Select Committee on Home Affairs Fifth Report


183. The second stage of immigration control is at the border to the UK. Here, Immigration Officers (IOs) check passports and examine arrivals to determine if they:

  • have the right of abode in the UK (mainly British citizens), or
  • may enter the UK without leave even though they do not have the right of abode (mainly EEA[195] nationals), or
  • require leave to enter and if so whether they should be granted it (non-visa nationals coming for less than six months), or
  • already have leave when they arrive (for example a visa) and if so whether it should be cancelled.

184. These checks will usually happen at a port or airport in the UK, but increasingly checks are made before the person arrives in the UK. This is known as 'exporting the border'.

185. In 2004 there were 97.2 million arrivals[196] at the UK's borders from outside the Common Travel Area,[197] which was 7% more than in 2003 and part of a steady increase in arrivals. The large majority of these were British citizens or citizens of EEA countries; 12 million were non-EEA arrivals. Although there are now considerably more non-EEA nationals arriving in the UK every year than there were in 1994 (9.2 million), the number has fallen gradually from a peak of 13 million in 2000. Citizens of the USA comprised 34% of total non-EEA admissions, the largest single nationality by far. The next three largest nationalities were Australia (917,000), Canada (852,000) and India (616,000).[198]

Exporting the border

186. The whole visa operation is in a sense 'exporting the border' because it checks applicants before they arrive in the country, but more recent initiatives include:

  • requiring carriers to check passengers' documents;[199]
  • deploying Airline Liaison Officers to help airlines carry out those checks and to make sure that people who are getting on planes are the same people who were granted visas;
  • operating what are called 'juxtaposed controls' where IOs operate UK immigration controls at French ferry ports and Eurostar stations; and
  • using new detection technology such as thermal imaging devices, heart-beat monitors and CO2 probes at ports in France and the Netherlands;

187. Under carriers' liability legislation, which was originally introduced in 1987, carriers such as airlines and shipping companies are liable to a £2000 fine for each inadequately documented passenger they bring into the UK.[200] This acts as an incentive for them to carry out document checks and to refuse boarding to those whose documents they doubt.

188. A network of Airline Liaison Officers (ALOs) employed by the IND provides training for airline staff in passport and visa requirements, passenger assessment and forgery awareness. They also go to airports to give on-the-spot advice to check-in staff on the documents presented by passengers and to assist the local authorities in identifying facilitators and racketeers involved in the organised movement of inadequately documented passengers.[201] There are now 34 ALOs in 32 locations, 6 Deputy ALOs and 5 ALO "floaters".[202] In 2003, 33,000 people were prevented from travelling to the UK from airports where ALOs were stationed,[203] and numbers of Inadequately Documented Arrivals (IDAs) detected after arriving by air have fallen from 14,071 in 2003 to 6,831 in 2005. Over the same period, the number of clandestine entrants detected arriving by sea also fell, from 3,482 to 1,588. [204]

189. In future, under the e-Borders programme, it is proposed that the travel industry will supply data on passengers intending to travel to or from the UK, allowing the risks they present to be assessed and 'alerts' passed to the relevant border control agency. Under an Authority to Carry (ATC) scheme, carriers would not be permitted to take individual passengers to the UK until fingerprints of visa-holders and information in travel documents and airline booking information had been checked against UK databases.[205]

190. This seems an attractive idea, but there are some practical difficulties. Individual airlines and their umbrella organisations have pointed out that charter airlines in particular generally do not hold passenger information in advance of check-in, and that not all UK airports are currently capable of collecting and transmitting passenger information data. They also suggest that it is unlikely that help-desk facilities for passengers denied boarding will be able to deal with all queries, especially if the passenger does not speak English, which could lead to delayed flights or passengers missing their flights.[206] They fear these facilities will also be very difficult and costly to put in place where the airport is seldom used for flights to Britain, and refer to the complications caused by the fact that no global standards have yet been agreed.[207]

