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UKBA Ignoring Tested IT Systems For Immigrant Checks

12 Dec 2012

Britain's immigration control service, the UK Borders Agency (UKBA), look as though they are letting an already tested system of allowing employers to check on the immigration status of personnel be ignored, while going forward with a new untested system into warp drive and which could end up unworkable and extremely expensive. 

The UKBA are supposedly working on a system with a (unnamed) commercial partner into setting up an online checking system of the immigration status for employers. This system when in place will be charged for each check according to the UKBA website.

It is mandatory for British employers to ascertain that staffers are legally entitled to work in the UK, potential penalties are a maximum fine of £10,000 per offense and/or 2 years in jail. In reality the penalty levied is normally £5,000 per offense for employing illegals. 

There is a free service available which is manual. It also appears to only work on those with a biometric residence card which is not compulsory for all immigrants at present. However, a UKBA spokeman stated that it is not necessary for a potential employee to have a biometric residence card to have a check completed.

At the moment there is a cumbersome system in place which is supposed to give a manual check to employers and can take 6 hours. It is also not easy to navigate for those who are not tech and internet savvy.

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Where the UKBA, and its parent body the Home Office, appear to be failing is that there is a choice of two systems in place which are already working. These are operated by the Australian and New Zealand immigration authorities.

The Australian system is known as Visa Entitlement Verification Online (VEVO) which is a free, online and powerful service that allows visa holders and registered Australian organisations (such as Registered Migration Agents (RMAs), Australian employers, labor suppliers, education providers, financial institutions and government agencies) to check the details and entitlements of a visa. VEVO has been in place since it went live in late 2004, so any bugs should be ironed out by now. It also checks on whether the person being checked on is entitled to Medicare, the free Australian health system, which is a bone of contention in the UK with "health tourism" by foreigners not entitled to free National Health Service (NHS) treatment such an issue.   

The New Zealand system is known as VisaView and allows New Zealand employers to check whether a person who is not a New Zealand citizen can work in New Zealand for that employer.

It is slightly different to the Australian VEVO system in that it also enables registered employers to confirm New Zealand passport information provided by the jobseeker, and therefore confirm New Zealand citizenship and entitlement to work in any job. VisaView has been in place for over two and a half years, so any bugs should be similarly ironed out. Links to both systems are at the end of the article.

A Home Office/UKBA spokesman told Balita Pinoy that as to there being a fee charged to users this was not confirmed, although the website states that when (and if) the system is up and running a fee would be charged.

When questioned further, he was unable to state when the system would be finished, who was the UKBA's "commercial partner" who is developing and will operate the scheme, how much the scheme is budgeted to cost the British taxpayer, and could not state if the contract had been put out to competetive tender.

Given the track record of the British government in general, and the Home Office in particular, in the implementation of new IT systems, it would seem obvious that looking at either the Australian or New Zealand system would be common sense. As they are already up and running, there would be very little needed to "tweak" it to put it in place incorporating its use for the UKBA. The cost of either purchasing or licensing the software from either of the government's or their IT suppliers would be considerably less than putting in a new untested system.


One massive IT failure which left the Home Office with a great deal of egg on its face, and even worse could not be hidden away, was its subsidiary the Passport Agency's failure to issue passports in 1999. Over half a million passports did not get issued in time at the peak summer season leaving a public humiliation for the Home Office, missed holiday flights and a massive multi-million pound bill for compensation to holidaymakers and staff overtime.

The system purchased from German computer giant Siemens was not tested properly, nor were staff trained to use it before being implemented. 

A report published by the National Audit Office (NAO) shows how limitations in Libra, a case management IT system in use across magistrates' courts in the UK, has contributed towards HM Courts Service's inability to provide basic financial information to support the accounts, i.e. collecting fines and other penalties and costs from guilty defendants.

HM Courts Service was originally part of the Home Office until it was split into two (the other being the Justice Department).

Over 17 years ago when Libra was being implemented, Fujitsu along with STL and Accenture estimated the cost at £146 million.

By the time of the NAO report estimated costs were £447m and were expected to rise further. The Libra project took 16 years to complete officially and was wrongly declared a success.

