back to article UK border control can't count

Are UK immigration officials bungling the proper checks on visa applications? If their fact-checking abilities are any indication, there's reason to worry. This July, Linda Costelloe Baker - the then-Independent Monitor for Clearance Refusals - claimed that border control offices overseas are understaffed, overworked, and …


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  1. Lost in a maze of twisty messages, all alike.

    "Material evidence is, increasingly, misread or overlooked."

    name just one goverment department or policy this isn't true of.

  2. Martin 6 Silver badge

    It's close

    6 is a number, 147 is a number - so the answer was at least a number.

    When the unemployment figures are announced to be a 'suffusion of yellow' you know they are really screwed up.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    To infinity

    You mustn't forget that numbers go to infinity and beyond... or was that Buzz Lightyear?

    Also, the numbers quoted are both 'real' numbers (i.e. positive, integers), whereas the full set of numbers goes from negative infinity to positive infinity, so in fact they are very close in the grand scheme.

    And don't even get me started on imaginary numbers!

  4. Lupus

    RE: Suffusion of yellow

    So that would be #FFFF00 then?

  5. paulm

    Re: To infinity

    " 'real' numbers (i.e. positive, integers) "

    Actually, those are "natural" numbers. 'real' numbers include everything that isn't imaginary - decimals, irrational numbers like pi.

    And if imaginary numbers worry you, have a look at quaternions. Those things are nasty!

  6. Anonymous Coward

    Government employees...

    No-one said that counting or numbers was in the job description. Lying, incompetence, bureaucracy and spin on the other hand....

  7. Anonymous Coward

    Real Number are not Positive Integers

    @AC 23:30: I think you might be thinking of the natural numbers.

  8. Alex 26

    To 6 ?

    With all this talk of infinity, don't forget that there are an infinite number of numbers between zero and six.

    So in that context perhaps the number they made up^h^h^h^h quoted was too large?

  9. Anonymous Coward

    With a name of...

    ...Homer. What do you expect?


  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Look this is the Home Office

    This is the office that brought you, the 'hardened criminals and innocent people reoffend at the same rate which is why we keep innocent people's DNA for 6 years'...

    See 6 people is the same as 147, if I take off the 129 worst, and split the others into multiple groups, e.g. 8 women, 8 men, and 2 others, then average = (8+8+2)/3 = 6!

    See innocent people offend at the same rate of criminals, if I take off the worst offenders who go to prison, then split the rest into 'people with cautions', and 'people with non custodial sentences' etc., and average those groups....

    Don't let any sense get in the way there.

    Oh and a little girl who is run over at 40mph has an 80% chance of dying, but if the car had been going at 30mph she would have an 80% chance of living..... not... sounds so plausible, but isn't true either.

  11. Anonymous Coward

    Imaginary Numbers

    But the UK government (amongst others) rely on them all the time.... i piss on the real..

  12. Steve 18

    Re: To infinity

    Unfortunately, since there are an infinite number of real numbers between every positive integer, 6 and 147 are infinitely far apart.

  13. Chris Thomas Alpha

    what about your score?

    What should we give your score for not realising that 6+140=146 whereas in the article, you state 147

    so basically, you meant to say, was this:

    "Which would be an outstanding record if only it was within — say, 141 instances of the actual number."

    So thats a mathematical score of 1 * 100,000 (because you were being sarcastic about someone elses ability to count and then made a mistake yourself)

    gives you a score of 100,000 (see, I can do maths too!!!)

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    It may be tat, but you mean "that".

    "Homer's claim tat the Border Agency reconsidered only six decisions"

  15. Anonymous Coward


    But there are infinity numbers (fractions/imaginary/etc) BETWEEN 6 and 147, so really they're as far apart as they are from any other number.

    I'll have the coat with philosophy 101 syllabus in the pocket

  16. captain veg Silver badge

    unreal numbers

    Re: To infinity

    AC, you don't work for HMG by any chance? Real numbers are not limited to positive integers. I expect you meant natural numbers.


  17. Peter Hewitt-Dutton

    Not as silly as you think....

    I work at Heathrow, I see hundreds getting refused entry or deported everyday, and that's just from one terminal, so yes, in the grand scheme 6 or 140 really are very close given the tens of thousands refused every month.

  18. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge

    Lies, damn lies and statistics

    Is it surprising that people refuse to believe authority can ever tell the truth ? Find it hard to believe that authority isn't all about spin, obfuscation and outright lying ? Have such little trust in what they are told and hear ?

    The 'truth' is whatever they say it is, whatever they want it to be. This country is rotten to the core from the top downwards.

    Viva la revolution.

  19. Mike007 Bronze badge


    imaginary numbers? that explains it!

    it's like those imaginary people who want ID cards and the imaginary government IT systems that are secure

  20. Francis Vaughan

    Infinite and beyond - א‎

    Mere Infinite, nudges up against Aleph Zero. Try Aleph Aleph for size. Now that is a big number. And yet even it is insignificantly tiny.

  21. kevin biswas
    Big Brother

    Remind me what 2+2 equal, Winston...

