by Jack Maidment and Political Correspondent, The Telegraph, January 2, 2018
Airport blunders have potentially allowed thousands of passengers into Britain without passing through immigration checks, Home Office figures suggest.
Airlines and airports could now face fines of up to £50,000 if passengers are able to bypass border control as part of a proposed Government crackdown on the issue.
Ministers are currently consulting on a new civil penalty regime designed to stop travellers being “misdirected” when they arrive amid concerns it is undermining the integrity of the UK’s border.
The problem has been blamed on human errors like incorrect doors being opened at arrival gates or passengers being directed to the wrong place upon arrival.
Just under 1,000 passengers were not brought to immigration control in 2014 because of airport operator or carrier error.
That is likely to spark concerns about airport border security levels in previous and subsequent years.
The Government is hoping its plan to fine airports and airlines with lax controls will remedy the situation but the Airport Operators Association (AOA) said the proposal is "disproportionate".
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.
"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."
Passengers arriving on scheduled flights must be directed to the airport's immigration control to be cleared for entry into the country.
But in a small number of cases, officially known as "misdirections", this does not happen and arrivals are not presented to Border Force officers.
The power to levy a penalty was set out in the Immigration Act 2016.
However, the way in which the scheme will work was only outlined in a little-noticed consultation document published by the Government at the end of last year.
Brandon Lewis, the Immigration Minister, said in the foreword to that document that the Government recognised 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."
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.
The size of the fine is likely to depend on factors like how many passengers bypassed border controls and the action taken by the airport operator following the incident.
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.
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.”
Consultation on the plan is due to end later this month.
This article was written by Jack Maidment and Political Correspondent from The Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to [email protected].