The immigration rules are “too complex and unenforceable” according to the Law Commission, which recommends simplifying them to save the government £70million over the next decade.
The regulations have quadrupled in length since 2010 and are “generally criticized for being poorly drafted”, says the body, which advises ministers on updating the law.
When introduced in 1973, the Immigration Rules were 40 pages; they now span 1,100. Making them more prescriptive was intended to produce more transparent results, but instead made them harder to track, the study observes.
Nicholas Paines QC, the Public Law Commissioner, said: ‘For claimants and social workers, the immigration rules are written and updated frequently, making them too difficult to follow. This has resulted in errors that waste time and cost taxpayers money.
“By improving the wording, restructuring the layout and removing inconsistencies, our recommendations will make a real difference in saving money and building public confidence in the rules.”
The need for clarity has become more acute, the Law Commission heard in testimony it received, as more claimants are unrepresented and struggle to understand the process.
Immigration regulations impact millions of lives each year, the report acknowledges. “Their structure is confusing and their numbering inconsistent. The provisions overlap with identical or nearly identical wording. The editorial style, often including multiple cross-references, can be inscrutable. The frequency of change fuels complexity.
The report adds: “It is a fundamental principle of the rule of law that applicants should understand the requirements they must meet… For the Home Office, the benefits include better and faster decision-making.
“This leads to a potential reduction in administrative reviews, appeals and judicial reviews, and a system that is easier and cheaper to maintain.” The reforms could lead to savings of nearly £70m over the next 10 years.
The report recommends a complete overhaul of the rules, dividing them by subject and limiting the number of updates to twice a year.
Many candidates have little faith in the system, the Law Commission was told. “Coram Children’s Legal Center and Let Us Learn referenced a long-standing and historic mistrust of the Home Office among their client group,” the report said. Asylum seekers and young and vulnerable migrants expressed “anxiety over the decision-making process and the perception that the Home Office is trying to deny applications rather than seek to authorize them.
“They referred to the high success rate of appeals to the courts. Similarly, the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants expressed distrust of the culture within the Home Office and the pressure under which social workers operate, saying that “social workers have very little of training, are often very short-term and are under obvious pressure, even in the event of refusal by the ministers, to refuse the requests”.
The Law Commission’s report is not in itself a model of brevity: it is 220 pages long.