Our Immigration System is not fit for purpose!

There was a time when a letter in support of an Asylum claim from an MP or Peer would be pretty certain of a reply from the Home Office. People have received permission to stay in the United Kingdom following such letters. Deportation decisions have been reversed. It is not too much to claim that lives might have been saved.

That is not the case today. I myself am still waiting for six or seven responses.

Tens of thousands of Home Office decisions on an individual’s status have been declared unsound. – the initial decision found to be wrong and reversed on appeal. In 2005, 13,221 decisions were declared unsound. In 2010 , 35,563 decisions and in 2015, 17,581.

When I get the numbers for the intervening years it could be that there have been a quarter of a million wrong decisions by the Home Office in the last ten years!! A QUARTER OF A MILLION!! If these folk hadn’t gone to appeal they could have been wrongly deported!

Imagine trying to plan the next move. No helpful legal advice. Penniless. The heartache. And all because of a decision that was overturned on appeal. Something is seriously wrong.

I had not been long in the House of Lords when it was decided in 2006 that every first-time applicant for a UK Passport was to have a face-to-face interview. 69 interview centres were set up at a cost of £93 million and about 600 staff. The government stated, “Interviews will be carried out in 69 local interview offices across the UK…over 95% of the population will live within one hour’s travelling time of their nearest office. “

But in a Parliamentary answer last week I was told that 57 of these centres had been closed. Only 12 remained!

These were;

  • Belfast Law Society House Belfast BT1 3GN
  • Birmingham Kensington House 6F, Suffolk Street, Queensway Birmingham B1 1LN
  • Durham Freemans Reach Durham DH97 1PA
  • Glasgow Northgate Glasgow G4 0DX
  • Leeds Part GF, 33 Park Place Leeds LS1 2RY
  • Liverpool Passport Office, 101 Old Hall Street Liverpool L3 9BD
  • London Globe House London SW1V1PN
  • Newport Nexus House, Usk Way Newport NP202DW
  • Peterborough Aragon Court Peterborough PE1 1QG
  • Plymouth Mayflower House Plymouth PL1 1LD
  • Portsmouth Building 1000 GF, Lakeside North Harbour, Western Road Portsmouth PO6 3EZ
  • Salford Quay Dallas Court Salford Quays M50 2GF

It’s a long, long way from Shetland to Glasgow ! from Holyhead to Newport! Little wonder that any confidence we might have had in our Immigration system has vanished.

* Lord Roberts of Llandudno is a Liberal Democrat Member of the House of Lords

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  • Steve Trevethan 15th Feb '18 - 10:04am

    Thank you for an important piece.
    Is the creation of such an inefficient socio-political mechanism part of a more general policy of control power?
    It seems remarkably similar to the disability assessment system in its disorientating but consistent obstruction, manifest lack of visible reason and behaviours which result in applicants being emotionally weakened.

  • Barnaby: Sorry, but it’s simply not the case that most asylum seekers are economic migrants. The vast majority are refugees or people escaping certain death in their homeland – to which our benevolent home office often try to return them.
    In order to have an immigration system that works and is fair we have to make a number of prior decisions.
    1. We accept refugees and those fleeing oppression or we don’t. As a Liberal I welcome refugees and asylum seekers, as any generous democracy should.
    2. We need to decide if our economy and NHS can work without EU workers and economic migrants. The evidence is that they can’t.
    3. If our economy can’t function without migration/immigration then we have to decide how many people we need to change that and then put into place a fair and easily understood system for managing that.
    4. We have to decide as a country to stop demonising people who come here to work or to escape wars and persecution. This means providing the resources to welcome and integrate immigrants into our communities.

    For far too long we have allowed the agenda of the right to dominate the discussion on immigration, preferring the easy life of not getting involved in the debate or pandering to or not challenging the inherent racism of the anti immigrant brigade.

