UK Border Agency ‘embarrassment to the government’

Vaz also said that problems within the UK Border Agency arewreaking havoc among the country’s immigrant communities.RT: One of the departments that falls under your remitis the UK Border Agency, which is being widely criticized recently.In fact, you have called it unfit for purpose following therevelations that it has basically lost around 120,000asylum-seekers and immigrants. What can be done about it?Keith Vaz: There needs to be a fundamental shift in theculture of UKBA. We have many citizens from all over the world,some who want to come as students, some who want to come and settlehere and some that want to come and invest in our country. Theinefficiency of this organization I’m afraid is a bit of anembarrassment to the government, to the people of this country andthey ought to get it right.  Take, for example, somebodywho’s living in Russia who wishes to come here and study in ouruniversities, and I believe we have the finest universities in theworld, they take so long to process the cases that people wonderwhether or not they should even study in the UK. So this is doingus some real damage. It is damaging to our economy, damaging to ourreputation, and quite honestly it is causing a lot of frustrationto ordinary people.RT: There is another side of the coin where we havepeople that want to come but can’t, and those who are already inthe UK but unaccounted for?KV: Well the mayor of London puts this figure at half amillion people working in the so-called ‘black economy,’ not payingtheir taxes nor their national insurance but basically continuingsurviving doing the work that they are doing and it is just notacceptable. And I hope very much that we can take effective actionto try to give people the opportunity to be able to remain in thiscountry in a way that is productive. People have come here andtherefore they are able to deal with matters in a way which is seento be fair. At the moment it’s not fair, the moment the log is thesize of Iceland, 300,000 people. Yesterday, we’ve heard that thereare 50,000 cases that have not yet even been logged on acomputer.RT: That will have an effect on national securitybecause at the moment, you’ve got a lot of people wandering around,potentially illegal immigrants, and the UK border agency does notknow where they are. KV: But of course and that is of real concern, we need toknow who is let  into our country and screen themproperly and make decisions to what they should bedoing.RT: Among the genuine asylum-seekers, there are theseAfghan translators who worked for the UK and the US Army and nowfind themselves under threat at home. They are bringing a legalaction, we heard recently, to get the deal the Iraqi translatorsgot, which is legal assistance and financial assistance to stay inthis country- why didn’t the Afghan translators get thatautomatically?KV: That is the question I put to the defense secretary.I have a particular constituent, Mohamed Hotaq, who is taking yearsto get asylum. He’s now got his leave to remain but is now waitingto be joined by his wife and two children and there are many othersin exactly the same situation. What I’ve said is that Afganinterpretors ought to be offered the same deal as the Iraqiinterpretors, because they’ve both helped our government and thosein their fight against the Taliban.RT: Is there an appetite, you think, to give theAfghan translators the same deal? KW: I think the government will have to give way.RT: But all this time, though, they’re living underthreat?KV: They certainly are.RT: What message do you think it sends to the Afghansand indeed other nationals that might want to help us in thefuture?KV: I think it is a bad message, and we need to improvethe way in which we deal with those from the outside. And I hope wecan do it in a way that is acceptable to those who help and serveour country.  It is a bad message and we need to makesure its improved. I think at the end of the day, the Britishgovernment will do it but it’s taken such a long time.RT: An increasing number in this country are concernedabout mass immigration. What message do you think  themess inside UKBA sends to them?KV: Well it does not have an effect on illegals becausethey are here. It does have an effect on public opinion and I don’tthink people mind people coming to this country to createjobs,  to create wealth. They resent the people that arejust coming here, just for example,  to go on benefits andthat sometime is used against those that are genuinely here asmembers of an émigré communityRT: But it is not possible at the moment todistinguish between those two groups?KV: That is right. It is impossible to distinguish andthat is exactly what we need to do. We need to distinguish and weneed to make sure that that is done in a positive and constructiveway.RT: In a Border Agency move that seemed like a goodidea at that time, universities were recently denied the right toissue visas to foreign students. You object to that,why? KV: One university had its sponsor license suspended andin my view that was wrong to retrospectively stop the people whowere here genuinely. When the university has done something wrong,then they ought to be punished, not genuine students. I think thegovernment has got a message on this and we’ll make sure that inthe future they don’t just suspend people