The U.K. Home Office will scrap an algorithm used to screen visa applicants, according to a ministry letter received by tech justice group Foxglove.
Home Secretary Priti Patel “has decided she will discontinue the use of the streaming tool pending a redesign of the process and the way in which visa applications are allocated for decision-making,” said the letter, which was addressed to the rights groups and dated Monday.
The groups argued the algorithm was racist, and favored applications from countries with a predominantly white population.
The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, supported by Foxglove, asked a court to declare the algorithm unlawful and order a halt to its use. The Home Office wrote it would suspend the algorithm from Friday pending a system redesign before the case went to court.
The government department said it would do equality and data protection impact assessments for an interim system, and planned to have a fully-fledged replacement program in place by October 30.
Foxglove legal director Cori Crider said she was “delighted” that the government had scrapped the tool. “Racist feedback loops meant that what should have been a fair migration process was, in practice, just speedy boarding for white people. What we need is democracy, not government by secret algorithm.”
Since 2015 the Home Office algorithm has used a traffic-light system partially based on nationality to grade visa applications to the U.K. Applications.
A Home Office spokesperson said the interim system would rely on information such as previous travel by the visa applicant, but would not take nationality into account. “We … will be redesigning our processes to make them even more streamlined and secure,” they said, adding that the government department did not accept the rights groups’ claims.
This article has been updated.