The government plans to close down UK visa application outposts in more than 140 countries, increasing the risk of potential terrorists getting jobs in the UK, an insider has claimed.
Liam Clifford, director of immigration consultancy Global Visas, told Personnel Today that he was "extremely concerned" about the plans.
Clifford, a former Home Office immigration officer and a well-respected voice in the sector, said he was told in a closed meeting with government agency UKVisas that the posts would be phased out over the next five to 10 years.
This follows deals struck with two private companies - one based in India - to handle aspects of the visa application process.
"I was told by directors at UKVisas in a meeting in Paddington, London, in May that they were going to close most of the 150 consular posts - leaving just five or 10," he said. "This is not in the public domain yet, but it is absolutely going to go through."
But UKVisas has "categorically denied" the claim that any consular posts will be closed.
Its spokeswoman told Personnel Today: "There are no plans to reduce the number of posts down to five or 10 from 2008. The roll-out for our biometrics programme will not finish until 2008, and it will be impossible to work without them."
UKVisas could confirm, however, that the government has signed contracts with two private employers, Hampshire-based CSC and Mumbai-based VFS, to act as visa application centres in a number of locations globally. The commercial partners will receive applications, take fees, and collect biometric data from applicants, and then forward this to the British Embassy or High Commission.
Clifford insisted the document checking currently handled by British government employees would be handed over to CSC and VFS, replacing the current system.
"It is going to get very messy," he said. "I believe that by giving authority to commercial partners and taking government employees out of the picture, you are creating a huge security risk for the UK public.
"We are losing a line of defence in keeping terrorists out of the country. I am extremely concerned and I am certain this will unravel eventually. There will be a [security] incident."
But the UKVisas spokeswoman said: "Commercial partners are only responsible for the 'front office' part of the visa operation, and will play no role in security checks or decision making."