191. There is some criticism that all these measures are blunt instruments, in that they may prevent people from travelling even if they have a legitimate reason for coming to the UK. Bobbie Chan, an immigration caseworker at the Central London Law Centre in Chinatown, suggested to us that airline staff are stopping a lot more people coming in than they should because they are worried that they will be fined under carriers' liability legislation.[208] Dr Khalid Koser of the Global Commission for International Migration put forward the view that legitimate efforts to try to stem or stop or reduce irregular migration can have an impact on refugees: "It is increasingly difficult practically for asylum seekers to arrive in countries like the UK (but not just the UK) in a legal, regular fashion."[209] Oxfam and the Refugee Council are concerned that it is not known how many people in need of international protection are stopped from travelling by ALOs, given that ALOs are posted to countries "where human rights abuses are well-documented, from which refugees originate, or through which refugees transit". Their concern is that extra-territorial controls are unable to identify people with protection needs and that they therefore threaten the structure of the international asylum regime.[210] The Independent Race Monitor, Mary Coussey, is concerned that the likelihood of being refused is greater at the juxtaposed controls than at ports in the UK.[211] Moreover, in the Prague Airport case, pre-entry immigration control aimed principally at stemming the flow of asylum seekers from the Czech Republic was found to be racially discriminatory.[212]

192. No efforts have been made by the Government to determine how many people stopped from travelling to the UK may have had a legitimate claim to protection. Our predecessor Committee in the last Parliament acknowledged, in a report published in 2004, that the Government's "restrictive measures" had made it more difficult for refugees to make a successful claim for asylum, and that this placed a moral responsibility on the Government to explore alternative refugee programmes so that people do not have to resort to illegal methods of getting to the UK. The Committee commented that:

    As it becomes increasingly difficult to get into the UK to make an asylum claim, it must be the case that many people who would have a well-founded case for asylum will be unable to make a claim. There is agreement that a large proportion of asylum seekers arrive in the UK as the result of illegal people-smuggling operations conducted by criminal gangs. We also note that the asylum seekers who do manage to make a claim in the UK are not representative of the world's wider refugee population—they are more likely to be young, male, healthy, educated and with access to significant financial support, and less likely to be old, female, ill, uneducated or poor. We believe this creates a moral responsibility on the British Government to provide alternative legitimate means by which refugees can gain access to this country, to assist refugees closer to their country of origin, and to tackle the roots of enforced migration. …

    We … support the UK's participation in the United Nations High Commission for Refugees' quota refugee resettlement scheme, and call for this to be expanded. We recommend that if the number of successful asylum applications made in the UK declines, Ministers should increase the UK's resettlement quotas through the scheme each year by a proportionate amount.[213]

193. 'Exporting the border' effectively cuts down on the numbers of people travelling undocumented to the UK. We recommend that the use of Airline Liaison Officers should be expanded, and that consideration is given to how to deal with people who are stopped from travelling but may have protection needs. We repeat the call by our predecessors for the Government to be active in seeking to assist refugees in or near to their countries of origin, as well as to expand its policy for assisting refugees through UNHCR.

194. Whilst we were impressed at the series of checks which is carried out at the juxtaposed controls in Calais, by both the French and the British authorities, the equipment is not entirely reliable or effective. It comes up with both false negatives and false positives. The Immigration Service is trying to find better equipment, but we were told during our visit to Calais that for instance a new type of heartbeat monitor for which there had been high hopes would not in fact be any better than the existing ones.

195. In addition, the 'human element' will remain important. For example, we were told by the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) that:

    we have evidence of a vehicle being allowed to proceed when a positive reading had been obtained from detection equipment. IS civil service staff intervened and removed people from the vehicle. On another occasion contract staff were observed searching vehicles without their detection equipment switched on.[214]

PCS argued accordingly that "the use of technology should remain in support of, rather than as a replacement for, immigration staff".[215] The PCS Union fears that increasing the number of private contractors working for the Immigration Service will weaken border security: "The union remains concerned that privatisation of many parts of immigration control may become a reality over the next few years. If this does happen we believe it would pose a serious risk to the integrity of our borders and consequently endanger the security of UK citizens."[216]

196. These high-tech checks may in any case be undermined by the lack of security at the ferry port in Calais. During our visit we learned that the ease with which would-be immigrants can get into the terminal is worrying; we saw group after group of people, mainly young men, waiting for their chance on the roadside, beneath underpasses or in the scrubland near the lorry park. There had been improvements to the perimeter fences, but there still are points at which it is easy for people to climb over fences or gates and into vehicles which have already been through most of the checks.

