Skip to content Skip to footer

Family visitor visa applications: an analysis of entry clearance officer decision-making in 2002

7 March 2003
Immigration and asylum briefing cover

1. Introduction

This paper sets out the findings of an analysis by Citizens Advice of the decision-making of entry clearance officers during 2002 in relation to family visitor visa applications. The analysis is based on monthly statistical reports from entry clearance posts, provided to Citizens Advice by UKvisas. It strongly suggests that entry clearance officers hardened their decision-making in relation to family visitor visa applications (and especially those made at certain posts) from 1 August 2002 (or thereabouts).

2. The overall family visitor refusal rate

Figures provided in a ministerial reply to a written parliamentary question on 27 January 2003 indicate a sudden and significant increase in the overall rate of refusal of family visitor visa applications from 1 August 2002, as well as a near three-fold increase in the refusal rate since late 2000, when the new family visitor appeal right came into force. In the period 1 August 2002 to 30 November 2002, the refusal rate was 27.5 per cent, up from 20.2 per cent between 1 January 2001 and 31 July 2002, and 10.7 per cent between 1 October 2000 and 31 December 2000.

Analysis of the monthly statistical reports from entry clearance posts for 2002, previously provided on a monthly basis to Citizens Advice by UKvisas, confirms this increase in the overall family visitor refusal rate. According to these statistical reports, the overall family visitor visa refusal rate rose from 20.8 per cent in the period 1 January to 31 July 2002 (hereafter referred to as Period 1), to 27.9 per cent between 1 August and 31 December 2002 (hereafter referred to as Period 2). In Period 1, the monthly refusal rate ranged from 16.3 per cent to 25.4 per cent, and exceeded 25 per cent in only one month (February). In Period 2, the monthly refusal rate ranged from 26.9 per cent to 29.8 per cent.

Furthermore, this increase in the overall refusal rate occurred despite an 11.6 per cent fall in the overall number of family visitor visa applications, from a monthly average of 22,512 applications in Period 1, to a monthly average of 19,911 in Period 2 (see also section 4, below).

However, the analysis also reveals significant regional, national and even local variation in the refusal rate itself, as well as in the degree and direction of change in the refusal rate from 1 August.

3. The visa refusal rate – analysis by region and post

The analysis shows marked and very substantial increases in the family visitor refusal rate of entry clearance posts in five regions (as defined by UKvisas – see Appendix) in Period 2. However, as the following table shows, there is considerable variation in the degree of increase in the refusal rate, and in the case of some individual posts there is only a small increase or even a decrease in the refusal rate.

region/post   visa refusal rate1 Jan – 31 Julyvisa refusal rate1 Aug – 31 Decchange (%) All posts 20.8 27.9 +34.1 South Asia (exc Pakistan) 22.7 45.9 +102.2 Colombo 47.4 52.0 +9.7 Dhaka 38.0 60.4 +58.9 Mumbai (Bombay) 16.4 33.5 +104.5 New Delhi 29.0 59.4 +104.8 Middle East 10.8 23.2 +114.8 Jedda 10.5 9.8-6.7 Muscat 3.1 4.0 +29.0 Riyadh 26.8 24.2 -9.7 Tehran8.5 24.5 +188.2 Central Europe 4.9 9.0 +83.7 Moscow 2.1 4.7 +123.8 Western Europe 2.5 4.9 +96.0 Far East 7.9 14.2 +79.7

During 2002, the entry clearance posts in these five regions dealt with 46 per cent of the total of 257,400 family visitor visa applications, with entry clearance posts in South Asia (excluding Pakistan) dealing with 21 per cent of all such applications (more than any other region), and those in the Middle East dealing with six per cent. Mumbai (Bombay) and New Delhi between them dealt with 72 per cent of all such applications made in South Asia (excluding Pakistan), whilst Tehran dealt with 60 per cent of all applications made in the Middle East.

The analysis also reveals smaller but nonetheless marked increases in the rate of refusal of family visitor visa applications from 1 August in two regions, small or marginal increases in four other regions, and small or marginal decreases in two regions:

region/post visa refusal rate1 Jan – 31 JulyVisa refusal rate1 Aug – 31 Decchange (%) All posts20.827.9+34.1 Southern Europe18.626.2+40.9 Istanbul 37.546.5+24.0 Near East & N Africa10.414.7+41.3 W Indies & Atlantic13.615.7+15.4 Southern Africa(excl Harare)20.820.9 +0.5 Harare39.751.4+29.5 Equatorial Africa41.643.3+4.1 Nairobi 12.217.3+41.8 South East Asia33.834.2+1.2 Latin America9.19.0-1.1 North America0.70.5-28.6

The analysis has not been conducted for posts in Australasia, which in 2002 dealt with only 0.1 per cent of all applications.

