversy, no time limit has been set on such an investigation to clear applicants who may otherwise be fully legitimate.

The Department of Work and Pensions will introduce a "right to work" condition into the national insurance application process for the first time.

Statement from a Department of Work and Pensions spokesman: "The proposed changes will mean that we will be able to refuse to give a national insurance number to an applicant if we suspect them of being an illegal worker. Their case would be referred to the immigration service and the applicant would have to get the necessary proof that they have the right to work in the country. There is no set time frame on this because each case will be different."

[Last edited 12 June, 2006 for formatting and clarity. ]