Regardless of which side of the immigration debate you sit on, no-one has much faith in the quality of decision-making in the system. New data from a Freedom of Information requests suggests that is a sound judgement to have come to.
According to the government's own figures, a whopping 80% of entry clearance refusals which are subject to a review are subsequently overturned.
Entry clearances are the stamp given out by British missions overseas before a person arrives in the UK saying that they qualify for entry into the country. Since July, appeal rights have been heavily restricted and are generally only open to those claiming Article 8 (the right to family life) and asylum seekers. For the rest, the only recourse is an administrative review undertaken by a peer of the entry clearance officer, who will be either another officer or a manager, or in more extreme cases a judicial review.
The freedom of information request was made by dogged campaigner Sonel Mehta, founding trustee of the group BritCits, which fights for British families torn apart by the government's income benchmark on spousal visas.
The information she received showed there were 5,462,780 applications between July 2012 and June 2014.
Of these, 607,880 were refused. There was obviously a demand for a review in just over half the cases, because 368,000 were then checked again.
Of those, 292,445 applications were issued following the review and 75,560 refusals were maintained. That comes in at just under an 80% success rate.
Anyone with experience of how applications are treated overseas will know the unique combination of incompetence, stony-faced indifference and Kafkaesque bureaucratic nightmare which accompanies the process. Most of the mistakes I've seen have been baffling and rudimentary, such as a rejection for providing a bank form without the stamp of the bank on the front page, when it is there for all to see.
That sounds minor, but each of these rejections means families kept apart for further months, jobs lost, building legal fees and the oppressive weight of an ongoing immigration problem shadowing your day-to-day life.
Even for those aware of the scale of the issue though, naked figures like these are startling. An 80% appeal success rate should be enough to make any department head think again, but the Home Office has grown indifferent to its own failings. For years now, the immigration system has ceased being a functional arm of government and become a stumbling conveyer-belt of inadequacies. As everyone recognises, including successive home secretaries, it's just not up to the job.
My hunch is this type of failure is allowed – or even encouraged. Remember only half of those refusals were appealed at all. Allowing the wrongful rejection of entry clearances is just another way to hammer down those numbers. There's a strong possibility that a reject-first attitude has taken over the processing of entry clearance applications, in the knowledge most of these will be overturned on appeal.