Heathrow not prepared for Olympian UK immigration surge

- Posted in United Kingdom by Visa Bureauon 12 April 2012

In a leaked letter to the culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt, the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee has warned that UK immigration staff at Heathrow are underprepared for the rapid increase expected during the London Olympics.

The committee's chairman, Conservative MP John Whittingdale, warned that any delays could 'deter tourists from returning'.

The London Olympics is one of the biggest events in British history with many hoping that the Games will yield tourism revenue beyond the event itself.

However, Mr Whittingdale's letter said the committee's members "did not leave the briefing confident that Heathrow was ready to cope with the arrival of a huge number of competitors, Olympic family and tourists in timely fashion."

The warning is just the latest in a long series of issues with the UK Border Agency (UKBA) in the wake of the border fiasco which saw UK visa checks relaxed or even withdrawn during peak times last summer.

Since then, the UKBA has been split into two agencies, with the UK Border Force being split from the UKBA. However, the problems have continued with complaints over under used and expensive technology, under staffing and convoluted operating procedures.

The letter claims that while Heathrow had made significant preparations to accommodate extra requirements such as sporting equipment during the games, "far less thought seems to have been given to the issue of how to deal with long queues at immigration."

"The UK Border Agency representative suggested that there was insufficient funding to ensure all passport stations would be open."

On the busiest days during the Games, the airport is expecting a 45% increase in traffic yet Heathrow's air traffic control department predicts as many as 3,000 extra business jets alone will land at the airport during the Games, taking up valuable capacity for any contingencies that may arise.

A spokesperson for the Border Force attempted to allay any concerns about increased pressure, saying: "We are well prepared for the Olympics, with additional staff available for busy periods."

"But we will not compromise on border security and are working with [the British Airports Authority] BAA to ensure that we are ready to deal with extra passengers."

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