    As the son of an immigrant, one who came here to escape almost certain death in Nazi Germany, this is not an academic issue. Had my mother not been allowed to remain here, she would almost certainly have been rounded up and killed as her aunt and cousin and many other relatives were. She would not have met my father and I would not be here to debate this issue. My daughter would have not been able to serve as Yorkshire and the Humber MEP. The list is endless.
    Until 1962, the UK had relatively open borders and commonwealth citizens could come here freely to live and work and they did, to the great economic benefit of the UK. Then racism intervened in the shape of Enoch Powell and others and the doors were slammed shut. Later came the absolutely disgraceful restrictions on Uganda Asians who were being expelled by Idi Amin.
    Liberals have always opposed this. There is no reason why Liberal Democrats should not continue to expose the vicious racism that now rules the home office and speak up for the benefits to the UK of people from other countries to help boost our economy and work in our NHS.

  • Mick Taylor: My recollection is that the Uganda Asians were not only allowed to come here but they were welcomed and provided with help to find jobs. My old firm took one but he soon left to get a better job elsewhere and was rather patronising about our well meaning efforts. Do you think a small island should take everyone who wants to settle here and where would they go ? If we paid people a decent wage for doing difficult jobs local people might be willing to do them. How long will Bangladesh be able to cope with the Rohinga people ? I am afraid this will inevitably lead to war unless those who persecute minorities or people they dislike are dealt with firmly

  • I love the way some liberals can hold contradictory ideas in their head, and yet it creates no inner intellectual conflict?.

    ~ Asylum seekers seek refuge from persecution and war torn countries, but France is neither war torn nor persecutes migrants, so what is a ‘persecution free’ economic migrant in Calais [France!!], seeking refuge and asylum from?

    ~ Brexiteers in their uneducated foolishness have ruined the UK according to liberals, and they reckon that the coming years will prove utter economic devastation, and unimaginable levels of poverty, yet inexplicably, Calais migrants still risk their lives to access our ‘Brexit ravaged UK’, instead of the more ‘liberally logical’ option of ‘seeking asylum?’ in an economically and diversely vibrant, upwardly mobile, France?

    Go figure?

  • Katharine Pindar 15th Feb '18 - 5:24pm

    There are some remarkably illiberal statements appearing in this wonderfully humane thread, such as Barnaby’s sneering at fit young men from Africa ‘seeming to leave their wives and families to their fate … Most people would stay and fight…’ Fight what, Barnaby? It evidently hasn’t occurred to you that many African families may actually send a fit young man away to seek his fortune, both for his own sake and in the hope that he may succeed and be able to send some help home. It has happened naturally throughout the history of the world that young men have left home to better themselves. I personally prefer it that they should come to see if their energy and work and enterprise can be useful to our ageing and decaying Europe than that they should do as many others do, join a mercenary army and fight for pitiful or bad causes.

  • Mick Taylor 15th Feb '18 - 5:53pm

    nvelope. I actually have experience of the Uganda Asian crisis. Until then UK colony citizens were able to come to the UK, but the Labour Government of the time passed the Commonwealth Immigration Act that denied many who had thought they were entitled to British passports to that right. My parents threw their home open to a Ugandan family, who lived with us for some months before setting up a business and moving to live nearby. Anyone around at the time who had eyes to see witnessed the naked racism displayed by the Labour Party and the Tories in Parliament. Only the Liberals stood out against it. And no, only those Ugandan Asians who got out in time (before the new act was passed) were able to settle here.
    Barnaby, I have studied the issue of immigration as part of my research for an EU Committee of the Regions Opinion on the subject. One of the myths that are perpetuated by the right and the tabloid press is that people want to come to the UK to live on benefits and that the UK will end up taking millions. Quite apart from the rules on benefits that don’t permit that to happen, most migrants come here to work and pay their own way. Indeed, current rules mean that immigrants, as opposed to refugees and asylum seeks, have to prove that they can support themselves and their families before they can come here at all. EU rules – that are not currently enforced by the UK government – allow EU citizens only a certain time to find work before they have to return home and impose limits on their ability to claim benefit or use care services. The evidence is that they take much less from pour systems than people who were born here.
    I see you ignored my family experience in your response. My mother was left almost destitute and had to rely on charity and the Quakers in order to survive, when the UK government declared her a German enemy and kicked her out of nurse training, ignoring totally the fact that she was Jewish.
    Is that the sort out migration system you want? Count me out.

