Immigration appeal success rates

Recent statistics from the Ministry of Justice on immigration appeals are interesting but in some ways quite worrying.

The overall number of immigration appeals is far lower than it used to be. There were nearly 150,000 appeals lodged in the year ending in March 2011 but for the year ending in March 2019 that number is now down to fewer than 50,000. Over the past few years various categories have lost the right of appeal to the First-Tier Immigration Tribunal if their visa application is refused: first visitors (in most cases), then eventually all points-based system migrants, plus a few others.

It is quicker and easier to state who still does have rights of appeal. Spouse/partner/family member applicants still have it, as do applicants in some other categories under the immigration rules such as long residence. Asylum/protection applicants also still have it, as do applicants for leave under EU law.

Those who no longer have the right of appeal have the right to Administrative Review – which is a very different story.

But for those who do have the right of appeal, the statistics show that things seem to be improving for them.

If you take all appeal cases, since some point in the year 2017/2018 just over half of cases were successful, which marks a slight increase on the historical situation. Within that broad statistic there is some variation: asylum/protection cases were slightly less likely to be successful than EU cases, and human rights cases (which includes family visa applications) was marginally the most likely category to be successful.

So we can fairly say that, on an average, an appeal to the First-Tier Immigration Tribunal has about a 50/50 chance of success. To put the same thing in a different way, if you have had your visa application refused you have an average 50/50 chance of getting the decision overturned. (Although it is of course very important to bear in mind that some cases are much stronger than others.)

Although this sounds encouraging, there is a rather dark side to it. The statistics show that the Tribunal has determined that at least half of the decisions taken by UK Visas & Immigration are wrong – as evidenced by the fact that they have overturned them. This sounds rather a lot. Imagine working in a job where you process television licences or dog licences but at least half the decisions you make are wrong. You surely would have got the sack long ago. But somehow UK Visas & Immigration get away with it.

It is a strangely dysfunctional situation, in which a large proportion of migrants only get a fair decision when they get as far as the Tribunal – and of course not everybody does because of lack of finance, lack of will or lack of patience. It would be nice if UKVI could exercise a better quality of decision-making in the first place.

But there is one unalloyed item of good news. The Tribunal had somehow managed to get itself into a situation where it had a terrible shortage of Immigration Judges. The average waiting time for a Tribunal hearing had increased to as long as one year. Again, there is always variation in figures of this kind because in-country appeals were typically heard more quickly than out-of-country appeals but, however you looked at it, this figure was very bad.

The Tribunal has apparently been busy recruiting new judges and we now see a significant improvement: the average waiting time is now down to 40 weeks.

We should be grateful for small mercies but at the moment we are stuck with a situation where it is often an Immigration Judge, not the UKVI, who decides if a migrant’s application is to succeed.