International visitors to the UK will no longer be required to fill in a landing card as of Monday 20 May, a move that will “weaken our borders”, claims a key union.
Plans were already in place to scrap landing cards for visitors arriving from seven countries as of June 2019, but the Home Office has now decided to abolish the cards completely, according to leaked documents.
Travellers from any country outside the European Economic Area must currently fill in a landing card before entering the UK.
They record the reason for visiting and conditions of entry, as well as anything said to border officers on arrival.
Around 11 million are issued every year, however, the Home Office has told Border Force staff that “there will no longer be a requirement for any passenger, of any nationality, to complete a landing card” from 20 May.
The move will “help meet the challenge of growing passenger numbers,” said Border Force director general Paul Lincoln in a letter to staff, reports the BBC.
Lincoln added that the changes will enable frontline officers to focus their skills and time on border security issues and on “cohorts who present the greatest risk of immigration abuse.”
Additionally, a lot of the data collected by landing cards will soon be available digitally, according to officials.
However, unions are warning the move will weaken UK borders.
“The ISU is very disappointed that this measure was introduced so suddenly and without the technological support staff that had been promised,” Immigration Service Union (ISU) professional officer Lucy Moreton told The Independent.
“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.”
She said that, while the union accepts that the majority of landing cards are only used for statistical purposes, in a minority of cases cards are essential for recording incidents that are later relied upon by UK Visas and Immigration, Enforcement and elsewhere in government.
The unexpected change comes as nationals of seven extra countries, including the US and Australia, are being permitted to pass through passport e-gates as if they were EU citizens for the first time.
Moreton concluded: “This is not taking back control of our borders. This is further weakening them.”
The Home Office maintains the decision will not cause a security risk, and that cards are primarily used to collect statistics rather than informing routine security checks.