08 February 2012

Heathrow’s new security checks delayed by UK immigration investigation

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Heathrow Airport's plans to implement facial recognition technology may not be complete in time for the London Olympics due to an investigation by UK immigration authorities.

UK visa

The UK Border Agency is confident that Heathrow Airport will be able to cope with increased arrivals during the London Olympics.

The investigation by the UK Border Agency (UKBA) into the border checks controversy in July 2011 aims to examine why UK immigration authorities regularly suspended fingerprint checks on arrivals from outside Europe.

The investigation into the controversy, which resulted in the resignation of UKBA chief Brodie Clark resigning, has meant that the implementation of upgraded UK visa checks at Heathrow Airport has had to be delayed.

"BAA [British Airports Authority] has installed new automated immigration clearance gates at all Heathrow terminals to improve queuing times for passengers," said a spokesperson for BAA.

"UKBA is responsible for border security and has been working to bring these new gates online but has paused this process while it completes internal investigations."

While the construction of the new technologies has been mostly completed, UKBA still has to complete its traveller database before the system could go live.

BAA's commercial director, John Holland-Kaye, told the Financial Times that the system could be ready in time for the Olympics "but this is entirely within the hands of the government and what their strategy is is unclear."

The new system uses facial recognition technology to compare a person's face to the picture on their passport and is intended to allow arrivals from outside the EU enter quicker.

The new system was hoped to be operational by the time the Olympics begin, when passenger numbers are expected to be almost 50% higher.

Despite the delay, a spokesperson for UKBA said border checks would not be compromised during increased numbers of arrivals for the Games.

"Our responsibility is to secure the border at all times and we will ensure sufficient resources and technology are put in place to meet the extra demand during the Olympics period."


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

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