Getting into the UK Is Hard, but Landing a Sensitive Job at the Home Office Is Easy. (Now What?)
Booth, Lauren, New Statesman (1996)
It was another late-night radio show. Three guests trying not to sound lethargic. It's always the same at the BBC after 11pm. A mixture of wannabe MPs, pundits and "experts" arrive either from their home (where they've been half-asleep on the sofa) or from a binge (where they've been half-awake on a bar stool) to chat about the "top news stories.
Tony Saint was the show's big guest. Saint is the ex-immigration officer who has written a novel that draws on his experiences in the job. The Home Office took his book and its tone" seriously, and although they didn't try to stop publication, made several demands of the publisher. Saint should make it clear in every interview that his book in no way reflects current immigration practices, the HO said. Saint duly obliged on Radio 5 Live by emphasising that he left the service, oh, way back at the beginning of this year.
Immigration officers, the Customs and Excise mob, car clampers and anyone at the Inland Revenue are people I generally want to be as far from as possible. They are not people with whom I want to discuss news and politics. But Saint was funny and bright. He was jaw-droppingly blunt about what his old job entailed; picking who to pluck from the queue at customs based on snap judgements and every kind of racial preconception; pretty much what we'd always suspected. His question to critics of the service was blunt, too: "How else except by gut instinct do you select who to stop and who to let enter a country?" Replace the words "gut instinct" with "prejudice" and you can see why the Home Office has butterflies at the thought of his novel, Refusal Shoes, becoming a bestseller this month.
Meanwhile, a friend's husband has just finished a one-year contract with the Home Office. He was a manager in a scheme set up to train workers to use new immigration computer software. For years, entrants refused at Heathrow could come back weeks later in a new disguise and try all over again. …