More Illegal Immigrants Slip Through Security Net

Guardian (Manchester), November 14, 2008

Another 1,350 illegal immigrants have slipped through vetting checks for sensitive security jobs, it was disclosed today.

The Security Industry Authority admitted it had blundered again after a further glaring loophole in procedures was spotted.

Thousands of three-year licences were issued to job applicants, even though their right to work was due to expire within months.

The oversight is likely to have misled businesses about the status of employees, allowing them to hold on to jobs by showing valid licences.

The shadow home secretary, Dominic Grieve, said the news was more evidence of “systematic incompetence” by the SIA and demanded answers from the home secretary, Jacqui Smith.

“Barely a year after they were hauled over the coals for granting 7,000 illegal immigrants security clearance—and trying to cover it up—we now learn that the government has granted more than a thousand more licences to individuals whose immigration status is about to expire,” he said.

“When was the minister planning on telling us about this latest debacle? The former head of the SIA resigned over vetting failures last week. At what point will this home secretary start to take some responsibility for her department?

“This episode is yet another illustration of how this government cannot discharge its first duty—to protect the public.”

The SIA’s systems were to have been overhauled last year after it was disclosed that applicants’ right to work was not being checked, with some illegal immigrants ending up working in Whitehall departments and even guarding the prime minister’s car.

However, last week the authority’s chief executive, Mike Wilson, was forced to quit after confirming that his own staff had not been properly vetted. The National Audit Office has also condemned the body for going £17m over budget.

Despite the supposed tightening of procedures, the new loophole was only identified by officials last month. Urgent letters were sent to 2,000 individuals, who no longer appeared to be allowed to work legally, according to an SIA spokeswoman.

“We recently identified—in partnership with the UK Border Authority—some 2,000 licences that are currently in force, where the right to work may have expired,” she said. “We started appropriate procedures in relation to those individuals.

“Those who failed to respond with evidence of a continuing right to work—some 1,350—have had their licences revoked and those details appear on the public Register of Licence Holders.”

The spokeswoman continued: “We are continually improving our processes to ensure, as far as we reasonably can, that SIA licence holders are not illegal workers.

“We work closely with security companies to remind them of their legal obligations and best practice when establishing the rights of their potential employees to work. But employers should not accept the possession of an SIA licence as proof of this right.”

Despite the errors, the authority rewarded its top managers with nearly £50,000 in bonus payments last year.

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