Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Those Tough New Immigration Rules

... explained by commenter Sassenach in this Guardian thread :

"From the main article:

It is right that immigration must be controlled, which is why Labour was right to introduce the points-based system (PBS) for managing migration.

Speaking as somebody who's worked for the last 6 years as an immigration caseworker and seen PBS in operation right from its infancy, I have to say I found this sentence rather amusing. PBS is a complete shambles. In fact it's such a complete shambles that in my more cynical moments I begin to suspect that it was deliberately designed that way. Fraud and abuse are absolutely rife across all tiers, and there are gaping loopholes all over the place that seem specifically tailored to making our job of controlling the borders more difficult.

Let's take Tier 1, which is supposedly the route for attracting highly skilled people. I know this area very well since it's the area I've spent most of my career working in. At present, if you talk to any caseworker who handles Tier 1 General applications they'll all tell you that it's a complete joke. I know this will just sound like hyperbole, like I'm exaggerating for effect, but I mean no word of a lie when I say that my estimate of Tier 1 General applications is that at the very least 50% of them are completely fictitious. I'm not alone in this view, and in fact I only differ from my colleagues in that I'm slightly more charitable in my assessment, most would put it well above 50%.

The most common ruse, and believe me it's almost physically impossible to go through a day without coming across an application of this type, is to supply completely bogus evidence of self-employment income in order to prove that you score points in the earnings band. This is so pitifully easy to do it's hilarious. The people who drafted the policy for Tier 1, in their infinite wisdom, decided that all we need to 'prove' self-employment income is a letter from an accountant accompanied by unaudited business accounts. Generally these are drawn up by dodgy accountants who deal exclusively with overseas nationals, but in reality it doesn't even require the accountant to break the law since they're not carrying out an audit, all they have to do is add a disclaimer saying that the accounts and accountant letter have been drawn up according to information supplied by the applicant. In effect this amounts to taking their word for it. We ask an applicant how much money they earned and whatever they tell us we accept at face value. I've lost count of the times I've seen somebody who works the night shift stacking shelves in Tesco for £6 an hour and then in his spare time works as a self-employed 'business consultant' on about £60k a year. We even talked one time about doing 'self-employed bingo' in our office, where we'd write out bingo cards with Tesco, Sainsburys, McDonalds etc on them and whoever came across Tier 1 General applicants working there first got to take a cash prize.... (we weren't allowed to do it though).

The reason I mention this in particular is because staff at the coalface who work Tier 1 applications have been making as much noise as we possibly can about this and any number of other laughably lax loopholes ever since PBS began but nothing has ever been done. There have been various changes to the policy but all of them have actually made it even easier to defraud the system. So whoever it was earlier in the thread who quoted that survey that supposedly found Tier 1 General migrants to be regularly working in high salary jobs, I'm afraid I still haven't stopped laughing. Sure, some of them are, but the vast majority are not, or certainly the ones I come across each and every day.

Now let's consider Tier 2. This is the system which was brought in to replace the old Work Permit system. Now, I don't actually have direct experience of working cases under the old system, but I obviously know a helluva lot of people who do and to a man/woman they all say that it was vastly superior to the system Labour brought in to replace it. Which is not to say that it was particularly good of course, but Tier 2 has been a disaster. The root problem is the sponsorship system that's been introduced. Under the old system an employer needed to make an application for a specific permit for a specific job and was required to demonstrate that they'd carried out checks of the domestic labour market and that the job met certain wage and qualification criteria before the permit was issued. In practice of course the checks were not especially tough and it was easily abused, but at least there was some attempt to vet the people who were being given permits and some of them were refused. That all changed with Tier 2, and it changed for the worse.

