Immigrant rights campaigners of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) have begun a legal case to find out how the UK Home Office algorithm used to filter UK visa applications actually works. The move has been taken in a bid to expose how artificial intelligence affects immigration policies.

Supported by Foxglove, a new advocacy group promoting justice in the new technology sector, the JCWI wants to force the UK Home Office into revealing the algorithm they use and explain on what basis the algorithm ‘streams’ visa applications.

A Home Office spokesperson has soon responded that the ministerial department uses the streaming tool only to allocate applications effectively and not to rule on them.

The streaming tool is only used to allocate applications, not to decide them. It uses data to indicate whether an application might require more or less scrutiny and it complies fully with the relevant legislation under the Equalities Act 2010,” the spokesperson said.

But to Foxglove’s director Cori Crider, Home Office’s claim that its algorithm has no racial bias is ‘pretty threadbare‘.

We’re told the system uses nationality to ‘stream’ applicants green, yellow and red – and it’s easy to guess who ends up in the green queue and who gets pushed to the back of the bus in red. If your algorithm singles out people for a digital pat-down and offers speedy boarding to white people, well, that’s unlawful,” she explains.

Both groups, the JCWI and Foxglove believe that the Home Office is using a shadowy, computer-driven process to affect someone’s chances of getting a visa. According to them, the AI machine is using problematic and biased criteria, enabling people from rich white countries to get Speedy Boarding while the poorer people of color get pushed to the back of the queue.

They claim the Home Office is hiding behind an ‘immigration exemption‘ in the Freedom of Information Act, as the latter has highlighted several times that their algorithm is in full compliance with the Equalities Act 2010.

The JCWI and Foxglove are now seeking a judicial review to find out exactly what the algorithm is and what it does. They have even published a funding request in GoFundMe named “Deported by Algorithm” in which they are asking people to support them financially so they can reach an amount of £20,000 to support their bid. So far, within two days of publication, they have only collected £190 from a total of 9 donors.


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