The Home Office has lost track of over 600,000 foreign nationals who should have left the UK, a critical new report has revealed.
The immigration watchdog revealed the figure as Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration David Bolt accused the department of ‘over-promising’ when setting out plans for exit checks.
Rolled out in 2015, the Government has repeatedly trumpeted the scheme, claiming it will give a much clearer picture of movements across Britain’s borders.
But a review published on Wednesday flagged up a catalogue of shortcomings that have blighted the programme.
As of the end of August, there were around 10 million individuals recorded on a Home Office system whose last period of leave to be in the UK expired in the preceding two years.
Of those, the database contained no evidence of departure for 601,222.
This figure includes 513,088 ‘non-visa nationals’, citizens from non-EU countries where there is no requirement to obtain a visa prior to travelling to the UK as a visitor and who are typically granted entry for a period of six months.
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The remaining 88,134 individuals are ‘visa nationals’, those from countries outside the EU who must obtain a visa prior to coming to Britain.
The Home Office told inspectors that where no evidence of departure was found, this is not confirmation that an individual remains in the country, only that they have not been matched to a departure record.
As at the end of March last year, no attempt had been made to contact any of the non-visa nationals for whom there was no record of departure, according to Mr Bolt.
He said: ‘Overall, the sense was that the Home Office had over-promised when setting out its plans for exit checks.
‘The Home Office needed to be more careful about presenting exit checks as the answer to managing the illegal migrant population, which for now remained wishful thinking.’
Labour MP Yvette Cooper, who chairs the Commons Home Affairs Committee, said: ‘This is a very critical report on the operation and design of the exit checks programme.’
She said the committee had recommended that the policy should be expanded so it can play a more effective role in immigration enforcement, adding: ‘Instead the Chief Inspector’s report shows that serious limitations and gaps in data mean it isn’t even doing the job it was supposed to.’
A Home Office spokesman acknowledged that ‘more work can be done to realise the full operational potential of data collected’.