  • @ nvelope I thoroughly agree with Mick Taylor’s comments.

    My own memory of those events is of by chance being in the Liberal Whips office talking to Richard Wainwright MP on the night of the vote on that Immigration Act. I remember Michael Winstanley, our MP for Cheadle bursting in and exploding in language not permissable on LDV about the tawdry winding up speech made by David Ennals, the minister responsible for the Act that Mick refers to. There was unanimity in the room expressing the same view including the great Jo Grimond and Eric Lubbock.

    Don’t waste your time on that subject here, nvelop. Those of us who are Liberals go back a long way – and we’re not having it.

  • @ Mick Taylor I never knew about the family matters you have disclosed, Mick, and it’s difficult now to find the right words – all I can say is I have a huge respect for the fact that you felt moved to disclose it. My Dad saw the liberation of Belsen and found it very difficult to talk about. The memory (and the dreams) seared him for the rest of his life.

    Belsen – and all the others – was the product originally of casual expressed prejudice that escalated into a nightmare.

  • @ Katharine. Spot on.

  • nvelope2003 15th Feb '18 - 8:39pm

    Mick Taylor: I was commenting on my memories of the Uganda Asian crisis. I know nothing about your family so I would not presume to comment on it. I did not say anything about the sort of immigration I wanted nor did I say that all or any immigrants come here to live on benefits. I think if you came to my home you would get the most amazing surprise of your life although my beloved partner who was an immigrant has sadly passed away. I do not expect to receive an apology because of the hectoring tone of your comments. What a sad world.

  • nvelope2003 15th Feb '18 - 8:40pm

    David Raw; No comment. Your insults have plumbed new depths

  • I support an open-door immigration programme in the literal sense of the phrase. I strongly support free movement of capital. I strongly support free movement of goods. I strongly support free movement of services. I strongly support free movement of data. I strongly support free movement of jobs (yes the very offshoring the far left and far right hate). It also means I strongly support free movement of people – yes all people.

    You cannot have a proper free market without freedom to migrate. Protectionism of any sort is not acceptable and does not work. I see no difference between migration controls and capital controls, militant trade unionism, tariffs, nationalisation, or economic nationalism.

  • nvelope. Please read my comments again. The remarks I made that you seem to take offence at were not directed to you at all, but to Barnaby.
    David Raw. Thanks for your support.

  • The problem is there are virtually no votes in immigration and thus governments don’t want to be seen as spending too much time or money on support for migrants.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 15th Feb '18 - 10:27pm

    Excellent work from Roger Roberts and a mix f comments.


    Like David, strong admiration for your piece and background very inspiring, you if I am not mistaken are a Quaker, makes you doubly a man of real Liberal insight, which you are.


    At worst the party has been naive. To many are really not keen to criticise fellow countries, in our continent, a group think not very Liberal, rather a shame, as France in recent years was far more to blame for the jungle as the Calais travesty was referred to, than the UK, though both are to be criticised. You are wrong about Liberals being hypocritical on it, too caring and cuddly at times, but honestly motivated by humanity. I am the son of an immigrant and husband of one of immigrant origin, no naivete there!


    Hot issues require more tact, not sure your posts here are of that sort, diplomacy is a great British art and one we could do well to restore, not with this secretary of state for foreign affairs!

    Mick is correct on the Ugandan Asian immigrants, though we must be glad the policy changed , with Liberal input, as with the Kenyan Asian situation.

    I was a boy when the Ugandans came, a tiny tot, a family moved in next door,became our closest friends, and are amongst that to this day with me, my brother and mother, and were when he was with us, to my father too.

    Roy Jenkins, no wonder he became a Liberal, was one of the great voices for reason in the crisis, read Hansard and he as ever talked sense, others including Sunny Jim, less so, a few, Labour , especially Tory, dreadful on these matters then !

  • Lorenzo Cherin 15th Feb '18 - 11:32pm


    You, as Katharine in typical Liberal strength and friendliness attempts, to show, and Martin with typical Liberal strength and contemptuousness too, make a big mistake above in one important sense, and that is this, we cannot know who or what they and the circumstances are of a vast swathe of individuals!