HM Courts Service claimed a success for the troubled Libra system in 2008 - but the failure was hidden. The problems were kept hidden until the NAO report because successive governments have kept "Gateway" progress reports on IT-based projects confidential.

The head of the NAO, Amyas Morse, "disclaimed" his audit opinion on the accounts of the HM Courts Service, largely because of a lack of financial information. This a serious matter as effectively the NAO are stating that they do not believe the figures presented to it. This report came out in 2008.

The cost estimate 4 years ago of £447 million is actually dwarfed by the real cost, a £1.4 billion loss in uncollected fines and penalties partly because of the long standing fiasco that passes of records in the courts service.

The lack of parliamentary scrutiny on this Libra farce is because Gateway IT projects are kept confidential by civil servants, normally when they go wrong so as to hide gross failures. 

Business services giant Electronic Data Systems (EDS) waded in with a spectacular disaster, which assisted in the destruction of the British Child Support Agency (CSA) and cost the taxpayer over a billion pounds. The CSA was set up ostensibly to improve the way divorced mothers could collect child support from the fathers.

EDS, now part of Helwett Packard (HP), set up a CS2 computer system which somehow managed to overpay 1.9 million people and underpay around 700,000, partly because the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) decided to reform the CSA at the same time as bringing in CS2. An internal EDS memo was leaked that admitted that the CSA's system was "badly designed, badly tested and badly implemented". UK MP's described it as an "appalling waste of public money" and called for it to be scrapped.

This fiasco led to the resignation of the CSA's head, Doug Smith. 

In December 2003, EDS lost a 10-year £3 billion contract to run Inland Revenue IT services after a series of serious delays in the payment of tax credits, the contract instead being awarded to the company Cap Gemini. EDS had operated systems for the Inland Revenue since 1994 but the performance of its system had been low, causing late arrival of tax credit payments for hundreds of thousands of people.

In 2006, EDS' Joint Personnel Administration (JPA) system for the RAF led to thousands of personnel not receiving correct pay due to "processing errors". EDS and Ministry of Defence staff were reported to have "no definitive explanations for the errors".

In 2007 British TV company BSkyB claimed £709 million compensation from EDS, claiming that EDS' failure to meet its agreed service standards resulted not just from incompetence, but from fraud and deceit in the way it pitched for the contract.

During the BSkyB case, it was shown that a Managing Director had obtained a degree over the Internet. Lawyers for Sky were able to demonstrate that the process for awarding the degree claimed would give a degree to a dog, and that the mark attained by the dog was higher than that of the HP executive, who was questioned on his expertise and integrity. HP lost the case with a preliminary £200 million payment ordered, whilst they appeal over the £ 700 million total.

The Big Daddy of them all however has to be the NHS's supposed IT system to join together all parts of the NHS in Britain has been found to be the cock up of all time.

Originally expected to cost £2.3 billion over three years, in June 2006 the total cost was estimated by the National Audit Office to be £12.4 billion over 10 years, and the NAO also noted that " was not demonstrated that the financial value of the benefits exceeds the cost of the Programme".

Similarly, the British Computer Society (2006) concluded that "...the central costs incurred by NHS are such that, so far, the value for money from services deployed is poor". Officials involved in the programme have been quoted in the media estimating the final cost to be as high as £20 billion, indicating a cost overrun of 440% to 770%.

In April 2007, the Public Accounts Committee of the House of Commons issued a damning 175-page report on the programme. The Committee chairman, Edward Leigh, claimed "This is the biggest IT project in the world and it is turning into the biggest disaster." The report concluded that, despite a probable expenditure of 20 billion pounds "at the present rate of progress it is unlikely that significant clinical benefits will be delivered by the end of the contract period."

This NHS IT system was never put out to competetive tender, and the full reports have to be dragged from the government. 

It would surely be better for the UKBA, the British taxpayer as well as users of the UKBA website to use an already proven system. Whether it is the Australian or New Zealand system would not really matter if it could be securely implemented and actually worked. 

Visa Entitlement Verification Online (VEVO - Australian Immigration Service)

VisaView - (New Zealand Immigration Service)


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