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Government launch new UK Border Agency | Immigration Matters

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The new UK Border Agency, which will unify border, immigration, customs and visa checks, was launched by the Home Office last week.

The Home Office hopes that the UK Border Agency, which supersedes the BIA after only a year in existence, will “protect UK borders, control migration for the benefit of the country, prevent border tax fraud, smuggling and immigration crime and implement quick and fair decisions”.

The agency will have 25,000 staff including 9,000 warranted officers operating both locally and at border controls in 135 countries. Staff will have wide ranging search, seizure and detention powers and will link with the 3,000 police stationed at ports and airports.

Announcing the launch of the agency, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said:

“The UK Border Agency will help strengthen protection of our border. With tough customs, immigration and police-like powers UK Border Agency officers will be better equipped than ever to guard our ports and airports, protecting the country from illegal immigration, organised crime and terrorism.

“This 25,000 strong force will work both at home and abroad to tackle smuggling of people and goods into Britain using intelligence, new technology and wide-ranging powers and I am confident it will help strengthen policing at the border.

“Already taxpayers can see our investment in new technology paying off and creating a ring of security around Britain. Fingerprints are now being taken from all visa applicants to the UK, this year we will increase police, customs and immigration checks against visitors travelling through our ports, and we will see the roll-out of ID cards for foreign national from November.”

The Home Office has imposed targets on the new agency, chaired by Chief Executive Lin Homer, in its published “business plan”.

Targets include:

  • expel 5,000 foreign national prisoners from Britain this year, up from 4,200 last year
  • sustain last year’s increase in the seizure of class A drugs by seizing at least 2,400 kilograms of cocaine and 550 kilograms of heroin by April 2009
  • increase by 50 per cent the number of asylum cases concluded in less than six months
  • extend the UK‘s visas regime to cover a larger proportion of the world’s population
  • increase detention capacity by 20 per cent over the next two years to help increase the number of immigration offenders we can remove from the country.

The Home Office says that he agency will create a single border intelligence service to bring together overseas risk assessment units, airline liaison officers and customs and immigration intelligence officers based around the globe. This will work together with a new £1bn screening system for travellers to the UK. A trial of this system has already led to more than 1,000 alerts and 200 arrests.

But Mark Hammond, of the PCS union, which represents 2,000 immigration officials, said: “There are not enough resources to enforce immigration law because of budgetary constraints and activity is set to decrease not increase, due to cuts in duties scheduled for weekends. Vitally important work won’t be actioned and vulnerable people will be at risk.”

Last week, The Times reported that hundreds of illegal immigrants – including a suspected murderer and other criminals – are working in care homes in Britain, a leaked Home Office report has disclosed.

In some homes more than half the employees have entered the country illegally and are now being entrusted with caring for old and vulnerable people.

My own experience when conducting ‘file audits’ on behalf of employers in the care sector is that many are unwittingly employing overseas staff illegally and some are totally confused by the rules.

Common problems include: expired visas and work permits, fake documents, work permits issued to another home within a group or to another employer altogether and in some cases no papers or proof of the right to work at all.

With the government now imposing fines of up to £10,000 per illegal employee, this might be a good time to check your files.

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