Home Office waves a cool £1bn to outsource handling of British visa, citizenship applications

Here's hoping the winner does a better job than Sopra Steria

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The UK Home Office is set to begin talking to tech and outsourcing services suppliers to assess how the Visas and Citizenship (V&C) Directorate can hand over large chunks of its operations to the private sector in deals that could be worth up to £1bn.

A procurement notice said that V&C, part of the UK Visas and Immigration agency, is looking for market guidance in the procurement of wares and outsourcing of its operations.

The notice describes the V&C's Future Supplier Services (FSS) programme designed to procure a range of its operations. The programme covers "definition of requirements, running the procurements to deliver those services as well as mobilising those contracts and delivering them into business as usual operations".

"Due to significant changes to service delivery models and the way in which technology has evolved since the current contracts for some of these services were previously let, V&C has tasked FSS to consider how services can be streamlined to improve the customer journey whilst maximising value and efficiency," the Prior Information Notice said.

Those operations include but are not limited to visa outsourcing and technology providers, application developers, contact centre services, and identification solutions and biometrics. It might also include integration and verification services as well as AI and big data processing and analysis. Secure testing and payment solutions are to come under a separate procurement.

The tender notice added the programme "will define [the] Government's requirement for future outsourced visa services from April 2023 onwards. In order to complete this task it is seeking industry insight to assist in defining its future vision for outsourced services."

The Home Office visa service has attracted controversy with its outsourcing arrangements. In 2018, it handed a £91m contract to Sopra Steria. But by July the following year, it was slammed for delays and foreign students said the service was not fit for purpose.

Later that year Sopra Steria was accused of profiteering by the Immigration Law Practitioners' Association.

Potential contracts emerging from the procurement are set to start in 2023.

Each year V&C processes around 3 million visa applications and considers applications for British citizenship from overseas nationals. It also decides applications from employers and educational establishments who want to join the register of sponsors. It has an annual budget of around £400m, according to a job advert posted last Autumn [PDF].

The Home Office has invited potential suppliers to "engagement events" due to take place in July. These will be "facilitated on behalf of the Home Office by the company techUK."

techUK is a trade association nonprofit representing the technology industry in the UK. Its board members include Alex Towers, director of policy and public affairs at BT; Ashish Gupta, head of EMEA at outsourcing firm HCL; and Chris Francis, director of government relations for SAP.

Matt Evans, director of markets at the industry mouthpiece, told The Register it had helped engage the market in procurements of this scale before. "Hundreds and millions [of pounds] aren't anything abnormal. We've got to this level before. But our engagement on this is in the pre-procurement phase. We are not part of the formal procurement." The Home Office made half a billion pounds in profits from immigration fees in 2018.®

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