It's Just Not Cricket!; with the World Cup Underway the Sport Has Turned into a Currency for Entry into Britain. Finola Lynch Investigates

Article excerpt

"Imagine the worst possible case of Indian bureaucracy." I am talking with international migration expert Professor Robin Cohen about the news that Britain has adopted a variation on Norman Tebbit's "cricket test" to outwit

potential illegal immigrants.

But the Warwick University professor is not referring to the offices of the High Commission in the country's capital Colombo, where more than 600 Sri Lankans have been grilled with cricket trivia in a bid to root out the fake from the genuine fans.

The international migration expert from Warwick University is talking about the Immigration National Service in this country.

It might have amused us to learn that immigration officers are setting a "cricket test" for visitors to Britain intent on watching the World Cup, especially in a country renowned for its obsession with the sport.

You can imagine a brief essay on the basics is not going to sift through the queues of young Sri Lankan men awaiting visas as most can display a knowledge of the sport which would get them on to Mastermind.

But there is a more serious point behind this story, which seemingly suggests the ridiculous depths our bureaucracy in developing countries can stoop to.

Officials in Sri Lanka and other countries in the Indian sub-continent are leafing through their cricket encyclopaedias because the immigration system in Great Britain is in such chaos.

Professor Cohen said: "I've never heard of anything quite so bizarre as a cricket test, but what's starting to happen is that we are pushing immigration control away from Heathrow and other points of entry back to the British High Commissions elsewhere."

The root of the problem starts at Lunar House, in Croydon, home to the Immigration National Directorate or IND.

By the end of this year more than 100,000 people will be waiting for decisions on their lives.

A queue of several hundred collects outside the building every day and more than three weeks' worth of post remains unopened.

"What's more serious is that the Home Office in this country is more or less broken down as a serious administrative department," said Professor Cohen. More than 470 staff have left in the last 12 months.

"The department is basically overwhelmed by people making applications."

Now we have got more than 1,000 Kosovar Albanians entering the country each week, they face a new pile of paperwork.

But how has the IND and, by natural extension, the Home Office, got itself into this mess?

"It moved its main operations and computerised at the same time and all the wrong decisions were made.

"Most of the records are down in a car park where staff cannot stay for more than 15 minutes without getting gassed by car fumes.

"Our friend the Home Office minister Jack Straw inherited an appalling story but in the last two years he has done nothing about it." One consequence of this situation has been the growing list of what are dubbed "migration pressure countries" where the UK has simply passed the buck for sifting through its visitors back to the country of origin.

"Most of these countries were former members of the British Commonwealth whose citizens used to be able to get into this country fairly easily but who we've now decided need visas to get in."

There are now 42 countries on a list which has just been getting bigger and bigger in the past ten years, including four of the countries taking part in the World Cup - India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

That is why New Zealand, South African and Australian cricket fans just have to flash their return ticket but the rest are forced into a Fifteen to One situation.

"What it's doing is forcing the High Commissioners to become immigration officers."

Most of their staff will come from fairly humble educational backgrounds, with little knowledge of the complexities of immigration law. …