Immigration solicitors have warned that wealthy entrepreneurs and millionaire investors visiting the UK will be "locked" into the country for three months, owing to Home Office personnel and computing problems.
The Home Office wrote to immigration solicitors last month, warning them that business immigration applications for businesspersons and investors received after 7 December would go into storage for December, January and February, as a result of the roll-out of its new computer system for handling casework, the Integrated Casework Directorate.
The Home Office has also warned of further delay due to its decision to disband its specialist Business Unit on 11 January.
The Home Office letter stated: "In the longer term our service will be much improved, but in the short term there will be unavoidable disruption."
However solicitors have accused the Home Office of a"deplorable" lack of concern for the needs of visiting businesspersons and of discouraging inward investment.
One solicitor claimed the delays would cause visiting businesspersons whose applications require renewal, either to be "locked in the country, or forced to leave with little chance of re-entry for those three months".
Cameron McKenna partner and chair of the International Bar Association's migration and nationality committee, Julia Onslow-Cole said: "Chaos in the Home Office has caused delays that will deter wealthy entrepreneurs and investors from bringing their expertise to this country."
Immigration Law Practitioners Association and Mishcon de Reya partner Philip Barth said: "This appears to have scant regard for the genuine travel needs of the business community, but we are not surprised at this rather high-minded attitude."
"For a government committed to reducing bureaucracy, it is going to rather extreme lengths to close the bureaucracy down."
A Home Office spokesperson said: "There will be a slow down of applications processing. Any new system needs some fine-tuning, and with the new system all elements of immigration will be dealt with by individual offices and there will be no special unit."
Last year solicitors complained of "Kafkaesque" bur-eaucracy at the immigration department's public inquiry office in Croydon, where trainee solicitors routinely camped outside to deliver documentation for foreign businesspeople's work permit applications. Lawyers claimed the Home Office had a "hidden agenda" to downsize the office.