Select Committee on Home Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum by the Immigration Service Union



  1.1  The Committee has chosen to examine this subject at a highly appropriate time as pressure on the immigration control is at an all-time high and new methods of working are under consideration.


  2.1  The Schengen agreement was a pragmatic recognition of the impossibility of maintaining effective controls across land borders. Private discussion with immigration officials of the participating states reveals that they envy the UK for its geographical isolation afforded by the Channel.

  2.2  Given the numbers of illegal entrants and asylum applicants detected at Dover, Waterloo International and as lorry-borne clandestine arrivals, it appears that more than half of those coming to the UK by irregular means do so via EU countries. This is the clearest possible evidence that the external controls promised by the Schengen agreement are ineffective.

  2.3  Other EU countries have reacted by restricting financial and social support for asylum applicants. Any reduction in UK immigration controls at points of entry would be an invitation to increased irregular migration.


  3.1  The effectiveness of the UK on-entry immigration control can be demonstrated by the achievement of removing 92 per cent of non asylum refusal cases. Removal of people from the UK becomes much more difficult once they have been allowed to enter, even on a temporary basis, and the difficulty increases with the passage of time. A major cause of the low number of removals of failed asylum applicants is a change in personal circumstances, for example by marriage, during the delay in making a decision.


  4.1  As the measures by which the legislation will be put into operational effect have yet to be decided we can only comment on the general concepts.

  4.2  Flexibility.

    —  We welcome the reduction of bureaucracy in dealing with passengers, but believe that much could have been achieved, without the need for legislation, had operational staff been consulted earlier.

    —  We are concerned that there appears to have been little consultation with those working in the Enforcement Directorate (responsible for internal immigration control) to ascertain what information about a passenger's claimed intentions is worth collecting and preserving.

    —  We note that forgery and impersonation via the EU channel at ports remains a major means of illegal entry to the UK and we oppose any moves to downgrade this work from immigration officer grade or to introduce selective checks.

    —  Given the Race Relations (Amendment) Act, we are concerned that concepts such as selectivity of examination, risk assessment, flexibility and deemed leave to enter (ie without examination on arrival) should be free from stereotyping based upon perceived national characteristics of immigration abuse. We are concerned that our members will be left to make these policies work without direction on how to identify "profile" passengers without selecting on the basis of minority ethnic origins.

    —  Our view is that every passenger should be checked in the same way, and that staff numbers should be made available to allow a proper "hands on" inspection of all passports.

  4.3  Flexibility at small ports.

    —  At smaller ports passengers may be dealt with remotely. Lacking any new technology, such as video links, this may be done by telephone and fax. Where this has been tried in the past it has been found that:

    —  Staff at the home port are not available to respond when flights arrive at the remote airport.

    —  Forgery examination of documents is impossible when only a faxed image is available.

    —  Interviews conducted by telephone are unlikely to reveal information adverse to the passenger.

    —  Passengers do not wait to be dealt with and airport staff have no power to detain them.

    —  Risk assessment of flights is based upon historical events when an officer was present rather than what will happen when the flight is not met. Staff availability is the major factor in assessing a flight as safe for remote clearance.

  4.4  Visas as entry conditions.

    —  As it will remain necessary to inspect visas to detect forgeries and to speak to passengers to ensure that circumstances have not changed since issue and to guard against impersonation, it is not clear that any staff time savings will be made.

    —  We receive regular complaints from members faced with passengers they consider to be attempting to enter illegally, but who cannot be refused entry because of poor visa interviews. We welcome the commitment to improve visa issuing standards, but consider that this should be achieved before changes are made.

  4.5  Passenger information.

  Our experience of the information supplied by carriers is that it can be wildly inaccurate, even as to the nationality and number of passengers arriving.

  4.6  Civil penalties.

  The purpose of fines on lorry drivers, and others bringing clandestine entrants into the UK, must be to ensure that people are discovered before embarkation on the other side of the Channel. We would hope that commercial pressure will cause port authorities to increase security and offer proper checks before embarkation. New technology in the form of heart beat monitors and x-ray equipment could make this a realistic prospect.


  5.1  Smart Card technology may offer a "do it yourself" means of passing through immigration controls, but there are dangers. Once such technology becomes common, criminals will obtain their own card-issuing equipment and we could face forgeries indistinguishable from the real thing.

  5.2  Forgery detection often occurs only after an experienced immigration officer identifies that a passenger is a poor match for the document he holds. For example the holder of a passport which shows its owner to be a well travelled businessman should not have trouble completing a landing card. The presence of an experienced immigration officer will always be required to oversee the on-entry control no matter how advanced the technology claims to be.


  6.1  The Immigration Service is at present part of the Immigration and Nationality Directorate. The two organisations have conflicting cultures, the IS providing immediate decisions face to face and IND making paper based decisions without direct responsibility for the welfare of applicants. The two organisations remain in a state of conflict, each struggling to impose its cultural values on the other. Until the IS obtains a proper higher management structure of its own and the two organisations recognise their differences, adopt what is best about the other and find ways of accommodating each other's needs, there is little prospect of real progress.


  7.1  Article 1 section (2) of the Convention limited its application to asylum applications resulting from "events occurring before 1 January 1951 . . ." As the Convention did not come into force until 21 April 1954 it was clearly intended to apply to a well defined and limited group of people who were already refugees as a result of events following World War II. It was only in 1967 when a short Protocol removed the date limitation that the Convention became reactivated.

  7.2  The Convention requires major attention to deal with issues such as safe third countries, multiple and repeat claimants, what constitutes an asylum claim and the responsibilities of States that have refused applications to make effective arrangements to return people to their home countries. The central problem is that the refugees who are in most need often do not have the freedom of movement or cannot pay to reach the UK to obtain our help.


  8.1  It should be remembered that genuine refugees pose no problems. Our difficulties are with illegal entrants who exploit asylum applications as a means to gain entry and will change to other methods as soon as the asylum system is brought under control. The emphasis which is being given to the asylum backlogs should not be at the expense of our controls at ports.

John Tincey

Director of Information and Research

Immigration Service Union

29 March 2000

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