    It is because we are Liberal Democrats , many of us here, that we , whether to the left of the party , right or centre, whether social Liberal more than classical, or social democrats too, see these people, as people, as individual persons.

    I have every right to react to someone I hear the detail about , or see talking, or talk to. I have no right to react to people whose situations are different to mine , and each of the other migrants or refuge seekers, for that is what they are. Hideous circumstances mean in those countries, who knows what we would do. For all you or any of us know, the younger men may have got out with the encouragement of their elder relatives.

    As I write, I have read this week , and think about the families in Venezuela who are giving their children to orphanages, abandoning them not because they do not care, because they do. They know a charity can do more, as can their morally and literally bankrupt government, yet.

    Be robust, be cynical, be suspicious, but be humane and understand humans.

  • I think ‘immigration’ is one area of LibDem policy that could benefit from Richard Maxwells framing initiative.

    It is clear the current immigration system isn’t working for either the resident British national population or for those, rightly or wrongly, wishing to immigrate into this country.

    Given the Brexit focus on reducing immigration, which in Westminster is taken to only mean EU migration, but to the general public and many Brexit supporters also encompasses rest-of-the-world immigration, the focus should be on holding the government to account on immigration and thus delivering a system that works for the resident population – which if we really believe in hitting our environmental and sustainability targets, needs to be heading in a downwards direction rather than following its current upwards trajectory…

    Related to this is standing up and actively doing something about the causes of migration, including questioning just what nation-state sovereignty means in an increasingly crowded and connected world. Yes, this means looking again at the various UN declarations that were so obviously written to address the problems of a totally different world to the one we are now in.

  • I think most migrants will seek to move for economic reasons and we are likely to see much greater population movement in the years ahead. Migrant countries like the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand have benefitted greatly from relatively open access and enjoy some of the highest standards of living in the world.
    Much has been made of the importance of negotiating free trade agreements post-brexit. Equally important to maintaining prosperity in this country is the concept of Free Immigration Agreements (FIAs), that would be negotiated with countries that share our basic values (rule of law, democracy, market economy) and only in situations where there is no expectation of a flood of immigrants in either direction.
    Citizens of countries with which the UK had a FIA would be entitled to reside permanently in the UK while retaining the citizenship of their home country, and vice versa. (Non-citizens of these countries would not have the same entitlement.)

    We already have a long-standing Common Travel Area with Ireland that could usefully be extended to British Overseas territories, the Anglo-sphere, the European Economic Area and developed areas of Asia like Hong Kong, Singapore and Japan.

    The alternative is maintaining a points based system of immigration control and sector by sector immigration quotas i.e. a highly inefficient and bureaucratic system that benefits no one.

  • I’m sorry but some of the anti-asylum seeker comments here do make my blood boil!

    Pro or anti immigration, pro or anti the EU, I hope that people will understand that asylum is different issue. It is about saving an individual from death or torture.

    @Mick Taylor has spoken eloquently about his relatives experience. While Britain took a few from Nazi Germany unfortunately we could have saved many, many more from horrendous torture and death.

    There were 33,000 asylum application in the UK (population 65 MILLION) in 2017. Not a flood and lower than Germany (720,000), Italy (120,000) or France (76,000) for example.

    It is worth considering what you have to do to gain asylum. The burden is on you to prove to a legal standard of evidence that you are individually at fear of death or torture in your own country based on race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion and will NOT be protected by the authorities there. Often difficult if you have fled with little if any paperwork. Being just from a war torn country or famine riven one will not qualify you for asylum.

    Asylum support is half that of unemployment benefit – £35.39 a week. Housing is poor – a bedsit or room in shared house not in council or social housing if you are lucky.

    Unfortunately a lot of initial home office decisions are poor and legal aid is now paltry and if an asylum seeker is able to find legal hep then it is likely very much to be standard, quick and low quality – in area that often needs to be individual, painstaking and high quality.


