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Home Office ‘over-promised’ on exit checks programme, report finds

Chief inspector of borders and immigration calls on Home Office to re-establish exit checks project with proper data quality in place, but department rejects recommendation

The Home Office has rejected calls from the chief inspector of borders and immigration to re-establish its short-lived exit checks programme, saying it already has a data project in place.

Launching his inspection report on exit checks, the chief inspector of borders and immigration, David Bolt, said the department’s two-year-long exit check programme had not delivered what was promised.

The programme, which ran from April 2014 to May 2016, aimed to introduce 100% exit checks to UK borders, using data to identify immigration routes, and help track suspected criminals or terrorists.

The exit checks system would record the details, through scanning the passports of all passengers leaving the UK, via air, train or sea, allowing authorities to know whether people who entered the country have left when they are meant to. The data would then be verified against Home Office databases.

“By June 2015, the Home Office was reporting 100% coverage of outbound routes “within scope” of its exit checks programme.

“However, outbound travel via General Aviation and General Maritime were excluded from scope, as were departures via the Common Travel Area,” the inspector’s report said.

“Meanwhile, as at June 2017, gaps remained in data collection for inbound sea ferries and for rail routes, as well as for arrivals via the CTA.”

Home Office promising too much

Commenting on his report, Bolt said the overall 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,” he said.

“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.”

Bolt had one “overarching recommendation”, calling on the Home Office to re-establish the 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”.

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However, responding to the report, the Home Office has rejected the recommendation, saying it already has a cross-departmental border movements data programme in place, which was established in November 2017.

“This cross-departmental approach reflects that the same data, whether about the movement of people or freight, serves a wide range of requirements: national security, counter-terrorism, serious organised crime, volume crime, immigration, customs, public health and safety requirements, statistical and regulatory functions,” it said in its response.

It added that the next step is to improve data quality “focussing on our requirements for timeliness and accuracy of data”.

“More effective management of border movement data across the department will reduce any risk that the use of data is not being optimised. Improved assurance of the quality and integrity of data will mean that risk can better be assessed and targeted,” it said.

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