Home Office officials have privately admitted the department is having problems increasing its immigration staffing levels as part of its Brexit preparations and may have to recruit Polish and other eastern Europeans to help register the 3 million EU nationals in Britain.
Immigration lawyers said UK visas and immigration officials had told a recent business immigration conference that they faced a particular problem in “enticing staff to move to Sheffield, the city having been designated as the global processing centre”.
The disclosure comes as the immigration minister, Brandon Lewis, is to be questioned on Tuesday by the Commons home affairs select committee on the capacity of the Home Office to register the 3 million EU nationals in Britain and to implement the immigration system post-Brexit.
Amber Rudd, the home secretary, has already told MPs that 700 extra immigration caseworkers have been recruited and hopes to recruit an extra 500 by next April. The Home Office said it would be looking to recruit extra staff in the coming years.
But immigration lawyers in written evidence to the Commons select committee said even this level of extra staffing fell far short of the needed capacity, leaving each caseworker responsible for 1,500 of the 3 million EU registration applications.
They added that if EU nationals were required post-Brexit to join the “rest of the world” queue at airports, the Border Force would also require significant extra numbers to avoid “unprecedented hold-ups that could damage the UK’s reputation on a global level”.
Immigration lawyers also fear without a “seamless and simplified” new registration system there will be a repetition of the kind of errors that wrongly led to 100 EU nationals being asked to leave the country in the summer, with bank accounts being wrongly shut down and legal UK residents being asked to leave the country.
The Home Office’s difficulties in “enticing staff to move to #Sheffield” affect the hub that handles visa applications for work permits, student visas, premium services and family cases.
Casework jobs outside London have been advertised at between £23,330 and £26,831 but lawyers said a recent decision to move assessments of applications from regional hubs around the world to Sheffield had added to the problems. The solicitors McGill & Co said in October that long delays were being faced by a large number of people whose visa applications were being considered.