Olympic Immigration Fears at Heathrow

Immigration Queue at Heathrow AirportThe passport checking policy set out by the government has been under fire after an Olympic organiser complained that he had to wait for three hours before being admitted through Heathrow Airport’s immigration gate. The complaint has been confirmed by airport owner and operator BAA as occurring last Tuesday, when some passengers were made to wait in queue for two-and-a-half hours. However, the airport operator and Home Office haven’t revealed the senior Olympic official who issued the complaint.

Former UK Border Force head Brodie Clark has blamed the lengthy delays at the British capital’s major airports on the full passport checks Home Secretary Theresa May introduced last autumn, which he says are undermining security. This is the first time he has spoken out since resigning from his position last November. He received compensation in a settlement over a constructive dismissal case against the Home Office.

Talking to The Times, Clark said that the early journey they took to use a more risk-based approach for immigration has been put on hold. Instead, the UK Border Force has gone back to using the less effective and laborious policy of checking each passenger to a similar level, whether the traveller is likely to pose a threat or not. It’s pointless to check children and war veterans, who pose a low risk to security. He claims the pressures of long queues reduce how effective border staff are and may lead to mistakes.

Clark went on to say that immigration staff are being moved away from important security work into doing low return, low-value passenger checks. Frontline immigration workers are becoming little more than rule followers and box-tickers due to the full passport checks policy. He’s described the move to suspend risk-based border controls as an impulsive reaction, and says the risk-based checks would be reinstated. He also called on a three-phase approach to be applied to patrolling the nation’s borders – which would focus on the effective use of frontline workers, technology and be based on risk.

Heathrow Airport is expected to get up to 600,000 passengers during the Olympic Games this summer, which will be held between July 27 and August 13. There are fears that even longer queues and further chaos will be caused due to the combination of full passport checks and a surge in passengers. This comes as the BAA has said that there aren’t enough border staff at the hub to carry out the tougher checks. At the same time, the government is planning to reduce the number of border staff from 8,874 (as of March last year) to 7,322 by March 2015. Unions, however, have been told additional staff will be drafted to Heathrow Airport to ease pressure during the Games. These drafted workers will include people from HM Revenue & Customs – some of which have retired – and the Home Office.

Commons Home Affairs Select Committee chairman Keith Vaz says they will raise the issue of border controls with May today. He added that travellers had contacted him with complaints about the long queues at the London hub and that some passport control desks were left unmanned.

Meanwhile, television historian Mary Beard and Formula 1 teams returning from the Bahrain race were held up in long immigration queues at Heathrow Airport at the weekend as well. Official figures from the airport revealed that non-European Union passengers arriving at Terminal 5 were made to wait 70 minutes to get through the checks. Those in other terminals didn’t get through much faster, with some spending nearly one hour in queue. Additionally, EU and UK passport holders had to wait 20 minutes.




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