Border exit checks from the UK have started through a phased programme. Through this, data on all passengers leaving the UK is being collected and handed to the Home Office. The data is being collected on scheduled commercial international air, sea and rail routes.
The background is that in 1994 the Conservative government of the time partially scrapped exit checks on passengers leaving the UK. In 1998, the Labour government finished the job. Those decisions have provided the background to criticisms that successive governments stopped “counting people in and counting people out”. The justification at the time was that the then paper-based checks amounted to “an inefficient use of resources and that they contribute little to the integrity of the immigration control”, according to the Home Office.
Along with the subject of immigration generally, “net migration figures” has become a political football in recent years. However, the accuracy of those net migration estimates is limited—they have been based on a survey of just 4,000-5,000 migrants interviewed at ports, and that means there has been a huge grey area. It could easily be 40,000 less than that in reality, or 40,000 more.
The government says exit checks are “predominately an immigration and data tool”, giving a “comprehensive picture” of whether people leave the UK when they are supposed to.
It says the data – gathered by airline, rail or ferry operator staff – will “improve our ability to identify and further tighten the immigration routes and visas that are most vulnerable to abuse”.
It will also help security services “track the movements of known or suspected criminals and terrorists”.
School coach parties of European Economic Area children under the age of 16 will be exempt from checks.
Eurotunnel, which manages and operates the Channel Tunnel, said it has moved to 100% checks straight away.
John Vine, former independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, said “It will enable the government, for the first time in a long time, to have an idea of who’s left in Britain, because up until recently it’s not been possible for the government to know who’s overstayed their visa and who’s remained in the country, and they’ve not known who’s here and who’s left.”
As usual to do with anything on the subject of immigration, the announcement has led to arguments between Labour and Conservatives over whether pledges have been broken and the fact exit checks are being phased in instead of 100% being introduced in one go. One thing is for sure. The introduction has been without incident. Long may that continue.