30/03/2004

Tories turn screw on Minister over alleged migration 'scam'

The Opposition has turned up the pressure on Home Office Minister Beverley Hughes after publishing what they claim are leaked emails from civil servants which "shows yet further incompetence" in the government's handling of migration applications.

The Tories claim that the emails illustrate how a number of senior Home Office officials were aware of widespread abuse of the European Communities Association Agreement system (ECAA). The system is designed to allow entrepreneurs from outside the EU to migrate to the UK to set up their businesses.

The Tories contend that a letter from John Ramsden (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) to Chris Mace – the Deputy Director General of the Immigration and Nationality Directorate (IND) – dated 5 November 2002 contain allegations that the ECAA system had deteriorated into "a scam".

As the letter is dated six months after Beverly Hughes was appointed Minister of State for Asylum and Immigration, the Tories have said that the minister cannot claim that she was unaware of the issue.

However, the Home Secretary David Blunkett has defended Ms Hughes and dismissed suggestions that ministers would have knowingly engaged in or permitted an abuse of the immigration system.

The Prime Minister's Official Spokesperson has also confirmed that Ms Hughes enjoys the absolute confidence of Number 10.

All ECAA applications from Bulgarian and Romania have been suspended as of today and a probe has been launched into the allegations.

In one of the emails published on the Conservatives.com website, an official states that the British Embassy in Bucharest believes that the ECAA system had "developed into an organised scam that completely undermines our entry control procedures – and indeed makes a bit of a nonsense of having a visa regime”.

Other extracts read:
  • “Post had just received 70 virtually identically identical business plans … Interviewed applicants rarely knew what was in their business plans, typically explaining that these had been ‘written by the solicitors.”
  • “It was often clear that applicants had no idea about the trade they were supposed to be setting up in the UK.”
  • “Post have to write long referral letters pointing out the flaws in the cases submitted to them. But the BCU [ie the Home Office] only rarely refuses applications.”
  • “Even those with a previous immigration history e.g people caught submitting forged documents in the past have been accepted under the scheme.”
  • “It is demoralising for our Post to have to devote a great deal of work to servicing a scam which makes them look ridiculous.”


Shadow Home Secretary David Davis said: “Beverley Hughes can no longer claim that senior officials in her Department were unaware of these allegations. As each day goes by, more and more revelations illustrate the extent of the chaos, confusion and mismanagement at the heart of the Minister’s Department.”

The Foreign Office has confirmed that a British official based in Bucharest has been suspended.

(gmcg)

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