Thousands of rejected immigrants are being allowed to stay in the UK because the Home Office is not bothering to defend the decision in the appeal courts. Immigrants whose applications to stay in the UK have been rejected are routinely winning appeals against the decisions – simply because no Home Office official has turned up at court to defend the rejection.

The number of immigrants winning leave to remain in Britain at a hearing when no official was present jumped by almost 50 per cent last year. More than 17,000 won appeals in such cases – a figure which stood at less than 1,500 just five years ago. In some instances the Home Office has later decided to counter-appeal the decision – a procedure that comes at a significant cost to the taxpayer.

Keith Vaz, chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, told the Times: ‘This is a shocking state of affairs. ‘It represents a waste of money. ‘I think in some cases they cannot be bothered to turn up because they look at the papers and know they are not going to win. ‘In other cases it is sheer inefficiency. There seems to be an attitude that they do not even care what the result is going to be.’

In the absence of home office officials, migrants have won appeals against refused asylum applications, deportation orders and refusals of entry to the UK. Last year 17,473 migrants won their appeals at hearings at which the Home Office was not represented by an official. A further 23,997 won appeals when the Home Office was represented, a parliamentary written answer revealed.

A migrant is far more likely to win an appeal if there is no official present to defend decisions. But the UK Border agency is struggling to cope with a massive rise in the number of appeals to Asylum and Immigration Tribunals over the past five years and cannot spare the staff to attend all contentious hearings.

Richard Simcox, of the Public and Commercial Services Union, said the department did not have enough staff to cope with the number of appeals. ‘It will get worse if there are cuts in staff,’ he told the Times. ‘It is essential that officials are given the time to carry out their roles properly to ensure appeal cases are handled effectively and fairly.’

The Immigration Law Practitioners Association said that it was in the interests of justice that both sides be represented. It said that the Home Office frequently sought to appeal cases after failing to field a presenting officer, which it described as an extraordinarily inefficient use of time and resources.

Sophie Barrett-Brown, its chairwoman, told the Times: ‘It is difficult to know why presenting officers do not turn up. ‘I have had cases where the original decision was indefensible and there has been an official present. ‘There are other cases where there are quite complex arguments that should be argued in front of a judge and presenting officers are not there. ‘Often it is left to the judge to raise the issues.’

Immigration minister Damian Green said that he had launched an initiative aimed at improving the system.

Two weeks ago the government announced that a permanent annual limit on immigration would be imposed from next April. Home Secretary Theresa May said an annual limit on non-EU economic migration was key to bringing net migration back into the tens of thousands instead of hundreds of thousands.

But critics claim the cap would not achieve this because the government has no control over how many migrants from Eastern European EU countries come to the UK.

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