A recent report investigating the immigration checks being conducted into foreign criminals highlights the significant shortcomings of a system that appears to be ingrained with a lack of police knowledge, administrative deficiency’s and inconsistent procedures across police divisions.
In January this year, the Home Secretary tasked the Chief Inspector of Borders & Immigration, David Bolt, with the job of investigating “the extent to which the police are identifying and flagging foreign nationals arrested to the Home Office and checking status.” This month the Chief Inspector published his report, which can be found here:
The results highlight a system in dire need of improvements.
It appears in many parts of the UK the police are not referring foreign nationals arrested here to immigration officials for relevant immigration checks.
The inspection focused on three main areas of the police force: the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS), West Midlands Police (WMP) and West Yorkshire Police (WYP). The police data indicated that over the course of one 12-month period (2014-2015), between 185,000 and 193,000 foreign nationals were arrested by police in the UK.
An immigration status check procedure known as ‘Operation Nexus’ was implemented in 2012 whereby all foreign nationals or suspected foreign nationals arrested in the UK are to be referred to the Home Office’s Command and Control Unit (CCU) in order to check the individual’s immigration status. This process thereby alerted the Home Office to cases where the foreign national may have overstayed a visa or entered the UK illegally, thus initiating any immigration enforcement action required.
However this joint procedure was only put in place in collaboration with the MPS. Therefore the practice of ensuring immigration status checks varied considerably amongst police forces outside of London. Findings in the West Midlands left up to 10% of foreign nationals detained that were not referred for checks. The report found that foreign nationals who misrepresent themselves as EEA nationals or UK citizens were likely to be missed by the WMP, as a result of a lack of knowledge within the force about the need to refer those individuals for checks. Similar issues were found amongst the WYP as a result of pressure of work within the force and a lack of knowledge about the potential for immigration enforcement action. The report findings indicate that less than 30% of all arrested foreign nationals were referred for immigration checks within the police forces outside of London compared to more than 50% within the MPS.
The London Operation Nexus model was reported to have increased the identification of foreign nationals who had committed immigration offences particularly because Immigration Officers (IOs) were embedded within police stations combined with a dedicated Nexus police officer. The reporting models were found to vary amongst the West Midlands and West Yorkshire as a result of resource limitations, individual custody sergeants, and a lack of locally embedded IOs. Astonishingly across all areas, the report found some foreign nationals that should be subject to immigration enforcement were released from police custody before being seen by an IO, particularly when the individual was arrested ‘out-of-hours’ when no embedded IOs were available. Additional inconsistencies across police departments were found as a result of differing levels of access that IOs had to police custody databases and Home Office fingerprint records and the ability of Home Office IOs to access ACRO Criminal Records Office checks.
It appears many of the problems associated with identifying overstayers and illegal immigrants from arrested foreign nationals is as a result of underlying resource limitations, a lack of immigration enforcement training and knowledge amongst the police force and considerable variation across the UK due to procedural differences and variable levels of collaboration between the police and the Home Office. Whilst Operation Nexus appears to have successfully maximised opportunities to identify illegal foreign nationals across the metropolitan areas, a great deal more needs to be done to replicate these findings across the UK. Until then, more foreign national criminals will continue to go undetected in the UK.