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For many years, the Home Office’s Immigration and Nationality Directorate (IND) had primary responsibility for administering the immigration system. In May 2006, after a series of controversies, the IND was famously described by the then Home Secretary as “not fit for purpose”. It was replaced by the Border and Immigration Agency, which subsequently became the UK Border Agency (UKBA) – an executive agency.

The Labour government initiated various other wide-reaching administrative reforms of the immigration system during the second-half of its time in office. These included projects to simplify the Immigration Rules, primary immigration legislation and associated policy guidance, and to improve and modernise IT systems. Some of these have continued under the current government, in addition to further organisational reforms.

The UKBA’s performance was subject to regular scrutiny. The extent of ‘backlogs’ across its different areas of casework, and the reliability of information and statistics provided by the Agency, were amongst the ongoing areas of concern for the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration and the Home Affairs Committee.

On 26 March 2013 the Home Secretary announced plans to abolish the UKBA and to absorb its functions back into the Home Office. This was due to persistent concerns about its performance, and further to the separation of the Border Force from the UKBA in 2012. The UKBA lost its executive agency status with effect from 1 April 2013. As a result of the restructuring, the Home Office directorate ‘UK Visas and Immigration’ is now responsible for deciding applications for leave to enter or remain in the UK, and ‘Immigration Enforcement’ is responsible for enforcing immigration law and removals.

Other measures to improve the functioning of the immigration system include a new plan to modernise IT systems, and new primary legislation – the Immigration Act 2014 – which the Government intends will “simplify and improve” immigration law.

In July 2014 the National Audit Office found that there has been mixed progress in addressing the concerns that had led to the abolition of the UKBA, and concluded that it is too early to detect an impact of organisational improvement on customers and stakeholders.

Her Majesty’s Passport Office has also lost its executive agency status, with effect from 1 October 2014. This follows criticism of delays in processing passport applications.

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