A backlog of immigration requests going back a decade has been discovered, triggering questions about whether the UK Border Agency (UKBA) is fit for purpose.
Over 16,000 cases of people waiting to see if their partner was allowed to live in the UK were found.
Around 14,000 of these were people asking for a review of a rejection, while another 2,100 were complex temporary visa cases, including 180 for marriage entry or settlement which have never received an initial decision.
The backlog could have left people's lives in limbo – or without their husband or wife – since 2003.
"I don't think I should be discovering these backlogs. The agency should know about its workload," John Vine, independent chief inspector of borders and immigration, said.
"It should prioritise its resources and, at the very least, have a plan to deal with some of the things that we come across in inspection.
"For people to be in such a backlog of cases is not acceptable and I urge the agency to deal with the cases swiftly. To wait such a long time, even if your case is complex, is completely outside any service standards."
The backlog is the tenth case of unresolved files which has come to light in the last two years.
One inspector said the unresolved applications had been "dumped" on a team in Sheffield after being transferred from a team in Croydon.
A Home Office spokesperson said: "The agency is taking action to deal with historic backlogs and has a transformation plan that will put the agency on a surer footing.
"This group of people have already been refused but are trying to circumvent the appeals process by requesting an informal 'reconsideration'."