  • Joe
    New Zealand has a population of around 5 million and Canada (the size of a continent) as a population of the 36 million. Britain is the most densely populated country in Europe, has a population well over ten times that of New Zealand and heading towards twice that of Canada. The reality is the British people do not actually want more high levels of immigration, repeatedly say so (in every survey) and arguing in favour of it is an electoral liability. There are not many votes in this issue,
    The central argument that the immigration system is not fit for purpose is probably something voters do agree with, but for entirely different reasons.
    Personally, I think we treat Asylum seekers shabbily and, considering our governments involvement in wars , I also think we should do more, but it’s a minority view .

  • Ian
    My bad, I should have said England. But the fact remains the UK population is over ten times that of new Zealand and approaching twice that of the continent sized Canada, which was the main point I was making along with the reality that survey after survey shows that British voters are against high levels of immigration. The issue is a vote loser.

  • Michael 1
    I’m not even sure why you have dragged ‘Nazi Germany’ into the thread, when it has nothing to do with economic migrants.

    “It is about saving an individual from death or torture.”

    Are you saying that France is persecuting and torturing the Calais migrants?
    I think your ‘boiling blood’ and frustration is based on the uncomfortable self-awareness that your own logic is deeply flawed. Your clear compassion is desperately trying to put a fake ‘handle’ of ‘asylum seeker’, on a group of economic migrants to raise their profile, despite the fact that they cannot possibly be ‘asylum seekers’ fleeing from France where they are safe?

  • @Sheila Gee

    I was specifically addressing the issue of ASYLUM which is what most of the original article does and echoing and supporting the views of Mick Taylor.

    The issue of “economic migrants” in France is that they will not be granted asylum here if they are economic migrants and cannot demonstrate a case for asylum.

    What France does with them I don’t know as I don’t know their laws and regulations.

  • I don’t envy anyone devising an immigration policy that isn’t all or none. You have family connections, economic viability and away factors such as torture to consider. Then you have the prospect of illegal immigration if it is too hard. The first step is to be consistent that is almost impossible. and the cost. All those appeals are very expensive. It is best managed from outside the country as this makes it easier to refuse entry. Also, it makes appeals rarer. So we need to minimise illegal entry and put resources into tightening our borders rather than the process itself.

  • @Peter Hirst

    I think our immigration system is very much misunderstood and it all gets mixed up.

    There are several distinct categories:
    1. Students. Essentially an “export” for Britain as they pay tuition fees.
    2. Close family members. Spouses, minor children etc. They have to be able to be supported without “recourse to pubic funds”
    3. Those granted asylum (or those waiting to have their asylum claim processed) and the number is tiny.
    4. Essentially a point based system for work visas etc. from those outside the EU.
    5. (Currently) EU citizens. They have freedom of movement but no right to in-work or out-of-work benefits unless they are “habitually resident”. That means as well as having been here for at least 3 months, they have to be making their life here.

    I guess 1-3 has little but some disagreement. More will disagree over 4 although polls show that there is quite a large degree of support for categories such as highly skilled migrants, doctors, NHS workers and care workers.

    And obviously 5. is the most controversial. My view is that net EU immigration if we were (!) to continue in the EU would level off. In general there has been a levelling off and indeed net emigration to countries such as Spain and Ireland. But this probably isn’t the place for another Brexit debate and I will readily concede that many Brexiteers don’t think it would.

    It is a pity that we can’t have a better public debate about immigration without emotive tabloid reactions and sometimes name calling from “pro-immigration” advocates. And it is not racist to be concerned about immigration. But there is racism involved in the immigration debate.

    I guess since time immemorial people have been concerned about foreign invaders. It may well be partly genetic as foreigners share less of someone’s genes. It may also grow with age as one begins to dislike “change”. And I am racist and I think everyone is and grumble to myself about more Polish food shops etc. – although I don’t mind curry houses or Chinese takeaways! So tabloids and politicians feed into and exploit that inherent human feeling.

    And there is of course a disagreement over the level.

    We are of course a really “mongrel” race of among others Romans, (what did they ever do for us?”), Vikings, Norman French, German Saxons – quite um… European really!!!!

