E-Borders Programme is Helping the Police but has yet to Deliver Significant Benefits to Immigration Control

The government’s e-Borders information had resulted in significant benefits for the police, enabling them to arrest thousands of suspects and wanted individuals. However, the programme still has some way to go to deliver many of the original benefits to immigration control that were anticipated. These were the findings of the Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration in his inspection report of e-borders, which was published today.

Ten years ago work commenced in the Home Office on a programme aimed at delivering a modern and efficient model of immigration control. The proposed solution, called the e-Borders programme, involved the collection of Advance Passenger Information (API) for all scheduled inbound and outbound passengers, in advance of travel. The intention was to ‘export the border,’ preventing passengers from travelling where they were considered a threat to the UK, while at the same time delivering a more efficient model of immigration control.

The Chief Inspector examined the efficiency and effectiveness of the e-borders programme in delivering its anticipated benefits. These included how Border Force had developed and used e-Borders to identify and track the movements of terrorists and national security targets, and how effectively they identified those who have abused or seek to abuse UK immigration control or customs laws.

The Chief Inspector was pleased to find that:

  • e-borders information had resulted in the arrests of thousands of individuals wanted by the police in connection with various offences, including murder and rape
  • e-Borders information was also being used successfully to identify individuals who had left the UK voluntarily following an adverse immigration decision
  • e-borders high profile alerts were being used to intercept high risk individuals at the arrivals gate at Heathrow
  • the ability to conduct travel history searches was a valuable tool in helping with immigration casework decisions

However, the Chief Inspector was concerned to find that:

  • the original e-borders business case had not anticipated risks relating to the compatibility of the e-Borders scheme with European law, nor the lack of alignment with rail and sea operations
  • as a result e-borders had not delivered the planned increases in passenger data collection, and only 65% of all passenger movements into and out of the UK were covered
  • 649,000 alerts relating to potential drug and tobacco smuggling were deleted from the system without being read over a ten month period, which had a significant impact on the ability of staff at the border to seize prohibited and restricted goods
  • e-borders high profile alerts were not being used to intercept high risk individuals at any other ports aside from Heathrow
  • the majority of e-borders immigration alerts added little value, because the information was already available to the Border Force Officers at the port of arrival
  • contrary to its 2006 business case, e-Borders data was not extensive enough to count foreign national passengers in and out of the UK
  • no consistent reporting regime was in place to inform Border Force of intended passenger arrivals by unscheduled sea travel (ferries, boats or ships)
  • the move away from the concept of risk based controls meant that faster processing times, based on e-Borders, had not been delivered

Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, John Vine CBE QPM said:

“Despite being in development for over a decade, and costing over half a billion pounds, the e-borders programme has yet to deliver many of the anticipated benefits originally set out in 2007.

It is no longer an aim of the programme to facilitate risk based controls, which would have seen the levels of immigration checks on arrival tailored to the perceived risk posed by passengers, nor has it delivered a system to count all foreign national passengers in and out of the UK.

I was surprised that the use of e-Borders information to “export the border,” by preventing the arrival of a passenger because they had either been deported or excluded from the UK previously, was not happening.

The Home Office should now define clearly what the aims of the e-borders programme are ahead of the new procurement exercise, and be transparent about what e-borders will deliver and by when.”

The Chief Inspector made 13 recommendations to the Home Office for improvement including, identifying how best to mandate API from unscheduled flight (e.g. private aircraft) operators in advance of travel, providing clear guidance to staff on how commodity alerts should be dealt with and taking steps to make e-borders data more reliable.