The Home Office has announced its decision to scrap a controversial visa processing algorithm following a legal challenge from migrants’ rights campaigners.
The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) together with digital rights group Foxglove are planning a judicial review of the algorithm, which they say has been designed around ‘decades of institutionally racist practices’.
According to the JCWI, the algorithm uses a traffic light system to sort applications. This creates a ‘fast lane’ that offers ‘speedy boarding’ to white applicants from certain countries.
Described by the Home Office as a digital ‘streaming tool’, it assigns each applicant with a Red, Amber or Green risk rating. A higher risk score is given to applicants whose nationalities are deemed ‘suspect’, dramatically increasing their chances of being refused entry to the UK.
Although the Home Office has stated that the algorithm will be discontinued from Friday the 7th of July onwards, they do not accept the description of the system put forward by the campaigners.
Chai Patel, Legal Policy Director of the JCWI, said the decision was proof that the system needed to be ‘rebuilt from the ground up’.
‘The Home Office’s own independent review of the Windrush scandal, found that it was oblivious to the racist assumptions and systems it operates.
This streaming tool took decades of institutionally racist practices, such as targeting particular nationalities for immigration raids, and turned them into software. The immigration system needs to be rebuilt from the ground up to monitor for such bias and to root it out.’
The JCWI’s letter to the High Court states that the Home Office uses a ‘secret list of suspect of nationalities’, to flag up certain applications for further inspection, a process that not only increases processing times, but also the likelihood of rejection.
Cori Crider, founder and director of Foxglove, claimed the system used ‘racist feedback loops’ that created a more favourable system for white people.
‘We’re delighted the Home Office has seen sense and scrapped the streaming tool. Racist feedback loops meant that what should have been a fair migration process was, in practice, just ‘speedy boarding for white people.
What we need is democracy, not government by algorithm. Before any further systems get rolled out, let’s ask experts and the public whether automation is appropriate at all, and how historic biases can be spotted and dug out at the roots.’
A letter from the Home Office’s solicitors has confirmed that Home Secretary Priti Patel has decided to discontinue the use of the streaming tool pending a substitute review of its operation.
The redesign will aim to ‘consider and assess’ the points raised by the legal challenge ‘including issues around unconscious bias and the use of nationality generally in the streaming tool.’
It goes on to state that:
‘For clarity, the fact of the redesign does not mean that the secretary of state for the home department accepts the allegations in your claim form’.
The Home Office has announced its decision to scrap the algorithm following successful campaigning from the JCWI and Foxglove. [Image: Relocate Magazine]
According to the Home Office’s lawyers, the decision to scrap the algorithm does not mean that the Home Secretary accepts the allegations in the legal challenge. [Image: Reuters]
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