On Thursday, the visa computer system at the UK Border Agency crashed, and hundreds of people in line at its Croydon public enquiry office were told to go home since the computer system couldn’t handle applications for the renewal or extension of biometric residence permits. This means that thousands of overseas residents face the prospect of not being able to leave the country, and this could go on for weeks.
Since the biometric residents’ identity card database was set up four years ago, the details of over 600,000 foreign nationals living in the UK have been added to it. The system doesn’t cover foreign nationals legally resident in the UK before it was launched. In recent weeks, the visa system has had repeated failures, and Thursday was a complete breakdown. Appointments for the next two weeks were then cancelled.
A spokesman for the UK Border Agency said, following the cancellations, that they were experiencing IT problems at their Croydon public enquiry office and were working to resolve the issues as soon as possible. In order to finish cases that have been affected, they are reducing the number of daily appointments made until May 18. They will prioritise outstanding applications, and people whose appointments have been cancelled can rebook through the agency’s website or submit their applications by post using their postal service.
Foreign nationals who paid £1,326 for a 24-hour visa service were among those who had their appointments cancelled. The service allows them to keep their passport so they can keep travelling. Later, the agency’s spokesman said that the computer system was back up and running, but they were working to clear a small backlog of applicants first. Anybody who needs an urgent appointment would get one.
House of Commons Home Affairs Committee chairman Keith Vaz says that the situation was a mess and another example of the failure of the UK Border Agency to properly plan for a new scheme. Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper echoed this opinion, accusing the agency of jumping from one mess into another. She asked what Home Secretary Theresa May and her ministers were doing. Rather than get ahold of the situation, the government continues making it worse, she added.
Law firm Kingsley Napley’s immigration specialist, Andrew Tingley, says the collapse of the visa system was beyond ridiculous, as many applicants needed to get their permits handled on the same day. The system that was introduced isn’t fit for purpose and was near collapsing a few weeks ago. Now it has collapse, and it’s a complete mess. Employers say that they can’t access a reasonable immigration system and are considering moving overseas. They are at the point now where they are really considering not working or investing in the UK due to not being able to access any reasonably capable system, he added.
Mishcon de Reya immigration lawyer Maria Patsalos says that the delays to approve visas and extensive queues at Heathrow Airport are turning foreign business and investment away. She thinks there’s an inconsistency between what the UK Border Agency wants to show and reality. It wants to show that Britain is open for business, but the reality is that high level executives are being hindered. This problem has been going on for a while and is causing a barrier for high networked individuals, she added.
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