The Home Secretary’s statement to the House of Commons
With permission Madame Deputy Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the use of DNA evidence in immigration applications.
Many thousands of immigration applications are received every year which involve people applying to come to the UK or remain in the UK, on the basis of a family relationship with someone already here.
If an individual does not have sufficient evidence to show that they are related to someone in the UK, they sometimes choose to do a DNA test to prove that relationship.
Officials will then consider this evidence as part of their claim.
Very often, this will be to the advantage of the applicant because it can help establish family relationships beyond doubt where the other available evidence is sometimes insufficient.
However, the provision of DNA evidence must be entirely voluntary.
At the end of June, it was brought to our attention that there were some immigration cases where the provision of DNA evidence had been made a requirement for issuing a visa or grant leave to remain, and it was not simply a request.
Such demands are unacceptable.
Today I want to take this opportunity to apologies to those who have been affected by this practice. The law in this context is that the provision of DNA evidence should always be voluntary and never mandatory.
My predecessor made this absolutely clear when the changes were made that she brought in in 2014.
Once we were made aware of the issue, we immediately commissioned an urgent internal review, which I am publishing today.
Copies will be available in the House library.
My RHF the Immigration Minister will also be writing today to the Home Affairs Select Committee outlining the key points of the review and of course providing a copy.
The review covered the legal aspects of DNA use, policy and guidance, case working practice and correspondence with applicants, as well as oversight arrangements relating to the use of DNA.
It outlines a number of areas in which guidance was unclear or wrong.
It also outlines areas of operational practice where DNA evidence was improperly required and provides some initial information on the possible scale of the issue.
The review makes a number of recommendations about how to address the root causes within the Border, Immigration and Citizenship system that led to the operational practice.
However, this review is not a conclusion to the work.
The numbers and the information in the report have been collected at pace and they still need to be fully assured that this is subject to change.
Further work is needed to ascertain the full scope of the issue.
But regardless of the numbers of people that have been affected – one case is still one too many.
I am determined to get to the bottom of how and why in some cases, people could be compelled to supply DNA evidence in the first place.
The majority of cases identified so far have been part of an Operation known as Operation Fugal, an operation which the report says started in April 2016 to address patterns of fraud in some specific family and human rights applications for immigration purposes
Letters sent, as part of this operation incorrectly stated that the applicant must provide DNA evidence and that not providing such information without a reasonable excuse would lead to their application being refused on suitability grounds.
It has been reported that 83 applications had been refused at the time of the writing of the report.
Seven of these seem to have been refused on suitability grounds solely for the failure to provide DNA evidence.
And a further six appear to have been refused on suitability grounds for failure to provide DNA evidence, but where that was not the sole reason.
In addition to Operation Fugal, we have also identified improper approach to the use of DNA evidence in 2 further areas.
The first relates to adult dependent relatives of Gurkhas.
In January 2015, a scheme was expanded allowing adult dependent children of Gurkhas discharged before 1997, to settle in the UK.
Guidance was published which stated that DNA evidence may be required, and that applications may be refused if that evidence was not provided without a reasonable excuse within 4 weeks.
This published guidance was wrong and has now been updated.
The report suggests that there were 51 cases identified where DNA was requested from applicants at their own cost.
At the same time the report was written, we were aware of four cases from the same family unit, who had their application refused solely because they did not provide DNA evidence.
These decisions have now been corrected.
The second case relates to Afghan nationals.
In 2013, applications from Afghan nationals formerly employed by the UK government to resettle in the UK were begun to be accepted.
The terms of the scheme included mandatory DNA testing for family groups, paid for by the UK government.
Current investigations suggest that no-one making an application under this scheme has been refused because they did not take a DNA test.
Nonetheless, mandatory testing should not have been part of this scheme and this requirement has now been removed.
Let me be clear, Madame Deputy Speaker Across our immigration system, no-one should have faced a demand to supply DNA evidence and no-one should have been penalised for not providing it.
In particular, I would like extend my apologies to those Gurkhas and Afghans who have been affected.
The two schemes I’ve described were put in place to help the families of those who have served to keep our country safe.
And I am sorry that demands were made of them which never should have been.
But I would like to reassure the House that I am taking action to correct this situation. Firstly, I have given clear instructions that officials must not seek DNA evidence on a mandatory basis in any immigration case.
Secondly, I have set up a new taskforce so that anyone who feels that their case may have been influenced in any way by an inappropriate demand for DNA testing, so that they can get advice and support.
Thirdly, we will also be looking to reimburse any individual who has suffered financial loss because we required DNA evidence when we shouldn’t have done so.
Fourthly, we will continue to closely examine whether this approach might have been taken in any other part of the immigration system.
What we know so far is that there are three cohorts that have been affected, but we must investigate to see if there are any more.
I will be asking for independent assurance on everything we do as we establish the facts.
And fifthly, I know that the immigration system is operated by many highly committed people…
…but we must make sure that the structures and processes that they use are fit for the modern world.
And fit for the a immigration system we will be bringing in as we leave the European Union.
So I will review the structures and processes more broadly that we have to ensure they can deliver a system in a way which is fair and humane.
I will now consider what form that review will take.
But my starting point for this is that it would be helpful to have independent oversight of said review.
And that review will need to build on the lessons learnt from the Wendy Williams review also.
And I will want Wendy to play a full part in this wider exercise.
Madame Deputy Speaker I made it clear when I became Home Secretary that I will take any action necessary to put right wrongs or inconsistencies as and when I become aware of them.
Today I want to promise you that I will get to the bottom of what has gone on in relation to DNA evidence.
And I will build an immigration system which provides control but which is also fair, humane and fully compliant with the law.
NHS workers, university staff and students in the North West of England will be taking part in a private pilot of the new application process for the EU Settlement Scheme.
In a managed live trial, EU citizens working at 12 NHS Trusts, and students and staff from 3 Liverpool universities, will be invited to make real applications for settled status through the new digital process.
It will allow those working on the scheme to test the system using real applicants and make improvements ahead of the launch of the scheme’s phased rollout towards the end of 2018.
Immigration Minister Caroline Nokes said:
EU citizens make a huge contribution to our economy and to our society and we want them to stay.
The EU Settlement Scheme will make it easy for EU citizens to get the status they need, and when it is launched they will only need to complete three key steps – prove their identity, show that that they live in the UK, and declare any criminal convictions.
We are inviting a small group of EU citizens to make an application to help us ensure the system will be ready when the rollout begins later this year.
This private pilot, which follows the standard approach for the launch of new Government services, will begin on 28 August 2018.
The initial pilot phase will be accessible by invite only. Up to 4,000 applicants will be able to apply on a voluntary basis.
Assuming they are eligible, all those who go through the process will be granted settled status.
Certain features to be included in the settlement scheme application process will not be available. Applicants will need to attend an appointment with a Home Office representative who will help to take them through the online application process.
The 12 NHS Trusts and three Universities that are taking part in the private beta phase starting from 28 August are:
- Aintree University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust
- Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
- Countess of Chester Hospital NHS Foundation Trust
- East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust
- Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
- Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital NHS Foundation Trust
- Liverpool Women’s NHS Foundation Trust
- Southport and Ormskirk Hospital NHS Trust
- The Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen University Hospitals NHS Trust
- The Walton Centre NHS Foundation Trust
- Warrington and Halton Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
- Wirral University Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust
- Liverpool Hope University
- Liverpool John Moores University
- The University of Liverpool