Home Office scraps ‘racist’ visa system following court challenge

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LONDON: The Home Office has abandoned a visa system branded “racist” by human rights campaigners after being challenged in court. A computer algorithm, or streaming tool, used by the department automatically graded each entry application on a traffic-light system of green, amber and red, the Huffpost has reported.

The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) said the computer programme discriminated on the basis of nationality — by design. People applying for visas from a “secret list of suspect nationalities” were more likely to be coded red and therefore be subject to extra scrutiny and ultimately less likely to see their applications accepted, the charity argued.

Home Secretary Priti Patel

The JCWI said this was racial discrimination and breached the Equality Act 2010.

Following a judicial review brought by the JCWI and technology campaigners Foxglove, the Home Office confirmed it was scrapping the algorithm, though it rejected claims of racial discrimination.

From August 7, the current streaming tool will no longer be used. A redesigned visa process is due to be in place by the autumn, the department said.

Until then, the streaming or sifting of the overwhelming majority of visa applications by the Home Office will take place by reference to the individual, such as previous travel, and nationality will not be taken into account.

Chai Patel, JCWI legal policy director, said the visa system had in effect become speedy boarding for white people. “The Home Office’s own independent review of the Windrush scandal found that it was oblivious to the racist assumptions and systems it operates,” he said.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “We have been reviewing how the visa application streaming tool operates and will be redesigning our processes to make them even more streamlined and secure. “We do not accept the allegations Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants made in their judicial review claim and whilst litigation is still ongoing it would not be appropriate for the department to comment any further.”

Last month home secretary Priti Patel announced Home Office staff would be given training to “understand and appreciate the history of migration and race” in the wake of the Windrush scandal.