Controversial streaming tool for visa applications - | Hudson McKenzie

Controversial streaming tool for visa applications

August 6, 2020 | Immigration, Latest Thinking, News

Recently, a Judicial Review legal challenge has been launched by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) and digital rights group Foxglove, against the Home Office for the utilising a Streaming Tool when processing visa applications. It has been alleged that the Streaming Tool is racist, and it subjects individual applications to a large degree of unfair bias.

“This streaming tool took decades of institutionally racist practices, such as targeting particular nationalities for immigration raids, and turned them into software. The immigration system needs to be rebuilt from the ground up to monitor for such bias and to root it out” – Chai Patel, Legal Policy Director of JCWI.

The legal arguments used by JCWI and Foxglove are the following:

  • The algorithm contravenes the Equality Act 2010

This is on the grounds that the utilisation of nationality in the streaming tool is direct discrimination.

  • The algorithm is irrational

This is on the basis that the algorithm creates a trend whereby certain nationalities would be flagged up whenever a visa application as refused. When another application of the same nationality is then processed, this same alert notification is sent out again and records that an application based on the same nationality was previously refused. In turn, this has caused a loop of applications of certain nationalities facing a higher denial rate than other visa applicants.

  • The tool conducts improper consideration of applications based on merits

This is on the grounds that the tool does not account for other factors to determine an individual’s application or whether it is high risk or not. It also shows violations of data protection rules.

How it works

The Streaming Tool has been classified as a traffic light system whereby an algorithmic tool assigned a risk category to visa applications based on the nationalities of the individual. For example, if an individual application received the green light and was classified as a low risk application, then it would be allocated to a caseworker who approves most visa applications.

However, should an individual visa application be categorised under a red or amber light, this means that this poses a higher level of risk. The application will then be subject to a much higher level of scrutiny and thus will take a far longer time to process before reaching a decision. There is a higher denial rate of visa applications ranked under red or amber lights, i.e at higher risk.


We’re delighted the Home Office has seen sense and scrapped the streaming tool. Racist feedback loops meant that what should have been a fair migration process was, in practice, just ‘speedy boarding for white people’” – Cori Crider, Founder and Director of Foxglove.

As a result of this legal challenge, the Home Office have responded by suspending on an interim basis the use of the Streaming Tool and focusing on person-centric attributes when ranking, assessing, and processing visa applications. What this demonstrates is that the determination of visa applications will no longer be based predominantly on nationality but will now consider other factors such as evidence of previous travel.

The suspension of the Streaming Tool will take effect from Friday 7th August 2020 and will be accompanied by a new programme of design. Over the next few months, the Home Office will launch this programme, and this will include the reconstruction of the current processes of determining the outcome of individual visa applications.

It is of great importance that technologies and the utilisation of algorithms in such a way are subject to scrutiny under public law principles. For the purposes of detecting levels of bias and racial practices, it is fundamental that these processes are transparent.

This legal challenge is continuing to the High Court presently. Individuals are encouraged to seek legal advice when completing their visa applications to ensure that they have the best chance of having their applications approved.

Should you require legal assistance with your visa application or private immigration matters, please get in touch with a legal professional at Hudson McKenzie via email at or by telephone +44(0)20 3318 5794.