The Home Office finally receive a reasonable review in the inspection report of the Hong Kong British National (Overseas) visa route. The report considered standings from April to June 2022 and found that even though the route was implemented within tight timescales it “provide[d] an efficient service with most applicants benefiting from a fully digital experience”. Yet, comments in the report highlight potential areas for improvement in the overall casework process for all visa routes.
Perhaps a key reflection on what has worked with this scheme, which should be implemented in other schemes or Home Office growth plans, can be found in Chief Inspector, David Neal’s forward. He concludes that “[t]he Hong Kong BN(O) caseworking team is able to flex to demand and challenges due to significant investment into training additional caseworkers prior to the launch and a relatively straightforward set of requirements for this route”.
Policy guidance and training approaches were developed under this route with the input of caseworkers. The result was materials that were more tailored to the route. There were just over 33 caseworkers assigned to these applications at the time of the inspection, but around 200 staff had received training. However, applications were split between two caseworking systems and the resulting issues might well be common across all decision making departments:
“The processing of applications across 2 different caseworking systems, Atlas and Proviso, built flex in the workforce and upskilled team members allowing management to redeploy caseworkers to other routes, such as the Ukraine Family Scheme15 and the EUSS. However, having 2 application and caseworking systems inevitably brings challenges and this was apparent with family applications, where members of a family who applied together were allocated to different caseworkers, using different systems, and located in separate teams.”
Decisions on asylum claims may be far more complex, but as the processing time is once again on the increase for some other business and family immigration routes, it might be time for the Home Office to reflect on its approach to casework across all departments.
One key issue was identified in the report:
“This inspection has identified that there are more than 600 adult dependent relatives awaiting a policy decision, which would determine the outcome of their claim. This is the only real blemish on an otherwise effective and efficient area of Home Office business.”
Caseworkers considered the dependency threshold for adult dependent relatives to be “too high” and deferred to the policy team. As of May 2022, they were yet to provide an update which has resulted in another backlog. Changing the policy for adult dependent relatives under this route would likely have implications for other routes, given that the threshold is in line with all other immigration routes. In their response to the report he Home Office have pledged to decide the outstanding applications as a matter of priority and before the end of 2022.
One of the report’s recommendations is to ensure that processing times for the route are published online. Quarterly statistics on the performance of the team against service standards for processing applications should also be published and it would be useful to have a clear comparison to other routes moving forward.
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