Borders and Immigration chief inspector John Vine has warned that the temporary border staff that have been hired to ease passport queues have only been given basic training. At Heathrow Airport and other airports in the southeast during the Olympics, an extra 500 workers were to be drafted from the weekend to help ease immigration congestion. However, the chief inspector has slammed the UK Border Agency for its plans to deploy workers with no immigration experience or background.
Commons home affairs select committee chairman Keith Vaz says that he was shocked to find out that passengers were waiting in queues for an hour, while only half of the immigration checks at Heathrow’s Terminal 4 were manned during Monday’s morning peak. Other MPs have warned that delays at the third busiest airport in the world can’t make an embarrassment of the country, he added.
Over 100,000 passengers are expected to use Heathrow every day this summer, which is 20% more than usual, and Vine has warned that the temporary staff will process passengers slower and ask fewer questions. This comes as he published a short-notice inspection report about border security checks at the hub’s Terminals 3 and 4 on Thursday. The report shows that many of the drafted employees are former UK Border Agency staff who are being hired again. Either that, or they are workers who have been staffed in other areas of the Home Office but have only received basic training for passport desk work.
Vine says that backroom workers from the ‘secondary examination area’ were drafted to passport desks regularly during his March and April inspection. The workers, who were repositioned to help with long queues, appeared less confident when checking passengers. This meant they typically took longer to process travellers and made fewer inquiries. The inspectors felt this affected the effectiveness and efficiency of the Border Force in processing passengers through the terminal. The agency has to ensure workers are appropriately trained to conduct the functions required at the primary control point. He added that passport checks have to be appropriately resourced to provide an effective service.
The basic training the extra border control staff are receiving has been conducted in classrooms and mentoring sessions. However, experienced immigration officials have to walk the floor immediately behind them to deliver further support as necessary.
Vine has welcomed measures to use more staff at passport checks more flexibly, including the development of a control hub to ensure pressured terminals get extra workers and the decision to release some funds that had been put aside for the reopening of Terminal 2 in two years. However, he has criticised the UK Border Force’s technique of measuring the length of arrival queues every hour on the hour. He says this doesn’t always give an accurate picture of the experience passengers are having.
A spokeswoman for the Border Force says that the inspection shows there were real improvements at Heathrow Airport. Vine acknowledges the positive addition of hundreds more staff deployed in response to demand, ongoing recruitment of more officers and the creation of a central control room for resource management. They are also working with BAA, the owner and operator of Heathrow, to improve queue measurement, securing staffing levels for the future and continuing to mentor and train contingency staff so that efficient and secure checks are carried out.
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