    2+2 = whatever the party says it is equal to. Anyone who thinks 2+2 has some fixed, objective solution which is beyond what the party states had better get on with some urgent 'crimestop' meditation or prepare for a visit from the boys of the Ministry Of Love.

  22. Sam Millner


    There are 3 kinds of people, those who can count, and those who can't

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    To infinity and beyond

    You forgot to specify which particular infinity you are talking about, there's Aleph Null and Aleph One for a start...then there are the Beth numbers and even Gimel numbers which deal with ordinals and relationships between ordinals and cardinals ... don't forget the transcendential numbers too...

    ...yikes, too many years doing chance for me as a government statistician then...

    Though I guess for most government statistics we can stick with plain good old fashioned imaginary numbers....

  24. Stuart 18

    140 or 141

    Is the answer none of this infinity bol**x! Yes I did start considering singular or mutual inclusion or exclusion possibilities which is where my 140 comes from as that's the only wierd pedantic possibility I could form from "difference".


  25. Daniel Evans

    Imaginary Numbers

    Wait, aren't those statistician's favourites? Just imagine a number, and that's your statistic for the day!

  26. frank ly

    @AC 23:30 re. To infinity

    "And don't even get me started on imaginary numbers!"

    Imaginary numbers are useful, my imaginary friend counts with them.

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Big Brother

    business as usual

    Standard civil service / agency response - immediate blatant denial with fabricated numbers and implication that other side are incompetent and/or malicious and/or corrupt. This neutralises the story - worst case is nobody knows which side of the argument to believe. Then by the time you have to make a correction the story has gone away.

    Luckily we have our politicians standing up to this bunch of control freaks on our behalf.


  28. H2Nick
    Thumb Down

    That's Numberwang

    ...what they might as well have said.

  29. Anonymous Coward

    On a scale from four to thirteen...

    ...I'd give this a blue for artistic merit, but nothing more.

    When will these nitwits start lying sensibly? The quality of the civil service these days is frightening...

  30. Anonymous Coward

    Missing the point

    The point here is not the mess in fhe figures, but the secretive and subjective rules governing the granting of Visas. Nowhere can you find out what you need to do to satisfy the requirements. Applications are initially on line and can result in huge numbers of personal/intimate questions. Just try doign the on-line application for a visa for the spouse of a Uk or EU citizen for instance.

    Over the last couple of years, visa rules seem to have become tighter. AND more subjective. Although there's a list of docs you can submit, there's no mandatoy requirement to submit most of them. They're optional. If you apply for a visa and it's turned down, no explanation is given - so failure, say, to submit a document which would have gained you entry, results in a rejection and no right of appeal, no reason for rejection and (in the case of a friend) no further application for 3 months. So the steep visa fee is forfeit. No entry possible. No reason given. AND on the next application you haev to say that you previsouly applied and were refused entry - a marked person and no way of knowing what the problem was.

    Where's the openness and transparency. And this for a friend, a person with a SA passport, resident in anoohter european country, who just wanted to attend the christening of her newly born God daughter. Sadly South Africans, commonwealth members, are no longer welcome to isit. Had it been this time last year, no visa required (but expect a nasty grilling at immigration, to prove that you don't want to live in such a God forsaken land.).

    As an immigrant to another EU country, I had no trouble getting clearnce for my wife to live with me. But as a born and bred Brit I had a devil's own time getting clearance for my wife of less than 5 years to accomopany me to the UK to live a couple of years earlier.

    Get real UK immigration and UK Govt. Show some openness, and fairness. AND stop being so paranoid. Not every visitor wants to live in the mess that you've made the UK. Far from it.

  31. Alpha Tony

    @It's close

    'When the unemployment figures are announced to be a 'suffusion of yellow' you know they are really screwed up.'

    I think a suffusion of brown is more likely Martin.

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Big Brother

    Does it really matter?

    Since the UK doesn't seem to be able to deport anyone who really should NOT be here (as against those who are genuinely under threat of death when 'we' send them back, or those who have happily lived and worked here for years and contribute to their local community rather than simply taking all available benefits and living the life of Reilly, or those from countries with such poor "arranged marriage" records as Canada...), does it matter that the Border & Immigration people cannot count?

    Of course, it could also be that they didn't really bother to look up the real figures and just plucked one out of the air ("Oh, it can't be *that* many, six sounds about right!"), or maybe they were thinking about how many cocktails they had consumed at the bar over luncheon, or possibly how many days until their next taxpayer-funded "fact-finding mission"...

    I mean, it's not like anyone linked with ZaNew Labour would actually lie to the public, is it? Or, rather, selctively edit the truth (or as they call it, "spin").

    (I was going to make some sarcastic comments about the intelligence of the Border Control front-line staff but decided against it for several reasons; (1) I might be able to afford a holiday some time over the next twenty years or so and don't want to annoy them just in case, (2) just because someone is at the low end of the pay scale does not mean they are stupid, and most importantly (3) it wasn't a 'customer-facing Agent' who lied^H^H^H made the mistake in the first place...)

    Big Brother *is* watching, he's just not sure how many of us...

  33. Lloyd

    Is the assumption

    That they're both base 10 numbers? If so, they have that in common too.