in limbo.RT: So basically, your objection is that it was doneretrospectively?KV: Well it is done retrospectively, because anyone whostudies there, they could not study there. They were thenjudicially reviewed and they now recognized that people need to beable to find somewhere else to study. The period, the time that itwas announced, was the wrong time. It was the start of term and noother universities were able to cope at the start of term, as onecould imagine. So they could have chosen a better time.RT: So this is really the same issue we’ve beentalking about with the border agency as a whole?KV: It’s a general issue in the UKBA, which really doesneed to be resolved.RT: Is something being done to resolve this?KV: Well, we heard from the minister. He seems to be verykeen, sounds like a hands-on minister, he wants to make thingschange and lets see whether he’ll be able to do so.RT: What is your ideal scenario?KV: Well, ideally, anyone who wants to come here andstudy genuinely and attend the university here, and the universitywants them and they qualify to come here, they ought to be allowedto come.RT: There are currently smaller university andlanguage schools that do have the right to issue visas and they arethe ones who are taking in these students, who turn up to lectureson the first day of term and then they are never seenagain.KV: Well, those people, of course, should be reported.And it’s wrong that they should not be  reported and I hope they will be.RT: This is quite far reaching for the universitythough, because if they cant get money from foreign students and aswe’ve heard recently applications from the UK students are downthis year, where is funding going to come from?KV: Well that is the problem. If you take away theoverseas students, you cut government grants to the universities,then institutions will be under severe threat and they may not beable to continue.RT: This will presumably have an effect on what youwere talking about earlier, British universities being some of thebest in the world.KV: Absolutely.RT: Are we talking about a brain drain here?KV: Well, we’re looking at Britain no longer retainingits preeminence as the education capital of  the worldand I want to make sure that happens and the university want tomake sure that that happens, but unfortunately the visa regimeworks against us.RT: Terror suspect Abu Qatada is still here in the UKdespite the Home Office’s attempts to get rid of him, the caselooks like now it could carry on for years. What wentwrong?KV: Well there are two ways in which it could have beendone quicker. First the fast track system through the EuropeanCourt for those who are suspected of terrorism, therefore you don’tneed to wait for years and years. Secondly the Jordanian criminalcode needs to be changed, not just assurances given by theJordanian government but the criminal code needs to be changed. Andif the criminal code is changed, there will be a difference and thecourts will allow him to go.RT: But none of these things are under control of thegovernment of this country?KV: No, but King Abdullah was here, and I’ve told thehome secretary that we need to make sure that he’ll make thosechanges.RT: Are we right for the European Court to make thosedecisions for us?KV: We’ve signed up for the European Convention of HumanRights. We are a county that abides by the rule of law andtherefore we need to follow what the EU court has said. That doesnot mean that the court cannot be made more efficient.RT:Is it time now, in light of the Abu Qatada case andothers to re-examine that again?KV: It certainly is and I hope we can persuade theministers to do that.RT: It has now emerged that taxpayers have paid half amillion pounds towards Abu Qatada’s legal aid fees. Can you commenton that?KV: Well, it is a huge amount of money – half a millionpounds is a huge amount of money for the taxpayer. But also, he hadassets of 217,000, which they’ve seized . So in a real sense, theyshould use those assets against the money that has been paid by thetaxpayer.RT: But the cost is mounting all the time?KV: We won’t talk about the cost of surveillance but itmust be pretty high.RT: The Home Affairs Select Committee led aninvestigation into phone hacking. What is your take on results ofthe Leveson Inquiry into press regulation?KV: I support it. I think it is a great inquiry. Isupport every single word and think the findings of the LevesonInquiry should be implemented in full.RT: I’ve heard that you said the inquiry should betaken in its entirety, but what does statutory underpinningactually mean?KV: Nobody knows and I think we should just go throughthe process of passing the bill. What Lord Justice Leveson means iswe need to have a statute that forms the basis of self-regulationthat the newspapers are going to do for themselves and it needs abill and we do not know until we see the bill, and that bill needsto come out of the government, then we can comment on it, then wecan amend it. Nick Clegg, the deputy prime Minister claimed that weshould have a royal charter for the press as we have for the BBCbut we need to see what is going to happen. I think the broadcastmedia are very good at keeping within the law.

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UK Border Agency ‘embarrassment to the government’

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