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Sun, 27 September 2020

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Home Office to end use of 'racist algorithm' for UK visa decisions in face of legal challenge by migrants' rights group

Home Office to end use of 'racist algorithm' for UK visa decisions in face of legal challenge by migrants' rights group

The Home Office is set to stop using the algorithm this week

3 min read

The Home Office is set to scrap the use of a controversial algorithm for sorting UK visa applications in the face of a legal challenge by migrants' rights campaigners.

The decision comes ahead of a planned judicial review from the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants and digital rights group Foxglove, who argued the system had been designed around "decades of institutionally racist practices".

Campaigners had said the "streaming algorithm" used a traffic light system for sorting applications, with a so-called "fast lane" offering "speedy boarding for white people" from certain countries.

According to the Guardian, the Home Office is to stop using the algorithm as soon as Friday, but denied the description put forward by the groups.

Responding to the news, Chai Patel, Legal Policy Director of the JCWI, said the decision was proof the immigration system needed to be "rebuilt from the ground up".

"The Home Office’s own independent review of the Windrush scandal found that it was oblivious to the racist assumptions and systems it operates," he said.

"This streaming tool took decades of institutionally racist practices, such as targeting particular nationalities for immigration raids, and turned them into software. The immigration system needs to be rebuilt from the ground up to monitor for such bias and to root it out."

In their application to the High Court, the group alleged the Home Office used a "secret list of suspect nationalities" to flag some applications for further inspection, making it less likely to be approved.

Meanwhile, Cori Crider, founder of Foxglove, claimed the system included "racist feedback loops" which provided a easier route for white people.

"We’re delighted the Home Office has seen sense and scrapped the streaming tool," she said.

"Racist feedback loops meant that what should have been a fair migration process was, in practice, just 'speedy boarding for white people.'

"What we need is democracy, not government by algorithm. Before any further systems get rolled out, let’s ask experts and the public whether automation is appropriate at all, and how historic biases can be spotted and dug out at the roots."

A letter from the department's solicitors, seen by the Guardian, confirmed Home Secretary Priti Patel had "decided that she will discontinue the use of the streaming tool to assess visa applications, pending a substitute review of its operation".

It said the redesign would include an effort to "consider and assess the points you have raised in your claim including, issues around unconcious bias and the use of nationality generally in the streaming tool".

But the lawyers added: "For clarity, the fact of the redesign does not mean that the secretary of state for the home department accepts the allegations in your claim form."

The Home Office has been approached for comment.

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