4. The rate of family visitor visa applications

During the inter-departmental review of family visitor appeals established by the then Home Secretary in January 2001 – the final report of which has yet to be published – entry clearance officers argued that the abolition of the associated appeal fees (as advocated by Citizens Advice and others) would lead to a substantial increase in the number of unfounded family visit visa applications, and thus to an increase in the overall rate of refusal of applications. On 23 April 2002, the then head of UKvisas told Citizens Advice that the abolition of the fees – announced by the Home Secretary the next day – would in his view result in an “explosion” of family visitor visa applications, refusals and thus appeals that would “overwhelm” the immigration appeals system.

The abolition of the fees was announced by the Home Secretary on 24 April 2002, and was subsequently put into practice by new Regulations reducing the fee level to zero with effect from 15 May 2002. On 21 May 2002, the Government inserted an amendment into the then Nationality, Immigration & Asylum Bill, repealing the power to impose fees for family visitor appeals provided for in s.60(6) of the Immigration & Asylum Act 1999.

Not only has the predicted increase in the number of family visitor visa applications not materialised, the number of such applications fell significantly during the latter part of 2002. As noted in section 2 above, the overall monthly average number of applications in Period 2 was 19,911, some 12 per cent lower than in Period 1 (22,512).

Moreover, this fall in the overall rate of applications was reflected in nearly every region where there was a marked rise in the visa refusal rate in Period 2: in South Asia (excluding Pakistan), the monthly average number of applications fell by 24 per cent between Periods 1 and 2, from 4,983 to 3,781; in the Middle East, it fell by 23 per cent, from 1,426 to 1,104; in the Far East, it fell by 31 per cent, from 878 to 608; in Central Europe and Western Europe it fell by eight per cent and one per cent respectively; and in the Near East & North Africa it fell by ten per cent.

This pattern is repeated at the level of individual posts. In Mumbai (Bombay), where the visa refusal rate increased by 104 per cent between Periods 1 and 2, the rate of applications fell by 33 per cent; in New Delhi, where the visa refusal rate increased by 105 per cent, the rate of applications fell by nine per cent; in Tehran, where the visa refusal rate increased by 188 per cent, the rate of applications fell by 14 per cent; in Moscow, where the visa refusal rate increased by 124 per cent, the rate of applications fell by 13 per cent; and in Dhaka, where the visa refusal rate rose by 59 per cent, the rate of applications fell by one per cent.

Whilst it is not inconceivable that the fall in the rate of family visitor visa applications described above conceals a significant rise in the number of unfounded visa applications, it is extremely hard to believe that this is the explanation for the marked increase in the rate of refusal of such applications.

5. The rate of appeals

Analysis of Court Service statistics provided to Citizens Advice by the Lord Chancellor’s Department show that the increased rate of refusal of family visitor visa applications from 1 August was followed by a sudden and significant increase in the number and rate of family visitor appeals from 1 September. Allowing for the fact that refused family visit visa applicants have four weeks in which to lodge an appeal, and thus including the figures for January 2003, the appeal rate (that is, the number of family visitor appeals received by the Immigration Appellate Authority (IAA) as a proportion of the number of family visitor visa applications refused by entry clearance posts) between 1 September 2002 and 31 January 2003 was 17.6 per cent, up from 12.5 per cent in Period 1.

In other words, a 34.1 per cent increase in the visa refusal rate in the five months from 1 August was followed by a 40.8 per cent increase in the rate of appeals in the five months from 1 September. Bearing in mind the fall in the rate of applications, it is difficult not to conclude that the increased visa refusal rate was a determinant factor in the increased number of appeals.

Over a full year, a 40 per cent increase in the overall rate of family visitor appeals in Period 1 represents an additional 2,700 appeals, at an additional cost to the IAA of some £880,000.

The Court Service statistical reports do not give a breakdown of the number of family visitor appeals received by either nationality of the appellant or entry clearance post concerned. However, the monthly statistical reports from entry clearance posts do contain figures for the number of family visitor appeals lodged at each post.

