thetimes.co.uk/ UK : Migrants with criminal records get citizenship

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SHAFAQNA – Criminals and illegal migrants are among tens of thousands of foreigners who have been given British citizenship in the latest immigration scandal to hit the government. An immigrant who had worked illegally in Britain for 13 years and an asylum seeker who had admitted stabbing someone to death in their home country were among those given permanent places in Britain. In another case staff helped applicants to pass entry tests.

The full extent of the scandal was revealed in a damning report from the chief inspector of borders and immigration, which is the latest to highlight failings of the Home Office’s management of immigration. Campaigners described the situation as a shambles.

John Vine’s report has been with Theresa May, the home secretary, since the beginning of September, prompting accusations that she has been sitting on it in an attempt to bury bad news.

It was released yesterday as David Cameron made a speech at a meeting in London on tackling child online sexual exploitation. The prime minister said last night that errors and mistakes had been made, but that measures had been put in place to ensure that appropriate vetting was conducted. He said it was “extremely regrettable” that an applicant who had killed someone had been given citizenship, adding that moves were under way to withdraw the status.

The inspection report found so many breaches of immigration that inspectors feared there had been a “blanket approach” to ignoring evidence. It said:

• Staff at a centre where applicants took the Life in UK test required to get citizenship colluded with applicants to help them to pass the test.

• No attempt was made to check an applicant’s criminal records in their country of nationality despite Home Office guidance on how to obtain the information.

• Managers said that even where an applicant disclosed a criminal conviction overseas, it was difficult to refuse the application if the conviction could not be confirmed by other means.

• No checks were carried out to show if an applicant had financial problems, including bankruptcy or debt, or had been caught in tax avoidance or benefit fraud.

• Immigrants had been given citizenship despite working illegally, absconding and having no right to be in the country or permission to remain.

The report also showed that, as applications for citizenship have risen in recent years, the refusal rate has dropped steeply, from 9 to 3 per cent, giving the impression that applicants are being waved through.

In the past decade more than two million immigrants have been given citizenship, including almost 150,000 in the year to September.

Opposition MPs expressed shock at the conclusions of inspectors, who found that 6 per cent of a sample of 150 cases should not have been given citizenship.

Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, said: “People will be rightly alarmed that a person who had stabbed someone to death in their own country could be granted citizenship in Britain. Failure to properly check criminal records, to fully understand people’s financial background and take into account their previous immigration status is completely unacceptable.”

Keith Vaz, chairman of the Commons home affairs select committee, said: “This is a shocking report, the most damning I have seen emanate from the chief inspector’s office.”

The government said that it treated UK citizenship as a privilege, not an automatic right. James Brokenshire the immigration minister, said: “The chief inspector’s report endorses our decision to grant or deny citizenship in the overwhelming majority of cases it examined.”

Mr Vine, the report’s author, said: “ Guidance which allowed caseworkers to disregard evasion of immigration control during the qualifying period, where there was no other evidence to cast doubt on an applicant’s good character, had resulted in a ‘blanket approach’ being adopted.”

Alp Mehmet, vice-chairman of Migration Watch UK, which campaigns for lower immigration, said: “This situation is close to a shambles.”

In another development, the chief inspector of border’s report on Queen’s Warehouses, which store goods such as cigarettes and alcohol seized by the Border Force, Revenue & Customs and the National Crime Agency, found poor record keeping and discrepancies between quantities that were seized and those arriving at the warehouses.

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