"KAFKAESQUE" bureaucracy at the immigration department's public enquiry office (PEO) has led to accusations by leading lawyers in the field of a "hidden agenda" at the Home Office to downsize the office.
"Ridiculous" scenes of trainee solicitors and clerks queueing from 1am in the morning to ensure delivery of documentation for foreign businesspeople's residence and work permit applications have become a daily sight outside the Immigration Directorate's PEO at Lunar house, Croydon.
Applications have been restricted to one per person per day in the past six months and the numbers dealt with have dropped to about 16 daily.
Several immigration lawyers have accused the immigration department of adopting a policy of unhelpfulness to discourage personal applicants.
Law Society policy assistant Richard Dunstan said he suspected a "hidden agenda" as staff "would rather deal with applications by post".
He also slammed as "inequitable" a test scheme introduced three weeks ago by which about 10 firms are given the option to bring six applications at a designated time each week, avoiding queueing.
Immigration Law Practitioner's Association secretary Hilary Belchak said it had called for a meeting with government representatives.
Julia Onslow-Cole, chair of the International Bar Association's migration and nationality committee, condemned the scheme to give preferential treatment to particular firm. "All firms should be treated equally," she said.