Government accused of 'overpromising' on migration as 600,000 exit records revealed to be lost
The Home Office has failed to keep track of hundreds of thousands of people who should have left the country in the past two years, a watchdog has revealed.
New data found that of the 10 million people recorded, with a period of leave to be in the UK having expired in the preceding two years, there was no evidence of departure for 601,222.
The figure includes 513,088 “non-visa nationals”, from countries whose citizens can generally stay for six months without the documentation, and 88,134 “visa nationals”.
In a report by David Bolt, chief inspector of borders and immigration, ministers were accused of “over-promising” in their plans for exit checks.
The policy was reintroduced by the coalition government in 2015 in a bid to more easily pursue those who had overstayed illegally.
But the operational value of the data was described as “severely hamstrung”, while travel industry representatives branded the execution of the checks as “shambolic”.
A specific investigation found that 8,474 out of 52,238 Chinese visa holders who were required to leave between April 2015 and March 2016 had not been recorded.
However it was later found that the vast majority had gone home but their departure had not been captured on the system - because they had left Britain by ferry or train, rather than by air.
Elsewhere the report outlines that Home Office staff feel they were “mis-sold the programme”.
There are also complaints from police, who said suspects were often able to leave the country because train and ferry companies travelling to Europe were too late to provide information.
Mr Bolt said: “Overall, the sense was that the Home Office had over-promised when setting out its plans for exit checks.
“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.”
Yvette Cooper said the Home Affairs Committee had recommended that the policy be expanded, before adding: “Instead the Chief Inspector’s report shows that serious limitations and gaps in data mean it isn’t even doing the job it was supposed to.”
A Home Office spokesman said: “Exit checks are helping us focus operational activity better on those people who do not comply with our immigration rules.
“Information gathered has also been invaluable to the police and security services who have used it to help track known criminals and terrorists, supporting wider work taking place across government and law enforcement.”
"The department acknowledged that “more work can be done to realise the full operational potential of data collected”.
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