197. When we visited Calais ferry port, we were given figures on the number of people caught trying to smuggle themselves into the UK. These showed a total of 9,652 in 2005 and 3,174 in the first three months of 2006.[217]

198. Despite the success of recent measures in detecting people attempting to enter the UK illegally through Calais, the port is a continuing focus of attention for those seeking to evade the UK's border controls. All aspects of port security in Calais must therefore be kept under constant review and strengthened wherever necessary, and the accuracy and application of new detection technology must continue to be improved.

Checks on arriving passengers

199. Arriving passengers subject to immigration control may be asked basic questions by an Immigration Officer (IO) about the purpose of their visit, the intended length of stay (confirmed by their return ticket), and address in the UK. Most passengers are given leave to enter at this point. If the IO has any reason to doubt a passenger's reasons for coming to the UK, the passenger is asked further questions. If the delay is likely to last more than an hour, the passenger must be given formal notice.[218]

200. In 2004, 31,930 passengers were refused entry at port and subsequently removed, compared with 17,220 refusals at port in 1994 and a high of 50,360 in 2002.[219] The nationalities most likely to be refused at port in 2003 (excluding nationals of the EU Accession States and asylum applicants) were Malaysian (6.3% of Malaysian arrivals, 1,130 people), Jamaican (5.4%, 1,455 people) and Brazilian (3.3%, 4,385 people).[220]

201. Between July 2003 and December 2004, fewer than 1% of all non-EAA nationals were delayed for questioning for more than an hour after arrival, but there were ten countries which accounted for 32% of those questioned at length and 38% of refusals, even though they amounted to only 13% of non-EAA arrivals in the period. By purpose of visit, students were most likely to be delayed for questioning, and then visitors; least likely to be delayed were business visitors.[221]

202. We felt from our visits that there are many obstacles which hinder IOs from stopping people at ports. They are under a lot of pressure (for instance we saw teams in Calais getting to the end of their shift but not being relieved because another team was not available), forgeries can be very difficult to spot especially given the range of documents which could be encountered,[222] database checks are not comprehensive, there is a lack of proper accommodation for questioning or detaining passengers,[223] it may be difficult to obtain interpreters, and forms have to be filled in.

203. Immigration Officers are allowed to discriminate on the basis of nationality when deciding which passengers to question, but only when they have been given express permission to do so through a Ministerial Authorisation.[224] The list of "priority nationals" subject to the authorisation is issued monthly and disseminated to each port, but it is not published. Priority nationals are listed when adverse decisions and immigration breaches reach more than 50 in total, and 5 of every 1,000 admitted persons of a particular nationality.[225]

204. In her annual report, Mary Coussey, the Independent Race Monitor who examines the operation of this discrimination, commented that she was impressed with most of the questioning she saw during 2004-05. However, she also observed scepticism amongst IOs, particularly in relation to nationalities on the authorisation list, and different perceptions of nationalities with high refusal rates between IOs at different ports. She found some indication that different standards and profiles were applied at different ports to questions of credibility, and was concerned at marked differences in refusal rates between ports. She concluded that, although there were strong arguments for the use of authorisations, this also carried the risk of treating passengers from priority nationalities more sceptically than others.[226] One of her main recommendations is for more detailed monitoring, in particular of refusal rates by port, in order to provide "greater rigour and a more informed basis for assessing the impact of practices".[227] The Immigration Service has begun research into refusal rates but it is "subject to resources".[228]

205. Statistics must be kept on Immigration Officers' decisions on people subject to race discrimination authorisations, in particular to determine refusal rates by port. Appropriate action must be taken by managers if it is found that these people are treated more sceptically than other passengers.

206. Many of the difficulties of checking people at the border could be avoided if more checks were made on passengers before departure. The Authority to Carry scheme will provide some additional information and checks (see paragraphs 189 to 190 above) but another possibility is to require everyone apart from EEA nationals to get a visa before travelling to the UK. Already there are over 108 countries on the list of those whose nationals require a visa before they travel to the UK for any purpose,[229] and people of all nationalities outside the EEA who intend to enter for more than six months, or to settle or to marry, must also obtain entry clearance. On our calculation, this means that visa-free travel to the UK is currently available only to nationals of 56 countries outside the EEA who are intending to come here for less than six months.[230] It is not clear to us how the decision on which countries should be on or off the list is made. Australia, by contrast, requires visas of all travellers except New Zealand citizens, whatever the purpose of their trip, and then makes it very straightforward and quick to apply for visas which are issued as an electronic record on the department's computer systems and not necessarily as a label or a stamp in the passport.

