Landing cards for international visitors arriving at UK airports are being scrapped from today as the Border Force moves fully to digital records – almost two years after the plan was first announced.
The Home Office has said in a letter to Border Force staff that “there will no longer be a requirement for any passenger of any nationality to complete a landing card” when they arrive in the UK.
The paper based system has been described by the department as outdated and costing the public £3.6 million a year, with around 11 million cards issued annually. Officials have pointed out that the cards are used primarily to collect statistics, rather than for security checks.
“Passengers are checked against the variety of police, security and immigration databases which are used to verify the identity and confirm the status of every passenger arriving at UK airports,” a Home Office source told The Daily Telegraph.
The Border Force already collects advanced passenger information from airlines before journeys to the UK start, including name, birth date, nationality and passport or identity card number.
It also confirmed that from today passengers from Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea and the USA would be able to use ePassport gates at airports.
Now the need for landing cards is being axed for all arrivals, fulfilling a pledge made as far back as August 2017, when the move was expected within months. Brandon Lewis, the then immigration minister, predicted the change would lead to shorter queues at airports.
“We are modernising border technology to ensure Border Force staff stop dealing with outdated paperwork and can continue to focus on security and protecting the public,” Lewis said.
“In addition, this change will improve the experience for arriving passengers so they get an even better welcome when they land in the UK. The changes will also free up staff and enable Border Force to better deploy their resources.”
The Home Office has not commented on the leak, but the decision has been attacked by the Immigration Service Union (ISU) for weakening the UK’s borders.
“The ISU is very disappointed that this measure was introduced so suddenly and without the technological support staff that had been promised,” said its professional officer, Lucy Moreton.
“Although we were aware this was a measure Home Office were working towards when the new border IT system is rolled out, for which there is no date, there was no hint that it would be introduced so suddenly and without technological support.”
In a minority of cases, cards enabled the recording of incidents that are later relied upon immigration officials, she argued.
Image by Danny Howard, CC BY 2.0 through flickr