Immigration minister says 70 extra staff will be recruited for September when overseas students are due to arrive
Seventy extra border staff are to be urgently recruited from within Whitehall to avoid a renewed passport crisis at Britain’s airports in September immediately after the Olympics, the immigration minister has announced.
Home Office ministers have cancelled all summer leave for UK Border Force officers and drafted in 480 extra temporary staff from other parts of Whitehall to cope with the expected surge of 650,000 extra tourists this summer.
But the immigration minister, Damian Green, has acknowledged that the Olympic contingency plans could result in severe staff shortages after the Games when tens of thousands of overseas students are due to arrive for the start of the academic year.
He has told MPs that the 70 extra staff to be recruited had been due to be taken on by 2014 for the reopening of Heathrow’s Terminal 2. “We have brought forward the first wave of recruitment for the reopening of Terminal 2 to give Border Force even more flexibility to secure the border while dealing with record passenger numbers at Heathrow,” Green said.
Staff will be recruited from elsewhere in Whitehall and are expected to be in post between July and October after being trained and receiving security clearance.
The minister told the Commons home affairs select committee that a return to a “risk-based” policy of passport checks at Heathrow would not necessarily prove the panacea for long queues after a clampdown last autumn. He said the length of queues at Heathrow and Stansted could depend just as much on the wind as on the nature of the checks, especially for long-haul flights.
If the weather meant that a New York flight was delayed and arrived just behind a Nigerian flight whose passengers had to undergo full passport checks, then the passengers from New York would face longer waits to clear security than if their flight arrived 10 minutes earlier. “That will depend on the wind, over which, with the best will in the world, airlines and the Border Force don’t have the control,” he said.
Green said he was not in principle opposed to the introduction of risk-based controls, but a pilot scheme last year was tainted by unauthorised relaxation of the checks because of queues. “They were not risk-based controls, but queue-based controls,” he said.
“It is not at all obvious that just having risk-based controls reduces queues. They may well involve doing more thorough checks on some of those non-EU passengers,” Green said.
Airline and airport representatives giving evidence to the MPs said there had been a noticeable improvement in queueing times over the past 10 days since David Cameron ordered Home Office ministers to get a grip on the border crisis.
But both Green and Keith Vaz, the chairman of the committee, reported continuing problems at Heathrow and Stansted. Green visited Heathrow privately on Monday morning when the UK Border Force had been told to expect 2,500 passenger arrivals between 6am and 9am. At six hours’ notice this had risen to an estimate of 5,000, and in fact 7,500 passengers turned up. “With the best will in the world you cannot call border staff at home at 1am telling them to turn up for duty at 5am,” Green said.
Vaz complained there had been long delays at Stansted on Sunday night when the border control appeared unprepared to process more than 6,000 passengers who arrived between 10pm and midnight.
Joan Collins became the latest celebrity to be caught up in the passport chaos on Tuesday. She tweeted: “Arrived LHR after great trip on @British_Airways but 1000s waiting at passport control – listen up Ms. May – need more officers!”