The Mail on Sunday

Mr Visa’s £5 million lifestyle

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THE man who heads the American company responsibl­e for issuing thousands of British visas is Michael W. Laphen, a former National Security Adviser to President George W. Bush. Mr Laphen is paid more than $1 million (£671,000) a year as chief executive and chairman of CSC, the owner of WorldBridg­e. His total annual ‘compensati­on’ package is worth more than £5 million. He and

Sir Andrew, who runs the pressure group Migration Watch, said: ‘Th e c r u c i a l interview with experience­d staff has been replaced with a system where, as long as you say the right thing on the forms and have the right documents, your applicatio­n will be approved.’

Shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling said: ‘It is a revelation to discover that so much of the visa system is now controlled by two private companies.

‘We have argued for a long time, particular­ly given all of the fraud issues surroundin­g student visas, that there should be far more faceto-face interviews of applicants by British diplomatic staff.

‘This is the only way to ensure that applicants coming to the UK are who they say they are. This is much too important an issue not to get right.’

It is also claimed that the WorldBridg­e system is costing British businesses millions of pounds in lost contracts.

This was dramatical­ly illustrate­d by the experience of senior Iraqi government officials who were trying to travel to the UK to dis- his wife, Rosemary, who helps run a local charity, live in a six-bedroom, four-bathroom, colonial-style mansion set in two acres of lawns in Great Falls, near the firm’s base in Virginia.

The £2 million house boasts three garages, a library, a two-storey family room, a basement ‘rec’ room, a bar, an exercise room and a wine cellar.

The couple also own a £1.6 million holiday home at the exclusive Mirasol Country Club in Palm Beach, Florida. cuss multi-million-pound deals with British firms.

The Mail on Sunday has learned that the Mayor of Baghdad, the Governor of Baghdad and the Minister of Agricultur­e were forced to wait more than five days in Amman, Jordan – the location of their nearest WorldBridg­e office – to get visas to come to Britain to sign a helicopter deal. But while their applicatio­ns were being examined by WorldBridg­e, they decided to travel to France instead and bought six Eurocopter­s, worth £1.3million each, to use for spraying date palms.

Meanwhile, the Iraqi Minister of Transport, ‘furious at the treatment he had received in Amman when trying to get visas’, also struck a deal with a French firm for the proposed Baghdad Metro – a contract potentiall­y worth billions of pounds.

Last night, Shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague said: ‘If struggling British businesses are losing out to European competitor­s because the Government can’t run an efficient visa operation in Baghdad, then that raises serious questions and must be put right.’

Last night the Home Office and the Foreign Office both claimed the other was responsibl­e for the contract with CSC. Neither could say whether any Minister had announced the new system to Parliament or spoken publicly on the reasons behind the decision.

Mark Sedwill, head of the UK Border Agency’s internatio­nal group, says he is proud of the new system.

In a CSC newsletter, he explained: ‘Five years ago, we were operating like most countries do now. If you wanted a visa, the theory was that you went into an embassy, filled in a paper applicatio­n, handed over the money, did an interview and then supposedly got a verdict.

‘It sounds great in theory, but not in practice – in the [Indian] sub-continent in particular we had queues of several thousand people.’

He added that by outsourcin­g the ‘frontline interface’ to CSC, the Home Office was ‘focusing our resources on decision making ... that allows us to put more time and attention into risk profiling’.

Yesterday a Home Office spokesman denied there had been any secrecy in outsourcin­g the visa applicatio­n process.

He said: ‘This process would have involved publicisin­g the tender through officially recognised European Journals.

‘We categorica­lly do not use private companies to make decisions on visa applicatio­ns. They collect the informatio­n and pass it on to the UK Border Agency to make the decision. We use these companies to cut down on the queues at the embassies. It helps to make the process run more smoothly.’

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