As I was saying, the change brought in with Tier 2 was sponsorship (which also affects the issuing of student visas under Tier 4, with similar associated problems). What now happens is that a prospective employer simply hasa to apply to go on the Sponsors Register and they will be issued with an allocation of Certificates of Sponsorship. They can allocate these to whoever they wish, and pretty much all a caseworker on Tier 2 now has to do is check to make sure that an applicant has a valid CoS. All of the other checks such as resident labour market tests and various other checks that were supposed to ensure that onl;y suitably talented and necessary individuals get given work permits have been sub-contracted out to the sponsor, who in theory is meant to carry them out before issuing any CoS. Yeah right, I believe that too. It's a massive conflict of interests. We're effectively handing control of our borders directly to businesses who have a direct interest in not playing too closely by the rules.

This wouldn't necessarily be so bad if the compliance features of PBS were effective. In theory there are supposed to be regular audits of sponsors to punish those who are not fulfilling their obligations. In practice of course the resources available for compliance visits are miniscule and the sanctions are too feeble to be a concern. There are no criminal sanctions for failure to meet your sponsor obligations, all that might happen is you may be downgraded from an A to a B rating, or at worst removed from the register. Big deal, you could have sponsored 20 or 30 migrants through the door by then, and in any case it's pitifully easy to just register a new company and get back on the register with a different name. Background checks are absolutely laughable. Tier 2 is absolutely wide open to abuse, and so of course it's being heavily abused.

But the biggest scandal around Tier 2 isn't really fraud and abuse, it's the perfectly legal Intra-Company Transfer scam. This is absolutely staggering. We allow companies to bring in literally thousands of skilled workers from overseas every year under these visas. The worst offenders are the big IT contractors. Tata Consultancy Services have an annual allocation of 2500 ICT visas. 2500 every year ! Many of these come in on short term contracts of just under 1 year and so they benefit from a despicable taxation agreement which allows them not to be subject to any income tax on what they earn in the UK (which is paid as a 'subsistence allowance'). Needless to say this means that Tata (and all the other big Indian players in this market) can afford to pay their qualified staff thousands of pounds a year less than domestic competitors would have to pay to attract somebody similarly qualified. Not only does this depress wages in the sector for domestic workers, it also acts as in effect a massive competitive edge that is driving domestic companies out of business. We're directly subsidising big Indian multinationals and causing unemployment at home through our dysfunctional ICT system, it's a complete disgrace.

Tier 4 is even worse of course. It works on similar principles to the Tier 2 sponsorship system but the numbers are much,much greater. I believe that at last count there are somewhere in the region of 300,000 new Tier 4 students arriving in Britain every year. Approximately 48% of these (or thereabouts, I'm going from memory) are studying at below degree level in non-accredited colleges.This is the source of a ridiculous amount of abuse. There are thousands of bogus colleges out there, they spring up like mushrooms, get onto the sponsor register with ease and sponsor as many new students through the door as they possibly can before eventually being found out and closed down, when the owners (usually foreign nationals themselves) simply set up a new bogus college. All of this could be ended at a stroke if the rules of Tier 4 were to be changed to simply ban any tier 4 visas for non-accredited colleges or below degree level studies. Easy, quick and it would elminate over 100,000 migrants a year without affecting genuine students or university funding one iota. It's enough to make you wonder why they didn't do something like that 13 years ago instead of the opposite......"

At which point someone mentions the Report of the Migration Advisory Committee, particularly the graph on p96 showing that the vast majority of those applying for further leave to remain "are earning more than £40,000 pa" i.e. are "those nice skilled workers the UK needs so desperately".

"The problem with those figures from the MAC report is the methodology by which they were obtained. It was a small sample of cases that came up for extension. Now, there are 2 glaring issues here. One is that the time this data was sampled there was no easily accessible database of application data to draw from. It wouldn't have been possible to simply look at all applications for extension that came through because that would have been a truly enormous effort and required the recall of every file from deep storage and going through them one by one. I know for a fact that this never occurred, so it must have just been a small sampling exercise, probably involving a select few caseworkers who were asked to retain some data as they were working. Secondly of course, it assumes that the applicants were telling the truth. As I already explained Tier 1, and it's forerunner HSMP, are/were abused on a truly epic scale. All MAC did was look at what they claimed to be earning and assume it was the truth, which is a very dangerous thing to do."

