Immigration campaigners voiced dismay today at revelations that an outsourced UK Border Agency (UKBA) firm wrongly told people they had to leave the country.
Capita has a contract with UKBA worth £40 million which gives it responsibility for contacting 174,000 people in Britain whose records show their right to remain has expired.
It has been contacting people since September with a simple text message or email that reads: "Message from UK Border Agency. You are required to leave the UK as you no longer have the right to remain," followed by a hotline number.
But immigration lawyers said they knew of several cases where people were warned who had every right to stay.
One client who approached a member of the Immigration Law Practitioner's Association had a valid British passport, while another with a valid visa had met the tier one scheme of investing £1m in an onshore business.
Both Capita and UKBA blamed the agency's documentation but Migrant Rights Network said the problem was with "bounty-hunting" outsourcing.
The organisation's Ruth Gove-White told the Morning Star that anonymous third parties made an already complicated immigration system even more difficult, while Capita had no incentive to provide people with information and advice to plead their case when it was paid per deportation.
"If that's going to be the first and main contact regarding their case, that's a very dangerous and disconcerting situation for them to be put into," Ms Gove-White said.
Some people simply did not realise their visa had expired, while others were lost in the backlog of claims, she added.
But the contract was "part of a bigger picture which is making life more and more difficult for people coming to the UK."
"This looks to us like an inevitable outcome of the enforcement policy."
Refugee Council policy officer Judith Dennis said it was important to remember that real people's lives were at stake.
"These text messages will be causing huge distress to people, many who may have lived with insecure immigration status for a long time and having been given permission to stay have finally been able to move on with their lives," she said.
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