Visa applicants at risk of 'bias'
warns The Law Society

The Home Office is still using a streaming tool in its immigration department for every work, study and visitor visa request – two years after the Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration warned of the possibility of discrimination and bias.

The software grades applicants as red, amber and green according to their risk and this information is then passed on to caseworkers.

Speaking to the FT, the president of the Law Society, Christina Blacklaws, said:

‘This may well disadvantage certain groups of people based on generic markers such as age, country of origin or whether they have travelled before.’

The Chief Inspector, David Bolt first criticised the algorithm in 2017 expressing fears that it could become ‘a de facto decision-making tool’.

For instance, busy caseworkers could exhibit ‘confirmation bias’ and unconsciously dismiss important information just because it contradicted the algorithm result.

The Home Office has refused to provide any particulars about the software in case it encourages fraudulent applications, but it did confirm that the algorithm does not differentiate ‘on the basis of race’.

Diane Abbott, the shadow home secretary, called this lack of transparency ‘deeply worrying.’ She added:

‘Every system is only as good as the inputs used to create it. If there is bias, or they incorporate the prejudices prevalent in society, then those outputs will be similarly tainted.’

The Chief Inspector is due to give the Home Office his latest report on the immigration system, including a further review of this issue, later in the year.

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