Thousands of marriage visas were granted to Pakistanis last year without proper checks, a damning report reveals today.
Immigration officials ignored possible evidence of fraud in nearly a third of applications which resulted in visas being granted, inspectors said.
John Vine, Chief Inspector of the UK Border Agency, said the lack of proper scrutiny amounted to a failure to protect Britain’s borders.
Figures from last year showed 6,750 Pakistanis were granted marriage visas – allowing them to come to live with their husband or wife in this country – meaning more than 2,000 visas may have been wrongly granted in just 12 months.
The revelation is the latest in a string of damaging blows for UKBA. Last year MPs branded the agency ‘not fit for purpose’ after officials admitted losing track of 40,000 people who arrived on visas which have since expired.
Only last week it emerged the giant £1.2billion e-Borders scheme – designed to track illegal immigrants, terrorists and foreign criminals – was more than a year behind schedule.
Rules dictate that for a marriage visa to be awarded, both husband and wife must show they have enough money to support themselves. This can include references from employers as proof of employment or bank account statements to show evidence of savings.
But inspectors found that in 31 per cent of cases in which visas were granted, officials failed to scrutinise evidence that applicants might be lying. They found ‘unexplained cash deposits’ in accounts, or references from employers which contained obvious spelling mistakes – suggesting they could be fake.
Sir Andrew Green, chairman of MigrationWatch UK, called for a ‘thorough investigation’ into the revelations. He said: ‘This is very serious indeed. Thousands are being granted not just access to “Lack of scrutiny” Britain but a meal ticket for life on bogus applications.’
In one case uncovered by inspectors, a visa was granted despite the resident husband receiving council tax benefits and lying about his job. Further checks revealed the reference letter from his employer was fake and he was claiming a raft of other benefits and tax credits.
Each visa grants the holder the right to live here for two years, and after that they can apply to remain indefinitely.
Mr Vine attacked ‘serious organisational failings’ and a ‘lack of rigorous scrutiny’ in the cases inspectors examined.
The chaos came after processing was moved from Pakistan to Croydon and Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, he said. Of the 49 cases inspectors looked at, 15 showed visas were granted without proper checks. Of those, nine needed further checks on financial support and six of references containing mistakes suggesting they were fake.
Immigration minister Damian Green said he was ‘very concerned’ about the findings. He said: ‘This report covers a period when the Agency had to make significant changes to the Pakistan visa operations due to the bombing of the Marriott Hotel and the deteriorating security situation in the country. ‘I am determined to drive up standards and ensure that UK border controls are robust.’
A Home Office spokesman said: ‘It is completely wrong to draw global conclusions from this very small sample.’
Meanwhile English language tests will become compulsory for immigrants wanting to join their husband or wife in Britain from November, ministers confirmed yesterday.
Migrants from outside the EU who are married or engaged to a Briton will have to prove they have ‘conversational’ English before they can settle in the country.
Fake finances of Indian students
Indian police have smashed a scam in which hundreds of immigrants were illegally awarded UK student visas. Three people have been charged with providing forged bank statements needed to gain a visa. One member of the gang, said to be the bank manager, is still at large.
Officers say they have evidence that up to 100 applications were falsified, but they believe this is only the tip of the iceberg.
Police moved after the British High Commission in New Dehli said too many applicants from the Punjab state were submitting documents issued by one branch of Canara, a state-owned bank.
Police spokesman Rakesh Aggarwal said: ‘Three accused, including mastermind Aruin Kumar Kumar and his accomplices, Satish Kumar and Jasbir Singh, have been arrested. We are still looking for the bank manager, Rajiv Ranjan.’
He added that police were planning to conduct more raids in the region. The gang swindled thousands of pounds from applicants who wanted to study in Britain but did not have adequate funds and needed bank statements to show they were financially sound to support their education in the country.
They charged £1,300 a student for the fake documents. Police have seized allegedly forged letterheads, stamps and other documents.
Officials said there had also been complaints from the neighbouring Nawanshahr district regarding allegedly fake bank statements being provided to applicants seeking visas for other countries.