Home Office challenged over potential digital discrimination of visa applicants

November 13, 2019

The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants has brought a legal challenge against the Home Office over an algorithm that streams visa applicants.

Foxglove, a new advocacy group promoting justice in the new technology sector, and the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) have launched a legal challenge against the Home Office to reveal how an algorithm it uses to triage visa applications works.

The algorithm, which the Home Office describes as a digital “streaming tool”, sifts visa applications into three categories, a fast lane (green), a slow lane (yellow), and a full digital pat-down (red).

Foxglove and JCWI claim that the technology works as a “digital hostile environment”. They fear that the algorithm is discriminating based on crude characteristics like nationality or age, rather than assessing applicants fairly on their merits. They say that the tool has the power to affect an applicant’s chances of getting a visa and how long it may take for their application to be processed. They allege that “people from rich white countries get ‘speedy boarding’; poorer people of colour get pushed to the back of the queue”.

The case seeks clarification on how the software works and how artificial intelligence can affect immigration policy. The Home Office maintains that the tool merely improves efficiency, complies fully with the Equality Act 2010 and that it is human caseworkers that ultimately decide the outcome of applications.

This article has been produced for general information purposes and further advice should be sought from a professional advisor. Immigration is a complex area of law for both corporates and individuals. Please contact our Business Immigration / Employment Team at Cleaver Fulton Rankin for further advice or information.

Conor McCrory, Associate, Immigration Law Team, Cleaver Fulton Rankin, Solicitors.