207. In view of the difficulties in carrying out checks at port, the Government should continue to develop methods of ensuring that travellers to the UK are checked before departure. Whilst carriers have a role to play in this, the Government should explore the implications of requiring all non-EEA nationals to get visas before any trip to the UK, looking at Australia's practice as an example and bearing in mind the need for tourists and business visitors to be able to travel to the UK without unnecessary inconvenience.

195   The European Economic Area (EEA) consists of the EU member states plus Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, with a linked agreement for Switzerland Back

196   i.e. passenger journeys, so an individual arriving more than once would be counted each time. Back

197   The Common Travel Area consists of the UK, the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man and the Republic of Ireland. Back

198   Home Office, Control of Immigration Statistics 2004 Cm 6690 Table 2.2 Back

199   This requirement was introduced in the Carriers' Liability Act 1987 but now contained in s. 40 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 Back

200   Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 s. 40  Back

201   UKvisas Diplomatic Service Procedures ch. 1 Annex 1.7 Back

202   Ev 282, HC 775-III Back

203   Home Office, Controlling our borders: Making migration work for Britain - Five Year Strategy for asylum and immigration, February 2005, para. 53 Back

204   Ev 281-2, HC 775-III Back

205   Home Office, Controlling our borders: Making migration work for Britain, Cm 6472, February 2005, Annex 1, and Ev 45-46, HC 775-II Back

206   Ev 19 and 14, HC 775-II  Back

207   Ev 14 and 21, HC 775-II Back

208   Q 616, 28 March 2006 Back

209   Q 110, 10 January 2006 Back

210  Ev 105-107 paras 3.4.3, 4.3 and 4.8.2, HC 775-II Back

211   Qq 41-42, 13 December 2005 Back

212   European Roma Rights Center v. Immigration Officer at Prague Airport, [2004] UKHL 55 Back

213   Home Affairs Committee, Second Report of Session 2003-04, Asylum Applications (HC 218-I), summary; see also paras 159-61, 287, 291. For the Government's reply to these recommendations, see Cm 6166, pp 15-17. Back

214   Ev 100, para 23, HC 775-II Back

215   Ev 100, para 27, HC 775-II Back

216   Ev 100, para.20, HC 775-II Back

217   These figures refer to numbers of detections: the same individual may well have been caught several times Back

218   Mary Coussey, Independent Race Monitor Annual Report 2004-5, 5 July 2005, para 9 Back

219   Home Office, Control of Immigration Statistics 2004 Cm 6690 Table 2.1.The removal will not necessarily be in the same year as the arrival, because some of the people removed in this category will have been granted Temporary Admission, for example to make an asylum claim. Back

220   Mary Coussey, Independent Race Monitor Annual Report 2004-5, 5 July 2005,para. 2.3 Back

221   Mary Coussey, Independent Race Monitor Annual Report 2004-5, 5 July 2005, para. 2.36 Back

222   See Qq451-453, 7 March 2006, for the training and guidance provided on forgeries. Back

223   See HMIP Report on the unannounced inspection of three short-term non-residential immigration holding facilities: Calais Seaport, Coquelles Freight, Coquelles Tourist, France, 2-3 August 2005, pp 15-16,23-24 and 31-32 Back

224   Under section 19D of the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000.The nine authorisations which were in effect during 2004-05 are listed in an appendix to the Independent Race Monitor Annual Report 2004-5, 5 July 2005  Back

225   Mary Coussey, Independent Race Monitor Annual Report 2004-5, 5 July 2005, para. 1.6 Back

226   Mary Coussey, Independent Race Monitor Annual Report 2004-05, 5 July 2005, paras 2.15-2.35 Back

227   Mary Coussey, Independent Race Monitor Annual Report 2004-05, 5 July 2005, paras 2.36-2.39 Back

228   Q 39 and Q 52, 13 December 2005 Back

229   The list of nationalities, which is amended from time to time, is set out in Appendix 1 to the Immigration Rules (HC 395 of 1993-94, as amended) Back

230   There are 192 countries in the world, from which the 27 countries of the EEA and Switzerland (whose nationals can travel freely to the UK) and the 108 countries on the visa nationals list are subtracted. Back

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