Turning over immigration control to already worn-out and over-worked employees is a very poor idea indeed.
Airline passengers could face lengthy queues at the departure gates when a raft of new border checks are introduced in 18 months, it has emerged.
The new Immigration Bill set out how ministers have drawn up new tactics to “minimise the impact” when measures requiring all travellers to have their passports swiped before they board their flight come into force.
It was the first time ministers have acknowledged how the new checks could create delays, and follows widespread concern about long queues for passengers arriving at Heathrow and other airports last year .
Yesterday Mark Harper, the immigration minister, revealed the Government wants airline staff to take on some of the powers of an immigration officer so they can carry out passport inspections at the departure gate.
If airlines refuse to co-operate they will be compelled to carry out the checks or face a fine, under measures published by the Government in the Bill.
It means airline staff – or those working for the airport – will check passports against electronic databases to “identify threats or persons of interest”.
Mr Harper said: “We have already committed to introducing exit checks by 2015. This legislation will introduce powers to enable carrier and port operator staff to play a role in carrying out these checks.
“This will help improve our already robust security at the border, while causing as little disruption to passengers as possible. Our aim is to make it much harder for offenders to flee British justice and to better identify those who are in the UK illegally.”
But Dale Keller, chief executive of the Board of Airline Representatives, which speaks for 75 airlines including British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, warned the checks could cause tailbacks at departures and insisted it was not the job of his members to carry out immigration duties.
“We believe it is the Government’s fundamental responsibility, rather than the airlines, to do this type of check,” he said.
“It potentially will impact the consumer’s experience. We already collect a lot of data for the Government and believe gains in performance can be made without adding another layer of complexity, cost and potential customer delay.”
The Coalition gave a commitment to introduce the measures by the next general election and Sir Charles Montgomery, the director general of the Border Force, confirmed earlier this week that they are still on track for April 2015.
The Bill also announced new rules on weddings and civil partnerships in a bid to crack down on sham marriages.
It said the Government plans to extend the notice period for all marriages – including church weddings – from 15 days to 28 days in England and Wales to give the Home Office more time to investigate those which may be a sham before the ceremony takes place.
The measures will include marriages in the Anglican Church for the first time – because previous legal measures to target sham marriages had to be abolished in 2011 after judges ruled they were discriminatory because the Church of England was exempt.
The Home Office predicted about 35,000 marriages between a European and a non-European national would be referred for investigation each year, with 6,000 a year investigated to check the “genuineness of the couple’s relationship”.
Bishop Patrick Lynch, who speaks for the Catholic Church on migrant issues, said he was concerned about the Bill’s previously-disclosed measures to restrict immigrants’ access to accommodation and the NHS.
“The expectation placed on private landlords to conduct immigration status checks on tenants before providing accommodation, will deny many vulnerable migrants the right to suitable housing and could lead some migrant families into destitution,” he said.