The Home Office has lost track of tens of thousands of migrants who were refused extensions to their visas more than six years ago, it emerged yesterday. Officials have no idea whether the immigrants left the country as required or are still in Britain as illegal migrants. Lin Homer, chief executive of the Border and Immigration Agency, disclosed the latest backlog of immigration cases in a letter to the Commons Home Affairs select committee.

The revelation comes three years after John Reid, then Home Secretary, described the Home Office’s immigration department as “not fit for purpose”. His made his attack over the failure to deport foreign national prisoners after they had served a jail sentence and the backlog of failed ayslum cases. The Agency is currently working its way through a backlog of between 400,000 – 450,000 old asylum cases and is now preparing to start work on the 40,000 backlog of old immigration cases.

“We are also increasingly giving attentions to our older, archived, non asylum cases, where we have dealt with the application, but we have not formal record that the individual has left the country”, Ms Homer said in the letter. Officials in the Agency have started to look through the 40,000 case files to see if the immigrants are still in the country and can be removed.

Ms Homer said most of the files related to cases dating back before 2003 and were immigrants who have been refused an extension to their visa allowing them to remain in the UK. In the letter to Keith Vaz, chairman of the Home Affairs select committee, Ms Homer said that the names are to be checked against police records and the anti-terror watchlist to see if any individual is “harmful” to the public.

Critics of the Home Office said the figures disclosed the “utter chaos” in the immigration system.

Ms Homer said in her letter that in some of the old immigration cases further action against the individuals might be possible. “In the last few months we have begun the process of reviewing these files to consider if any further action is necessary or possible. Where further action is required it will be taken and any cases which may be considered as harmful to the public will be prioritised.”

Sir Andrew Green, chairman of Migrationwatch UK said: “Yet another skeleton in the Home Office cupboard. “Tens of thousands of case files lying around and the true situation covered up for years on end. This is symptomatic of the utter chaos in the asylum and immigration system during the past ten years. “Nobody in the private sector would get away with such a performance.”

A Home Office spokesman said the department believed many of the individuals had returned home, been removed or had been allowed to stay in Britain after applying through in another category. The spokesman added: “We expect those that are here illegally to return home. Where they refuse to do so, we will seek to enforce their return.”

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