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The UK Border Agency (UKBA) came into existence on 1 April 2008. Formed as a result of a Cabinet Officemarker report, a decision was taken to merge the Border and Immigration Agency (BIA), UKvisas and the port of entry functions of HM Revenue and Customs into one new integrated border control body. It is headed by Lin Homer, who was chief executive of the BIA, and is divided into three broad command structures, each under the management of a Senior Director:

  • external controls including visa issue in overseas posts
  • borders, including passport and customs controls
  • internal immigration controls including asylum, management of applications for further stay and enforcement.


The UK Border Agency has a staff of 25,000 people located in over 130 countries. Overseas UK Border Agency staff vet visa applications and operate an intelligence and liaison network, acting as the first layer of border control for the UK.

The UK Border Agency operates as the single force at the border for the UK. In August 2009 HM Revenue and Customs transferred several thousand customs detection officers to the Agency, following Parliament agreeing to give border customs control powers to the UK Border Agency. The Agency is developing a single primary border control line at the UK border combining controls of people and goods entering the UK.

The UK Border Agency is rolling out the e-Borders programme under which travellers to and from the UK are checked in advance of travel using data provided by passengers via their airline or ferry operators. The UK Border Agency also uses iris scan and other biometrics at automatic clearance gates at ten locations in the UK. It is playing a leading role in the introduction of biometric identity cards for foreign nationals, which were first introduced during 2008, and which are based on fingerprint data.

The UK Border Agency operates the UK Government's points-based system of determining whether to grant longer term entry to the UK based largely on the well established Australian system. The UK Border Agency is responsible for in-country enforcement operations to detect immigration offenders including illegal entrants and overstayers. It is also responsible for the deportation of foreign national criminals at the end of sentences and for combating illegal working.

[[Image:HMRC Vigilant BB.jpg|thumb|left|Customs Cutters are capable of top speeds of 26 knots]]

UK Border Agency has a £2 billion pound annual budget and is under pressure to cut costs and resources. It is undergoing a major long term re-structuring that will result in a regionalised organisation. The UK Border Agency committed to double the resources for enforcement operations in 2008 and to improve partnership working with other government agencies.


At the moment, staff hold a mixture of powers granted to them by their status as immigration officers and customs officers. See the section below for more information.

Immigration powers

Immigration officers have the power of arrest and detention whether they are at a port or inland, which is conferred on them by the Immigration Act 1971. In practice, port Immigration Officers exercise powers under Schedule 2 of the Immigration Act 1971 and inland Immigration Officers exercise powers under S28A-H of the Immigration Act 1971 and paragraph 17 of Schedule 2. This has led to separate training for port and inland Immigration officers, where port IOs are not training in PACE. PACE is applicable under English Law only. It is not a Scottish statute. "Designated Immigration Officers" are port Immigration Officers that have been trained in detention under PACE. Before the UKBA was established, British immigration officers were not uniformed, but now they do wear a uniform with rank insignia. Front line immigration officers wear body armour and carry handcuffs and ASP batons.

Customs powers

Customs officers have wide-ranging powers of entry, search and detention. The main power is to detain anyone who has committed, or who the officer has reasonable grounds to suspect has committed, any offence under the Customs and Excise Acts.

Future powers

UKBA attained full agency status on 1 April 2009. Immigration Officers and Customs Officers retain their own powers for the enforcement and administration of the UK's borders, although management of the new organisation has already begun to integrate. The Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Bill received royal assent on 22 July 2009. This allows the concurrent exercise of customs powers by HMRC Commissioners and the Director of Border Revenue; it is the first step in overhauling immigration and customs legislation, details are on the UKBA website.


UKBA announced at the beginning of 2009 that it had achieved its objective of deporting 5000 foreign national prisoners during the year and has successfully rolled out a programme of identity cards for foreign nationals.The 2009 report by the National Audit Office cites lack of detention space to support the asylum process. UKBA has currently a backlog of applications under EEA Regulations but aims to be within service standards by the end of 2009.

Immigration control

Common travel area:-Immigration control within the United Kingdom is governed by the common travel area (CTA) agreement that allows freedom of movement within an area that encompasses Great Britain, Northern Ireland, Isle of Man, Channel Islands and the Republic of Ireland. Entry to any of the above essentially allows entry to all the others but it is the responsibility of the person entering to ensure that they are properly documented for entry to other parts of the CTA. Despite the CTA it is still possible to be deported from the UK to the Republic of Ireland and vice versa.

Juxtaposed controls:-Entry to the UK via the Channel Tunnel from France or Belgium or by ferry through selected ports in north-east France is controlled by juxtaposed immigration controls in Britain, France, and Belgium, ie travellers clear UK passport control in France or Belgium and those travelling to France or Belgium clear French controls while in the UK. Belgium does not maintain controls in the UK.

See also


  1. Border Review
  2. Enforcing the Deal
  3. Section 138, Customs and Excise Management Act 1979 (c. 2)
  4. Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act
  5. Act gives UK Border Agency customs powers
  6. Audit Office report
  7. EEA applications processing times

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