Today saw another in a series of meetings of the IT Working Group to discuss the implementation of the points based immigration database. The focus at this and the previous meeting was the Sponsor Management System (SMS) and its operation rather than the bulk data transfer. However there are some aspects of the bulk data transfer that have already been implemented; it is reassuring to see this and also to report that UKBA are putting increased effort into engaging with suppliers.
There has been a change in the implementation plan in that phase three use is now voluntary – institutions may use it for students extending and switching in country only. Although this was mooted at the last meeting, it has now received Ministerial approval. Part of the reason for the change is that it allows more time for volume testing and testing of the bulk transfer capabilities before they are used in earnest in February. A number of those present indicated that they will be taking up the option of using the SMS in the Autumn; I’ll be looking to establish whether this is a true reflection of the wider community.
UKBA recognise that suppliers are key to the successful operation of the system in the wider community and as such are redoubling their efforts to engage with suppliers to ensure that this is the case. When dealing with third parties, most suppliers look to fully test interactions with other systems by using a test database. The approach UKBA are currently adopting is to focus on component testing and they will need to work with the suppliers to convince them that this will be adequate. The institutions will also need convincing – the sector gets a significant amount of income through overseas students and needs to feel confident that the immigration system will deliver. I’m pleased to report the appointment within UKBA of an individual whose focus is supplier engagement – this should ensure a consistent message and deliver those assurances.