four - Category Errors
Published online by Cambridge University Press: 15 September 2022
Robtel Neajai Pailey is a Liberian academic, activist, and author, currently based at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Since 2006, she has applied for and obtained a range of visas for the UK, including as a tourist, a student, and a skilled worker. Pailey made several of her applications from the US, where she is a permanent resident. The application process was costly and a bit intrusive, but on the whole she felt the experience was ‘relatively smooth’. When Pailey applied for a visa from Ghana in 2018, however, she bore significant additional costs and delay. Between the Home Office, the British High Commission in Ghana, and the local visa application centre, no one seemed to know the status of her application or the location of her passport. The delay forced her to cancel a different trip at substantial personal cost, and her request for a refund of the application fees was refused. She described the experience as, simply, ‘the absolute worst’.
The true reason for these divergent experiences is and will remain mysterious, but for Pailey, the implication was clear:
Had I not previously applied from the US, or had enough experiences applying for visas for other countries, I would have been tricked into thinking that the ill- treatment I received was normal. After hearing similar stories from other African colleagues and friends, I remain convinced that the poor service I received was racially motivated and had everything to do with the continent from which I was applying.
One possible explanation for Pailey's experiences is an automated system known as the ‘Streaming Tool’. The Home Office deployed the tool in 2015 to help process the millions of visa applications it receives every year. In 2019, however, the tool began to attract public criticism over its opacity and potentially discriminatory operation. This culminated in August 2020, when the Home Office suspended use of the Streaming Tool in the face of a looming legal challenge. This chapter explores how automation was deployed in visa applications and how it ultimately failed.
One of the basic objectives of immigration law and policy is to facilitate the entry of people whose presence in a country is seen as desirable, and to prevent the entry of those seen as undesirable.
- Experiments in Automating Immigration Systems , pp. 50 - 73Publisher: Bristol University PressPrint publication year: 2022