Analysis of this data shows that, overall, the monthly average number of appeals lodged at entry clearance posts increased by 41.7 per cent between Periods 1 and 2. But in those regions with the most marked increase in the rate of refusal of family visit visa applications, the increase in the rate of appeals lodged was well above this average. In South Asia (excluding Pakistan), for example, where the visa refusal rate increased by 102 per cent, the number of appeals lodged increased by 111 per cent, from a monthly average of 154 appeals in Period 1 to a monthly average of 326 appeals in Period 2. In the Middle East, where the rate of refusal of visa applications increased by 115 per cent, the number of appeals lodged increased by 212 per cent, from a monthly average of 20 appeals in Period 1 to a monthly average of 61 appeals in Period 2. And in Western Europe, where the rate of refusal of visa applications increased by 96 per cent, the number of appeals lodged increased by 294 per cent, from a monthly average of less than two appeals in Period 1 to a monthly average of six appeals in Period 2.

As a result, the proportion of all appeals lodged that were lodged in South Asia (excluding Pakistan) rose from 21.5 per cent in Period 1, to 32.0 per cent in Period 2. And the proportion of all appeals lodged that were lodged in the Middle East rose from 2.7 per cent in Period 1, to 6.0 per cent in Period 2.

This pattern is repeated at the level of individual posts. For example, in Mumbai (Bombay), where the visa refusal rate increased by 104 per cent, the number of appeals lodged increased by 106 per cent, from a monthly average of 49 appeals in Period 1 to a monthly average of 100 appeals in Period 2. And in Tehran, where the visa refusal rate increased by 188 per cent, the number of appeals lodged increased by 364 per cent, from a monthly average of nine appeals in Period 1 to a monthly average of 42 appeals in Period 2.

6. Conclusion and recommendations

On 10 February 2003, Citizens Advice wrote to Ministers in the Home Office, the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) and the Lord Chancellor’s Department (LCD) to draw their attention to the apparent rise in the rate of refusal of family visitor visa applications from 1 August 2002 (or thereabouts).

It might be argued that the increase in the number of appeals since 1 September signifies that family visitor visa applicants are more aware of the appeal right. An increase in family visit visa applicants’ awareness of their appeal rights would, of course, be very welcome. All the evidence to date suggests that such awareness is not as high as it might be. However, there is no direct evidence that visa applicants’ awareness of their appeal rights has increased since 1 September or thereabouts – and we are not aware of any recent governmental initiatives aimed at increasing such awareness. More to the point, one would not expect a general increase in applicants’ awareness of their appeal rights to lead to such a sudden increase in the number of appeals, or to the very marked regional, national and local variations in the increase in the appeal rate noted above.

The proportion of family visitor appeals allowed by IAA adjudicators remains very high, at over 50 per cent overall and nearly 70 per cent at oral hearings. Although there has been no recent change in the overall success rate, this does not by itself deny a hardening of entry clearance officer decision-making, especially that of entry clearance officers in certain regions and posts. Other factors may well have been at work at the same time. For example, it is quite possible that IAA adjudicators hardened their decision-making at the same time. In 2001, during the inter-departmental review of family visitor appeals, some officials strongly expressed the view that the decision-making of IAA adjudicators is too lenient.

It might also be argued that the increase in the family visitor visa refusal rate from 1 August is due to the move away from use of the ‘pre-assessment procedure’ (also known as the ‘pre-sift’), under which visa applicants who did not appear to meet the Immigration Rules or have the necessary documentation with them were advised not apply or to re-apply later. However, it is our understanding that the move away from use of this procedure was implemented gradually, on a post-by-post basis, throughout 2002. If so, it would not explain the sudden increase in the family visitor refusal rate in almost every region from 1 August, or the sudden and very substantial increase in the refusal rate in seven regions (and a large number of individual posts) from the same date. Furthermore, one would expect the move away from use of the pre-assessment procedures to be followed by an immediate increase in the number of visa applications (as well as some increase in the rate of refusal) but, as described above, the increase in the refusal rate from 1 August coincided with a significant fall in applications.

As noted above, the Government has yet to publish the report of the inter-departmental review of family visitor visa appeals established in January 2001. The review was established by the then Home Secretary in response to concern – expressed by Citizens Advice and others – not only about the then associated appeal fees, but also about the lower than predicted take up of the appeal right, the worryingly high overall success rate at appeal (suggesting poor quality decision-making by entry clearance officers), and a marked differential between the success rate of oral and paper appeals.

