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Home Office shelves visa streaming algorithm


Mark Say Managing Editor

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The Home Office has said it is ready to suspend the use of a ‘visa streaming’ algorithm used in processing visa applications.

This follows a legal challenge from pressure group the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) and digital rights legal group Foxglove claiming that the algorithm was racist in its application.

Home Secretary Priti Patel said the department will suspend the use of the algorithm from Friday 7 August pending a redesign of the process.

It has issued a statement saying: "We have been reviewing how the visa application streaming tool operates and will be redesigning our processes to make them even more streamlined and secure.”

The algorithm has assigned a red, amber or green risk rating to visa applicants, which the JCWI said discriminated on the basis of nationality, with those regarded as ‘suspect’ leading to a higher score. It claimed this led to their applications being treated with more scepticism by Home Office officials and have been more likely to be refused.

It also claimed the streaming tool was opaque with the Home Office not providing any meaningful information on its workings.

'Institutionally racist' claim

Chai Patel, legal policy director of JCWI, said: “This streaming tool took decades of institutionally racist practices, such as targeting particular nationalities for immigration raids, and turned them into software. The immigration system needs to be rebuilt from the ground up to monitor for such bias and to root it out."

The Home Office disputed the allegation, saying: “We do not accept the allegations Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants made in their judicial review claim and whilst litigation is still ongoing it would not be appropriate for the department to comment any further."

Its redesign of its processes are expected to be in place by the autumn. During the interim it will stream or shift the majority of visa applications by referring to person-centric attributes such as evidence of previous travel rather than nationality.

Image: Home Office building by Steve Cadman, CC BY 2.0

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