The same commenter comes back with :

As for your point about abuse, the sample was restricted only to those whose FLR application was successful. I trust that you guys at UKBA are all professionals, and can quite easily find out who is telling the truth, and who is not.

"You're far too trusting my friend...

My point earlier about abuse within Tier 1 was meant to illustrate how the rules of the scheme had been written in such a way as to make it very difficult to tackle abuse. like I said, we all know that most of the people who apply claiming to be self-employed are lying to us but there's a limited amount we can do about it because they tick the appropriate boxes and supply the evidence that we stipulate. If all we're asking for as evidence of earnings is a letter from an accountant and unaudited accounts then there's not much we can do about it. How do you verify that information ? Since both forms of evidence came from the same source (the accountant) we could ring them up and ask them to confirm it, but all they say is that it was drawn up based on information supplied by the applicant. Since they're not required to carry out an audit they don;t have to actually physically verify this stuff themselves so it's an easy fee for them. This is just one example among many of how our own policy is written in such as way as to make verification of fake evidence extremely difficult.

It's interesting that you brought up the MAC report actually because one of the inadvertant effects of that report was to make Tier 1 even worse than it already was. One of the key recommendations was to bump up the bandings for earnings, meaning you now have to be earning a lot more money to score the same points than you used to. All this achieved was to drive away a lot of the legitimate applicants. We did used to have quite a lot of people earning 30-35k a year and in the old days this was often enough in combination with a masters degree and being under a certain age. Nowadays that's nowhere near enough, the same age applicant with the same qualification would need to be earning around 55-60k a year to get approved. The result has been that pretty much all we ever see these days is the fraudsters. They don't give a damn what level you set the earnings band at because all their evidence is fake anyway. Tier 1 General in the wake of that MAC report's recommendations is almost entirely comprised of fraudsters and merchant bankers (I'll leave you to make the obvious joke....)"

"Look, what I've described is the current situation with Tier 1 General and it's the reason why it's being scrapped (or it ought to be). It wasn't always quite this bad of course, and over the years quite a lot of talented people with good jobs have had Tier 1 or HSMP visas. However, it most certainly has always suffered from rampant abuse, which has been largely ignored by the higher-ups who set the policy but is an open secret among anybody who actually works at UKBA. You can choose to believe me about that or not, but I'm only sharing my perspective as somebody who knows a helluva lot more about Tier 1, and PBS in general, than anybody else in this thread."


Edwin Greenwood said...

Interesting. Perhaps the most significant insider contribution since Moxon (whose credibility was regrettably easily undermined by his oddball opinions in other areas).

Sassenach's chief sparring partner, "God's gift to the UK" Oaklander, seems to be reduced to repeatedly spluttering "I don't believe you".

I fight very shy of conspiracy theory but the PBS system in both its Labour and Tory manifestations seems to be actively designed not only to fail but to damage British interests. It's almost as if we're being set up for:

"You bigots insisted we clamp down on immigration. We did what you wanted and now look at the damage it's done. OK, we're going to remove all the limits now."

This of course is just the PBS. No mention is made either of family reunion which as practised by our South Asian communities is a blatant vehicle for stealth colonization, or of illegal immigration.

I don't have the substantive inside knowledge of Sassenach, but I do observe life on the streets of South East London on a daily basis. From just watching and listening to people's demeanour, manner of dress, movements, mobile phone calls, etc, etc, I'm afraid I do not buy into the suggestion that all the newly arrived Africans in the Woolwich/Greenwich area are either genuine students or PBS-authorized workers.

My instinct is that the great majority of Nigerians are here on a visitor's visa, usually by now expired, and if working at all are either employed in the casual economy or are using forged documentation to obtain work in the mainstream economy.