The inter-departmental review team commissioned research into these issues, with a view to informing the team’s final report to Ministers. In May 2002, the Home Office stated that the review team’s final report “is now being finalised”, and in August 2002 it stated that the report (and the findings of the commissioned research) would be published “by December 2002”. On 10 December 2002, the Lord Chancellor’s Department stated that the report would be published “in the very near future”. However, in late January 2003, the Home Office stated that publication of the report had been delayed by “unforeseen circumstances”.

We believe that the Government must now publish the final report of the inter-departmental review team. Issues such as the lower than predicted take up of the appeal right, the disparity in success rates between oral and paper-only appeals, and the apparent poor quality of entry clearance officers’ decision-making should be fully examined and addressed (by appropriate reform) without further delay. It may well be, for example, that the existence (and value) of the appeal right needs to be much better advertised to family visit visa applicants, and that entry clearance officers need to be provided with better training and operational guidance.

At the same time, the Government must fully examine the evident 34 per cent increase in the overall rate of refusal of family visitor visa applications since 1 August 2002 (or thereabouts), and especially the increases of over 100 per cent in certain posts, as well as the near three-fold increase in the overall refusal rate since late 2000. And it must now explain the evident variation between regions, countries and even posts within one country in the rate of refusal – an issue touched upon but not addressed by the discussion paper issued by the inter-departmental review team in October 2001. It is to be hoped that this issue will be addressed by the final report of the inter-departmental review.

For further information or clarification on any of the above issues, please contact:

Richard Dunstan, Immigration Policy Officer, Citizens Advice 020 7833 7115 richard.dunstan@citizensadvice.org.uk

Appendix: UKvisas world regions

The UKvisas world regions are as follows:

  • South Asia : Chennai (Madras), Colombo, Dhaka, Islamabad, Karachi, Kathmandu, Kolutta (Calcutta), Lahore, Mumbai (Bombay), New Delhi.
  • Middle East: Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, Doha, Dubai, Jedda, Kuwait, Muscat, Riyadh, Sana’a, Tehran.
  • Central Europe: Almaty, Ashgabat, Baku, Belgrade, Bratislava, Bucharest, Budapest, Ekaterinburg, Kiev, Minsk, Moscow, Prague, Riga, Sarjevo, Skopje, Sofia, St Petersburg, Tallin, Tashkent, Tbilisi, Tirana, Vilnius, Warsaw, Yerevan, Zagreb.
  • Western Europe: Amsterdam, Berlin, Berne, Brussels, Copenhagen, Dublin, Dusseldorf, Geneva, Helsinki, Luxemburg, Oslo, Paris, Reykjavik, Rome, Stockholm, Vienna.
  • Far East: Beijing, Guanzhou, Shanghai, Taipei, Tokyo, Ulaanbaator.
  • Southern Europe: Ankara, Athens, Istanbul, Lisbon, Madrid, Nicosia, Vallette.
  • Near East & N Africa: Algiers, Amman, Beirut, Cairo, Casablanca, Damascus, Jerusalem, Khartoum, Rabat, Tel Aviv, Tripoli, Tunis.
  • West Indies & Atlantic: Bridgtown, Georgetown, Kingston, Nassau, Port of Spain, Santo Domingo.
  • Southern Africa: Antananarivo, Gaborone, Harare, Lilongwe, Luanda, Lusaka, Maputo, Maseru, Mbabane, Pretoria, Victoria, Windhoek.
  • Equatorial Africa: Abidjan, Abuja, Accra, Addis Ababa, Barnako, Banjul, Dakar, Dar Es Salaam, Freetown, Kampala, Kigali, Kinshasa, Lagos, Nairobi, Port Louis, Yaounde.
  • South East Asia: Bandar Seri Begawan, Bangkok, Hanoi, Hong Kong, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Manila, Phnom Penh, Rangoon, Singapore.
  • Latin America: Belmopan, Bogota, Brasilia, Buenos Aires, Caracas, Guatemala City, Havana, La Paz, Lima, Managua, Mexico City, Montevideo, Panama City, Quito, Rio de Janeiro, San Jose, San Salvador, Santiago, Tegucigalpa.
  • North America: Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Ottawa, Washington.
  • Australasia: Canberra, Honiara, Nuku Alofa, Port Moresby, Port Vila, Seoul, Suva, Wellington.