Damian Hinds, the Security Minister at the Home Office, recently shared with us and fellow BTA members a personal letter, detailing what the UK Border Control is doing to prepare for the busy summer period, specifically with business travellers in mind.
Not only is this useful information for the corporate traveller, it shows the importance the Home Office places on the business travel industry, and the value of influence and collaboration between government and TMCs.
Below is the full transcript of Mr Hinds’ letter along with the steps being taken by UK Border Control to prepare for Summer 2022.
Border Force officials and I have very much welcomed collaboration with industry colleagues on planning in recent months, including for Easter, the Platinum Jubilee weekend and the imminent summer holiday period. I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for your support and also provide an update on plans to meet our shared objective of passengers flowing smoothly across the UK border throughout what we expect to be a busy summer.
We are planning for a full return of pre-pandemic international travel levels in July, August and the first two weeks of September. This means on peak days, Border Force will need an additional c.350 shifts across its operation, and we have extensive plans in place to meet this requirement.
Border Force will be managing all of this utilising a range of levers, including:
- HMRC surge and seasonal workforce;
- Border Force volunteers from non-operational areas, and other volunteers from the wider Home Office and Other Government Departments;
- applying six-day working and overtime where possible;
- deploying host and queue marshals at major ports;
- implementing continuous improvement initiatives to enhance efficient border processes; and
- monitoring our operational response on a daily basis to improve our ability to anticipate pressures and redeploy Border Force officers when unexpected events disrupt our planning assumptions.
Recruitment has continued at pace with three national campaigns in the last nine months, with the objective of growing Border Force’s frontline workforce by 10% this year.
Taking steps to build greater resilience into our eGate infrastructure to deal with increasing passenger volumes is also a priority for Border Force. We have been upgrading them and we continue to see improvements in overall performance and stability – eGate incidents have fallen by 27% over the past two months and compared to the old eGate software they now perform a wider range of checks, using inter-dependent systems on the same volumes and in some places higher volumes of passengers. This current system has only been in place since October 2021, compared with six years of incremental improvements for the old eGates. To sustain the upgraded eGates over the summer, our suppliers are making further hardware and software improvements and we are strengthening the engineering support to safeguard performance and stability. Longer-term, and as part of our plans to digitise the border, we are assessing additional cohorts of passenger that could also use an e-Gate.
How industry can help
To ensure a smooth UK border experience for visiting and returning passengers this summer, I would like to re-iterate the importance of some key interventions that you can help with, including:
- The provision of communication materials and signage at ports to direct passengers to the appropriate queue/lanes to maximise efficient border flow. For those ports with e-gates this also means ensuring we are maximising their use, freeing up the immigration desks where possible;
- Recruiting arrival hall marshals to manage immigration halls and queue co-ordination; and
- Sharing short-term forecast data with our local planning teams so they can best deploy their available resource accordingly.
In addition to the above, I would like to ask that carriers consider delivering a short in-flight message to encourage disembarking passengers to be prepared for Border Force checks, particularly for flights arriving at ports with eGates. Where available, eGates are by far the quickest way for eligible passengers to pass through passport control and should help manage queues as effectively as possible. I have included proposed text to this letter and would welcome your consideration in earnest.
Finally, but no less important, an ask from me for airports is to ensure you have effective and robust systems in place to avoid the risks of passengers being misdirected upon arrival at the UK border. We have seen a few instances of misdirected arrivals in recent weeks and as Minister for Security and Borders, I take these very seriously as I know you will too. As part of our continued collaboration, I have asked our regional Border Force teams to work with you to both support you and so they can be assured that you have the right mitigations to prevent any further security incidents.
We all have a busy summer ahead across air, rail and maritime but I have confidence that our planning and joint-working will lend itself well to ensuring that passenger flows are smooth and queues are kept to a minimum. Border Force officials and I (along with colleagues and Ministers at the Department for Transport) look forward to continuing to collaborate and work in partnership with you over the next few months and to continue engaging with you all on our ongoing transformation to deliver a frictionless and ever more automated border.
I am copying this letter to Robert Courts MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Transport.
Proposed in-flight message:
For a smoother journey through the UK border, upon arrival at passport control you are advised to:
- remove your passport from its cover and open it at the photo page;
- take off any hats, headphones, sunglasses and face-masks;
- put mobile phones or tablets away;
- stay together when travelling as a family.
For ports with e-gates:
You are advised to use the eGates for quicker passage through passport control. You may use the eGates if you meet the following criteria:
- you have a biometric chip passport;
- are aged 12 and over;
- you are either a British citizen, a national of an EU country, a citizen of Australia, Canada, Iceland, Japan, Liechtenstein, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore, South Korea, Switzerland or the USA; or
- you have paid to use the Registered Traveller Service.
When using the eGates, please:
- stand on the markings;
- take off any hats, headphones, sunglasses and face-masks;
- hold your passport photo page down firmly; and
- remain looking at the camera until you are instructed to exit the eGate.
Staff will be available to assist if required.
To help you navigate the changes of business travel, we’ve created the brand-new Traveller Toolkit. This invaluable online resource is packed full of easy-to-use guides and checklists for every stage of every journey. We detail exactly what you need to know and do before, during and after your trip in a post-pandemic, post Brexit world.
You can even check the travel restrictions and health status of your destination with our comprehensive COVID-19 Country Tracker, updated five times daily to ensure you have the very latest information to help keep you and your travellers safe.
Travel is changing. With common sense and a good TMC behind you, travellers can have the confidence to once again take to the skies. It’ll soon be back business as (un)usual.