Airlines and airports could be fined for allowing passengers to bypass immigration controls
The Home Office is consulting on a new civil penalty regime to minimise the risk of travellers being “misdirected” on their arrival in the UK.
But the Airport Operators Association (AOA) argued the proposal is “disproportionate”.
Passengers arriving on scheduled flights must be directed to the airport’s immigration control to be cleared for entry into the country.
In a small number of cases, officially known as “misdirections”, this does not happen and arrivals are not presented to Border Force officers.
The integrity of the UK’s border is undermined
In 2014, just under 1,000 passengers were not brought to immigration control because of airport operator or carrier error, according to Government figures.
A Home Office factsheet says instances usually happen because the wrong doors have been opened at the arrival gate, or because the airline or airport operator sent the passengers to the wrong place.
The Immigration Act 2016 provides a legal basis for Border Force to levy a penalty if a misdirection occurs.
Full proposals for how the scheme will work were outlined in a little-noticed consultation document published in November.
In the foreword, Immigration Minister Brandon Lewis said the Government recognises that this is “not a problem of deliberate attempt to circumvent immigration control”.
But he added: “By creating circumstances in which passengers can bypass immigration controls, the integrity of the UK’s border is undermined.
“Border Force takes recovery action to locate the passengers and undertakes checks retrospectively on every misdirected passenger, creating considerable extra work.”
A spokesman for the AOA emphasised that border security is a “top priority” for airports.
He said: “That is clear from the fact that a tiny fraction of the 268 million passengers travelling through airports yearly are misdirected and the fact that the number of incidents has come down in recent years.
Immigration Minister Brandon Lewis
“We are committed to working with airlines, ground handlers and Border Force to continue to improve on this excellent record.
“We do not believe that the proposed civil penalty should be part of that ongoing work.
“It is disproportionate, given the numbers of passengers involved and the industry’s track record in this area combined with our commitment to continue to improve.”
Under the proposals carriers or airport operators could be penalised following “an occurrence of any misdirection of a passenger or passengers where reasonable steps have not been taken to avoid it”.
Fines could range from £2,500 to £50,000.
Factors that will be used to determine the size of the fine include the number of passengers involved, the number of previous penalties and action taken by the airport operator or carrier following the incident.
There will be a process for objecting to and appealing against fines.
The Home Office said that when passengers are misdirected they are either returned to border control, or where this is not possible, retrospectively checked against a range of security and immigration watchlists.
A Home Office factsheet says instances usually happen because wrong doors have been opened
While there are no examples of dangerous individuals arriving unchecked because of a misdirection, there is a significant administrative burden placed on Border Force, the department added.
A Home Office spokesman said: “We are determined to eradicate these errors and believe a civil penalty is a vital tool in ensuring this happens.
“We welcome the views of airlines and airport operators on this consultation as we continue to work with them on all areas of security.”
The consultation ends later this month.