  • suzanne Fletcher 16th Feb '18 - 6:25pm

    I could spend a long time dealing with points raised here, but will just stick to 2 things.
    1. if the cost of appeals was with the Home Office and not the Ministry of Justice, it would mean the HO would look closer at turning people down, and not just turn lots down and hope they will not appeal.
    2. We have to stop this “culture of disbelief”, doing what they can to trip up those seeking sanctuary and making unreasonable demands on proof.
    I have spent a lot of today at asylum drop ins locally listening to issues around asylum housing. Not only are a lot of things very wrong, but the years and years it takes is ridiculous. One man from Afghanistan has been appealing again and again, and finally got leave to remain after 16 years.
    But so many have been refused and are destitute. Absolutely terrified of being returned, and as one man graphically showed me – have their throats cut.

  • nvelope2003 16th Feb '18 - 6:25pm

    Lorenzo Cherin: Tact may be good but whatever I say is attacked by one individual who seems to have ignored the last sentence of my original post which was intended to say that those nations which persecute their citizens need to be dealt with in a way which will discourages them from doing so. That is all. I was not saying immigration should be forbidden.

    I heard a Belgian lady say the problem with the British is that try so hard to be polite that no one understands what they mean. Sometimes that is not appropriate. No one understands what Liberals mean so they do not get many votes.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 16th Feb '18 - 8:07pm


    I think you suggest something we can see on this here, that transparency is good and pungency too, but misunderstanding and irritation seem ever present ,on simple discussions. I get baffled by it. I have been insulted on here and then make a mild sardonic comment and because not on a topic or stance popular , suddenly I get, under the new jargon, called out. Best to use tact on here or wear boots and heavy gear like coat, gloves, hat…

  • If the principle idea of asylum is to provide shelter to those otherwise under inhumane distress then this trickles down into providing support to those not born here but in need. Asylum seekers may be safe in Greece as their country of entry but Greece cannot survive being a nominated host just because it is furthest east and furthest south, and then both Greek people and asylum seekers would be placed under distress. There are some asylum seekers seeking comfort rather than shelter (and some who quickly forget they weren’t once arriving in the UK) but, while it’s difficult to find the balance required in approach, we cannot shirk out duty or stop trying.

  • Mick Taylor 17th Feb '18 - 2:35pm

    Our Liberal stance on immigration is now of the few things people actually know about us. I think it almost inconceivable that voters with a heavy anti-immigration stance vote for us anyway. I cannot see how being right on immigration is a vote loser because almost no anti immigration voters support us anyway.
    Given that we’re jogging along at 7-8% in the polls we can surely only gain by standing on principle and attracting the votes of those who favour a Liberal immigration stance, who by the way are considerably more than 7-8% of the population.
    There are already at least 3 parties who pander to the anti immigrant lobby. We have nothing to gain by aping them. Anyway, who amongst us would wish to win seats or even gain power on the back of a racist and unfair immigration policy?
    No. We must take courage and speak out for the truth on this (and other) issues. We must tell the electorate of the benefits of immigration to our economy, our public services, especially our NHS. We must seek to explain why an ageing society needs young workers and their families to provide vital services, to work in industry and agriculture and we must tackle head on the lies of the right and the popular press about immigration. People who don’t like our immigration policies should be firmly told that they should look elsewhere for a party to vote for.
    Here is a policy area where we must make common cause with those who share our views across the spectrum.
    If we are not a party of principle, then we may as well all retire to our gardens and armchairs.

  • nvelope2003 17th Feb '18 - 4:33pm

    Lorenzo: Thank you for your comments.

    Mick Taylor: Sorry I did not realise you were referring to a post by Barnaby. I just saw my ID at the top. I do not think anyone who knows me could possibly accuse me of racism for the reasons I have given.

  • roger roberts 19th Feb '18 - 10:32am

    Grateful for all the comments. Clearly we are just,everywhere, tinkering with the Migration issue. With over 60 million displaced people in the world we need a massive appraisal. Brexit could be a disaster as far as the refugee situation in Europe is concerned. In the UK can we, Lib Dems, lead ? Can we bring pressure to overhaul the present Home Office Immigration procedures ? All on board !

  • Incidentally, I see Willie Rennie has been extolling the benefits of immigration. Over to you Vince.

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