Change is a-foot at the UK Border Agency (UKBA) but will it be meaningful change? Will the needs of the UK’s education industry be met?
Following reports of a large backlog of cases and of foreign prisoners not being removed from the UK, an announcement for change was made. No, this wasn’t 2013, but May 2006. Then UK Home Secretary John Reid proclaimed that the Home Office’s Immigration and Nationality Directorate (IND) was “not fit for purpose”. Reid said that to deal with the issues faced by the IND, radical changes were needed.
And so the UKBA was born in 2008, amid much fanfare. A stronger framework focused on delivery and accountability. Strengthened leadership and management. A culture of change. Immigration Laws would be strengthened and simplified to make the system much more effective.
Fast-forward to 2013 and the current Home Secretary Theresa May announced that the UKBA was “not fit for purpose”. And now, the UK Border Agency is to be swallowed by the Home Office once again. Apparently there is rather large backlog of cases. UKBA performance just wasn’t good enough. There must be a new culture of change. Another round of full structural change. New IT systems are required, and Immigration Laws need to be strengthened and simplified again. Apparently.
What does this all mean for the UK’s education providers? Where does it leave them? How will things be moving forward? Could there be any kind of common-sense led change of Tier 4 of the Points Based System (PBS)? Maybe. Funnily enough, the general feeling through the education sector is one of “we’ve been here before”. This is not to say that radical change is not required. Indeed, there are many complaints from those who have to work the UKBA day-to-day.
It was inevitable really that the UKBA would be axed. It is hard for any public body to continue after such damning criticism: a “shambolic” approach to dealing with correspondence, a “notably poor level of customer service”, “inexcusable” that so many cases were not processed in a timely manner.
When disbandment of the IND was announced in 1998, a white paper was released with the title Fairer, Faster, Firmer – a Modern Approach to Immigration and Asylum. Isn’t it funny that today in 2013, that is still what stakeholders are asking for.
Let us also not forget that education providers in the UK are expected to pay £8,000 annually to be registered as a Tier 4 Sponsor – which should be granting them access to information and advice from the UKBA on international student recruitment in relation to the UK’s Immigration Rules. Applicants too are paying for more costly same-day services because the normal service is too slow – there is no guarantee that an application will be processed in-time for their start dates.
Whilst people who interact with the UKBA simply want to comply and move through the process as pain-free as possible, the UKBA almost seems determined to make the process as difficult as possible. Sponsors want clear advice and direction as to their responsibilities, students want to be treated fairer and faster, yet both groups also want the UKBA to be firm in appropriate areas. However, what use of sanctions against those who don’t comply, if there is very little evidence of UKBA enforcing said sanctions correctly?
So, will the latest round of changes work? Many remain cynical given the publicised internal memo distrusted to UKBA staff: “Most of us will still be doing the same job in the same place with the same colleagues for the same boss and with the same mission”. Ho-hum.
Again, many UKBA staff have also been cynical of the proposed changes. Just like many in the UK education sector, many UKBA staff have said “we’ve been here before”, with centralisation followed by decentralisation, name changes, mergers and de-mergers; a shadow agency, full agency status and now the completion of the cycle with a return to the main Home Office.
It appears there remains a more pessimistic than optimistic feeling to the coming changes.