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The Home Office granted 275 certificates of sponsorship for care workers after “forged” documents were used to make an application, a damning report into the department has shown.

The probe, by ex-borders and immigration inspector David Neal, claimed the Home Office had a “limited understanding” of the care sector after it was added to the UK’s shortage occupation list in 2022 – allowing more people to come to the country to fill jobs.

And as a result, it created a system that “invited large numbers of low-skilled workers to this country who are at risk from exploitation”.

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The report was released on Tuesday afternoon as MPs wrapped up business in parliament for the Easter recess, alongside another into Border Force operations at London City Airport.

In that investigation, Mr Neal highlighted “failings at a local, regional, and national level” over the arrival of private jets, with high-risk flights not being met by Border Force staff.

The figures on how many high-risk flights were met by officials were redacted, but Mr Neal said the number was “shocking” and needed to be addressed “as a matter of urgency”.

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Mr Neal was fired by the Home Office last month after he leaked details of the airport report to a newspaper, with the department saying he had “lost the confidence” of Home Secretary James Cleverly.

But the ex-inspector had repeatedly complained the Home Office was too slow to publish his critical reports.

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‘Totally inadequate’

In Mr Neal’s report into social care and immigration, he criticised the department’s “underestimation of demand for the care worker visa”.

While the Home Office had predicted between 6,000 and 40,000 would come through this route each year, 146,182 were granted between February 2022 and October 2023.

The report criticised “the inappropriateness” of the regime in place, and said the “mismatch between its meagre complement of compliance officers and ever-expanding register of licensed sponsors” – with one officer for every 1,600 employers – was “totally inadequate”.

In the example of an employer only known as “company b”, an application had been submitted using forged documents and bank statements in the name of a real care provider.

But despite online checks showing the address they provided showed “no trace” of links to a care home, 275 certificates of sponsorship had been secured, with 181 assigned to workers, “none of whom have arrived to undertake genuine roles”.

It took more than two months after the sponsorship licence was granted to the company for Border Force officers to raise their concerns about those arriving on the visas.

Another example included 1,234 certificates being granted to a company that said it had only four employees when it was given a sponsorship licence.

“In just these two examples, up to 1,500 people could have arrived in this country and been encouraged by a risk of hardship or destitution to work outside the conditions of their visa,” said Mr Neal.

‘Reliant on handouts’

The report also highlighted the tough conditions faced by some workers caught up in the system, pointing to a story from Sky News, where a care worker paid £10,000 to an agent in Nigeria only to find there was no job for her when she arrived in the UK.

And it said inspectors encountered migrants with care visas working illegally in two out of eight enforcement visits carried out over three months in 2023.

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The report praised frontline staff at the Home Office dealing with care workers and their awareness to the “serious risk”.

But Mr Neal said: “What worries me most is that the Home Office does not appear to have any process to identify the lessons from this debacle and then bring those lessons into core thinking in order that they are not repeated.”

‘Robust measures’

The former inspector called for a full review of the visa route, sponsorship licensing and compliance, as well as the creation of a multi-agency agreement so each part knows what they are responsible for.

A Home Office spokesperson said they had “already intervened to stop the flow of overseas care workers entering the UK where there is no genuine role for them to undertake” and taken “robust action” against exploitation.

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They also insisted new measures were already in place to “cut the rising numbers of visas granted and address significant concerns” about non-compliance, worker exploitation and abuse.

But Labour’s shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, called both reports from Mr Neal “scandalous”, saying they “expose a Conservative government which has lost control of our borders and our border security”.

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