Beware of immigration fraudsters

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BY BOB MACAIRE

I read in the Kenyan press that the UK was the leading destination for Kenyans seeking opportunities abroad.  The article went on to explain that many people now wish to return to Kenya, partly as a result of falling foul of bogus employment agencies.

This reminded me not only of how important it is for us in the British High Commission (BHC) to promote the benefits of good quality legal routes to the UK and other countries, but also to reiterate that the UK continues to clamp down hard on visa related fraud and illegal migration.

Perhaps two cases I have lately heard about can illustrate the fraud issue.  Someone who recently approached my Visa Department had sent his CV to a Middle East employment agency.  Soon after, he received by email, without interview, a job offer in the UK offering him unspecified work for a UK company earning over £15,000 per month (Sh1.9m – a very high salary by UK standards) plus a lucrative benefits package.

All he had to do to take up this generous offer of employment was transfer a significant sum of money electronically so that they could process the paperwork.  He did this, and only when they asked him to transfer extra money did he decide to double check with the BHC that all was above board.  Inevitably, it wasn’t.  But by then the money transfer was untraceable.

In another case a family of five spent over $100,000 (Sh8.1m) on fake UK passports, only to have them taken from them at the airport before arriving in the UK.  They had sold their land and had also borrowed a fairly sizable sum of money.  Needless to say, the facilitator was not inclined to return the cash and the family had to deal with the loss of their property and capital – and had to service a debt to some extremely nasty people.

The point of these stories is that if a job offer in the UK, or the promise of safe under-the-table passage, seems to be too good to be true…. then it probably isn’t true.  In the case of the people mentioned above it ended in shattered dreams and a massive waste of money.

These people were the victims of fraudsters.  Our verification systems are designed to protect innocent people from falling victim to such tricks, as well as to prevent fraudsters themselves from operating.  It’s now harder than ever for the fraudsters.  But they will keep trying to prey on the dreams of people prepared to take risky short cuts.

So how do we manage migration?  Kenya is a key country in the UK’s managed migration network.  Nairobi is the centre of a visa application hub that currently serves Tanzania, Uganda, DRC, Rwanda and Burundi, as well as Kenya. 

Our new verification process helps genuine travellers by allowing us to identify legitimate applications and process them quickly.  In 2010 the Nairobi visa hub dealt with 33,516 applications and over 80 percent of Kenyan applications were issued.  The reason for most of the 20 percent that failed was that they did not follow the rules properly.

Every visa applicant is required to provide his/her biometric data which is checked (alongside biographic data) against a range of police and immigration databases.  The UK Border Agency (UKBA) conducts forgery checks on all passports, with targeted verification checks on supporting documentation based on risk profiles.

And on arrival at a UK border all visa holders are subject to further control by an immigration officer.  The officer must be satisfied there has been no change of purpose or in circumstances since the visa was issued, or that deception or false misrepresentations were not made to obtain the visa.  Where the immigration officer is not satisfied the individual will be refused entry to the United Kingdom.

Of course, even with all those controls, some fraudulent visa applicants still make it into the UK.  When caught, those who have no right to remain in the UK are returned.  So somebody borrowing money to buy fraudulent documentation and pay for other expenses will be returned with debt outstanding and very often no means to pay it back, as in the cases above.  If you contrast that with the social mobility that the new EAC migration and labour policies allow, one could use one’s capital legally to create wealth in any of the five EAC member states.  $100,000 could help create a decent business opportunity for example.

I must make very clear that the UK door is open to legitimate visitors, and those people will receive a huge welcome to the UK.  We try our best to make the process as smooth as possible.  My Visa Department has an excellent track record of meeting, and more often exceeding, our customer service targets (e.g. processing 90percent of visa applications within 15 working days) with the majority of straightforward visit applications turned around in five working days – even for the many applicants applying at one of our application points outside Kenya.

I want the UK to remain the number one destination for mobile Kenyans and others in East Africa.  The very large numbers of Kenyans visiting, studying or working legally in the UK, and likewise British people here in Kenya, are an asset to both countries.  But we also need to weed out the fraudsters.  I would welcome any comments, particularly from anyone reading this who may have fallen prey to immigration crooks.

(Mr Macaire is the British High Commissioner to Kenya. This blog was first published on the FCO website. http://blogs.fco.gov.uk/roller/macaire/)

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