05 April 2012

UK immigration deadlock at Heathrow expected over Easter

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UK immigration authorities have warned the Home Office that holidaymakers arriving or leaving via Heathrow over the Easter weekend will face delays of at least two hours.

UK immigration

The UK border at Heathrow is expecting higher numbers of visitors over the Easter period.

Unions representing UK immigration staff have claimed that staff cuts combined with tighter border controls will result in widespread delays for passengers both arriving at and departing from Heathrow Airport.

Airports typically divert more staff to arrival halls in order to ensure those entering the country have the appropriate passport or UK visa. While this measure often helps to combat busy periods, it can result in delays for departing passengers.

And with over 100,000 passengers expected over the Easter period, the UK Border Agency (UKBA) is reportedly considering the option of keeping arriving passengers onboard plans until immigration halls clear.

Current UKBA processing targets aim to clear EU passengers through security and immigration checks within 25 minutes and non-EU passengers with 45. However, these targets are rarely met and increased traffic over the Easter period has left some blaming the problem on staffing issues.

"There are a number of problems such as automatic scanning gates which are lying unused because there aren't staff to supervise them," said one Heathrow staff member.

"Staff rotas often do not match the schedule of arriving aircraft. Rather than deploying immigration officers before the planes land, they wait until the arrivals hall fills up."

The number of UK immigration staff at Heathrow has been slowly declining since 2010 when the first cuts were made to 6,000 strong workforce.

Combined with staffing cuts, tougher measures add small increments to each individual immigration check and lengthen the overall process considerably.

A spokesperson for the Home Office moved to allay claims that Heathrow will be in disarray by assuring passengers that extra staff would be available to deal with increased traffic and that security would not be compromised as it was during last summer's border fiasco.

"The Border Force is prepared for the busy Easter period and has ensured extra staff will be working at the border to carry out vital security checks."

The UK Visa Bureau is an independent immigration consultancy specialising in helping people prepare for their UK Ancestry Visa application.

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