The Home Office has confirmed it will cease use of its controversial algorithm within UK visa application processing.
The announcement comes as migrant rights groups the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) and Foxglove prepared to challenge the use of the software by way of judicial review.
Campaign groups claimed the tool was being used to ‘stream’ UK visa applicants by nationality, effectively fast-tracking applications for “white people” from certain countries, and that the algorithm was founded on “decades of institutionally racist” practices, assumptions and systems, such as targeting particular nationalities for immigration raids.
In their High Court application, JCWI alleged the Home Office used a “secret list of suspect nationalities” to flag some applications for further inspection, making it less likely to be approved.
Chai Patel, Legal Policy Director of the JCWI, said the decision was proof the immigration system needed to be “rebuilt from the ground up” and that the algorithm was designed around “decades of institutionally racist practices”.
The decision was confirmed in a letter from the Home Office’s legal department, seen by the Guardian newspaper. It stated Home Secretary Priti Patel had “decided that she will discontinue the use of the streaming tool to assess UK visa applications, pending a substitute review of its operation”.
It also said any redesign would include an effort to “consider and assess the points” raised in the claim including “issues around unconscious bias and the use of nationality generally in the streaming tool”, but that the decision gave no merit to the allegations put forward within the legal challenge.
The Home Office is expected to stop using the algorithm as soon as Friday 7 August 2020.
The change also comes as the Home Office prepares for the introduction of a new immigration system from 1 January 2021.