By all means tell me that all those thin poorly-dressed shifty-looking old-before-their-time African blokes hanging around the betting shop are all brain surgeons on their day off, or that all those dazed-looking endomorphic mamas in woolly hats who look as though they've just been teleported from Soweto are all vitally important SENs.

Whether I believe you or not is another matter.

Anonymous said...

In that thread I noticed the touchingly naieve belief from somebody that immigrants earning £40k pa are naturally helping the economy.

Because, naturally, they have never displaced a native earning north of £41k pa.

And, as an added bonus, the commenter just knows (I wonder how?) that they dont remit any of this money back home.

I dont regard the economy as a zero sum game but equally I dont see how you can just keep supposedly adding employees and it not affect some of the existing ones.

If they were starting new enterprises, especially innovative ones, that would be different perhaps. But we mostly talking about mere employees here.

My political memories go back to the 1980s, reading the Guardian etc. Its quite comical to read all these leftist types lauding the thrifty, hardworking, well paid immigrants.

If Norman Tebbit were to say such a thing back in the day (maybe he did?) about either immigrants or the natives - all sorts of outrage would be heard.

Richard said...

237 thousand immigrants last year which is 22% more than 2009.

Mark said...

I always found it hard to believe that the PBS, implemented by the execrable Phil Woolas, was a serious attempt to control non EU immigration. Sassenach confirms my worst fears and could be, as Edwin points out, the highest value whistleblower since Steve Moxon.

It would be nice to imagine Damian Green getting a grilling from Paxo on the back of these revelations- but that's highly unlikely, given the culture at the Beeb.

Rahul said...

Tell me you're joking!

We allow Tier 1 applicants to claim earning through self-employment because they say so? Isn't that illegal though? Aren't you allowed to do any other checks besides calling their accountant?!

Unbelievable! But at least the government has closed down this route, haven't they?

Anonymous said...

I find Edwin Greenwood's post a tad bit offensive."...majority of Nigerians......? Excuse me, who looks after most of the old,senile people in nursing homes? How many hospitals would you visit without finding a Nigerian doctor/nurse working call hours that their British/EU nationals would not work? How many are risking their lives working as security guards in the very dangerous situations that their British counterparts will never work? How many gave up their means of livelihood in far-better countries like Germany and relocated to England because of the language barrier (my father is one of them!)? Go to all UK universities and tell me if you can find a class without Nigerians who are international students and are paying "four times" the amount of fees that home students pay. Let's not talk about the maintenance allowances that all go into British economy! I know so many(like me) who would like to go back to Nigeria but want to gain some work experience first. We have contributed a fair bit to the economy with some starting from private A-Level colleges! There are White British Nationals teaching in private Nigerian internatioinal schools where annual school fees go for £6,000 to £24,000 (google it for evidence!) and have taken jobs from Nigerians who are more qualified!Nigerians are not complaining because c'est la vie! Life is not fair to everybody! Do not let us talk about the oil sector of Nigeria where European companies (some of them with British people at the helm of affairs) have contributed to the corruption that goes on there and lots of Nigerians have been left with no rewards. Instead, they have been left far worse(environmental pollution, imprisonment et al)! I do not support the kidnappings there but do you think they are done for nothing? BBC did a film titled "blood oil (I cannot remember the exact title but google it to find it!)" that exposed some of what happens in the oil sector of Nigeria and other industries. Recently, I was told about how the looted money that Nigerian politicians bring to the UK do not return to Nigeria because the UK government do not believe that they will be appropriately used! Where are they and what are they used for? How much looted Nigerian funds are propping up UK banks and yet, millions of Nigerians are suffering back in their country with no jobs, hospitals and schools but their money in UK bank accounts are providing other people with a means of livelihood. You need to educate yourself to understand the level of social injustice that goes on in this world which is fuelled by greed and evil and all manner of things that are responsible for causing civil wars and all that.

Sorry in advance for any typos but your comments referring to "majority of Nigerians" reflects your ignorance and you need to educate yourself!

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