  34. Ed Blackshaw Silver badge

    I can see the confusion

    I mean, the extended ASCII character 147 looks a bit like a six if you squint at it.

  35. Ray0x6

    only two axes?

    maybe they were just giving you the real coefficient of a component from a hyperreal result set? actually, that pushes the bounds of credulity. let's just say they were wrong.

  36. deshepherd

    complex arithmetic

    surely this is just an example of how immigration statistics involve complex calculations with results that often contain an imaginary components.

  37. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

    I reserve my judgement

    After all, 147 *is* 6 (in base-24.5)

  38. Frank Bough

    @Steve 18

    "Unfortunately, since there are an infinite number of real numbers between every positive integer, 6 and 147 are infinitely far apart."

    In this case the numbers represent persons. So 141 is, in fact, the difference between 6 and 147.

  39. Dr. Mouse

    Couple of points...

    @Steve 18

    "Unfortunately, since there are an infinite number of real numbers between every positive integer, 6 and 147 are infinitely far apart."

    Yes, but as there is an infinity quantity of real numbers between 0 and 6, and an infinite number of real numbers between 0 an 147, they must be the same number! :P

    @Chris Thomas Alpha

    "What should we give your score for not realising that 6+140=146 whereas in the article, you state 147"

    He was saying it would be great IF the figure was within 140. It isn't, so it's not great.

  40. brendand

    tell me about it

    My wife is applying for a EU Family Permit (me being Irish and her being Indian) EU LAW says that they MUST process these cases in 6 months. It has now been 11 and they have told us the application should be finished this month. It had better be, or I will definitely be suing them for violation of community law.

  41. Nalfeshnee

    You're married to a Brit? So what?

    Anonymous Coward wrote:

    "The point here is not the mess in fhe figures, but the secretive and subjective rules governing the granting of Visas. Nowhere can you find out what you need to do to satisfy the requirements. Applications are initially on line and can result in huge numbers of personal/intimate questions. Just try doign the on-line application for a visa for the spouse of a Uk or EU citizen for instance."

    Superb comment, sir! And the rest of the post was 100% spot-on too.

    I can provided some more details for my case: Russian wife, both living in Germany, my wife has a 5-year residence permit (effectively permanent, since I am an EU citizen).

    In a nutshell: my wife (who is married to me, a British Citizen) used (pre-2007) to simply send off an 8-page form (most of which didn't apply) and 70 quid by post and she got her 6-month visa back in 4 days.

    Now (post 2007), we have a 500 mile round trip to Berlin (not made up), where we hand in a printed out version of something we filled out online (60 screens long, full of JS and form errors – not made up either), the relevant parts of which are then typed back into the PC by a US citizen in Berlin (still not made up), before my wife is scanned (retinally) and prints taken (fingers of both hands) so that she can then be issued with a permit to visit Britain.

    I could go on: about how there is no way of contacting the embassy. About how calling the online (US-run, outsourced) service costs 14 dollars a go (not made up). About how the above sequence is required for any visit to Britain (even 1 day) and must be repeated every six months.

    But I don't see the point: the UK clearly doesn't want us to live there, so stuff them, we won't. We have the whole of Europe open to us, which to be honest has better roads, better weather and better healthcare.

    Perhaps someone might buy Britain a dictionary where the distinction between "tourist" and "immigrant" is clearly delineated.

  42. Nalfeshnee

    EU Family Permits

    Since Britain could give a monkeys about EU Law (which states that my wife, as a residence permit holder of Germany doesn't even need a visa to enter Britain), I believe suing is likely to be your only option.

    I'm certainly considering it.

    Either that or asking a friendly right-wing MP for help. After all: my wife has the same rights to enter Britain in my company as she does in the company of any European citizen. In fact (not making this up) there is LESS paper work (since she would be applying for a normal visa, not a Family Permit) if she wishes to do so!

    That is how insane the UK immigration is: your wife would have less hassle visiting Britain with your best mate from Italy than she would in your own company.

    You can't make this stuff up!

  43. Ian 54
    Thumb Down

    don't blame the statisticians,

    blame the moron culture at the top of any government department.

    "Minister, an independent report has criticised us",

    "Thank you Humphrey. Issue a statement claiming that it's wrong, out of date, and that we have taken vigorous steps to improve things. And that in any case it was the Tories fault."

    "certainly Minister. I'll shred our copy so you can deny ever having read it"

  44. PPPie

    Don't forget the money

    You pay tax, and you pay more tax. In between them collecting the money and resting, they sometimes make you jump through some new and old hoops. It's the same for every aspect of gov.

    Stupid or oppressed people let themselves be fleeced.... Considering the UK is controlled by a bunch of foreign bankers, it's quite embarrassing to see our current situation continue without any substantial objections from the hard working populace.

  45. Jon 52


    Wasn't it El Reg that a few weeks back penned an article on how FOI requests have a "reasonable effort" clause in that means if it takes too long they can give AND this effort includes recitfying any mistakes they make and time taken to interpt the question. So maybe this is just them stalling.

  46. ElNumbre
    Thumb Up

    An Excel Formula.

    DIV/0 errors are so messy, I suspect someone just tided the spreadsheet up a bit...


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