The UK has now taken corrective steps for a controversial issue with its streaming tool used in immigration. It’s used to screen applications received for UK visas & immigration. This software with its much-rebuked algorithm has been in use since 2015. It was scrapped on August 7, 2020, following a legal challenge from the JCWI (Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants). Matters were escalated to a legal move after widespread criticism that the algorithm of the software was intrinsically racist.
The issue with the algorithm was noticed when it issued a ‘red flag’ for applications for UK visas submitted by nationals from certain countries. Most of these countries were African.
The Home Office has made it clear that it will no more use the tool in its present form. It also said that the interim replacement of the software won’t take nationality into account.
Chai Patel, JCWI’s legal policy director, stated regarding the decision to scrap the software. He said that the Home office made an independent review of the Windrush scandal. Then they found that the racist assumptions and the system that runs on it were unknown to them.
He observed that the tool had gone through decades of institutionally racist practices. Targeting certain nationalities for immigration raids is an instance of this. In fact, these racist practices were realized through the software. Now, there’s a need to rebuild the immigration system from the ground up. The tool has to be fair to all applicants and should be incorporated with the monitoring of such bias that has to be rooted out.
JCWI and Foxglove challenged the tool in court. Foxglove is a technology justice campaign group. They argued that the algorithm categorised immigrants using 3 channels. One of them called “fast lane” sped up the application process for white people who came from countries the tool had favored.
The major contributor to the bias was from the tool calculating the risk factor of the applicants. The calculation was based on the rate of visa denial of their home countries. This unfairly led to deserving applicants losing their opportunity as their applications got rejected.
The streaming tool has been discontinued and a substitute review of its operation is now pending. The tool will now be redesigned to make UK immigration process it handles fair, taking into account the points raised in the claims against it.
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