The BBC has reported that the Prime Minister, David Cameron, “agrees with the principle” of sending text messages to supposedly overstaying immigrants, despite some of them going to the wrong people.
After the failure of the “Go Home” van campaign adopted by the Home Office asking immigrants who have overstayed their permission to stay in the UK, they have resorted to sending text messages bearing the same message carried by the van to the overstayers.
The problem with the text messages, however, is that some recipients received such messages undeservedly.
The Home Office says just 14 people out of a total of 58,800 contacted were mistakenly asked if they had overstayed their visas.
But campaigners say the true number of people wrongly contacted is far higher.
The department has received more than 140 complaints about the campaign, although Capita, the private contractors employed by the Home-office to send the messages, said: “Most complaints occurred in the early part of the contract where Capita was, as part of the contract, updating sometimes out-of-date Home Office records.”
Some people suspected of having outstayed their visas were sent a text reading: “Our records show you may not have leave to remain in the UK. Please contact us to discuss your case.”
The prime minister’s official spokesman acknowledged that the wording of the texts had changed since the campaign began.
Originally, they had included the phrase: “You are required to leave the UK as you no longer have the right to remain.”
The Home Office said it was “right to enforce the rules”, and Mr Cameron’s spokesman said: “The prime minister agrees with the principle of the texts.
“It is one of various means the Home Office contacts people who may not have the right to remain in the UK.”
Two recipients of the texts – campaigner Suresh Grover and immigration lawyer Bobby Chan – reacted angrily to the message.
“I came here with my parents in 1966, I was born in East Africa and have a British passport,” Mr Grover told the Independent newspaper – adding he was “shocked” and “horrified” to be contacted in this way.
Mr Chan said the texts “stereotype immigrants as a criminal community and create an atmosphere of fear”.
But the Home Office defended its position: “We are taking proactive steps to contact individuals who records show have no valid right to be in the UK.”
The individuals affected had been contacted in a variety of ways, including email and text, it added.
It also denied that Mr Grover had been contacted at all.
Mr Grover told the BBC he would instruct his lawyers to write to the Home Office, challenging its claim he had not received the text directly.
Capita believes that 4,160 people have departed the UK since December 2012 as a result as a result of being contacted, the Home Office said.
Labour has described the government’s tactic as “shambolic and incompetent”.