Travellers To Pay More – US Immigration Officers To Be Stationed At UK Airports

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Jul 10 2017
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Get ready to be greeted by armed U.S. immigration officers – at UK airports – before boarding your transatlantic flight to the United States. Under a new radical plan being discussed, British holidaymakers visiting the U.S. would be cleared by U.S. immigration stationed in their country, before boarding an aircraft.


Officials between both countries are still discussing, and negotiating over the practicalities. The plan, which resembles U.S. pre-clearance operations at Dublin and Shannon airports in Ireland, will require approval from Theresa May administration though. The biggest issue, however, is the cost of operation. Who will pay for the extra costs?


If the plans receive the necessary green lights to go ahead, airlines could be forced to pay for US security staff and their families to live in the UK. Airlines, in turn, are likely to pass these extra costs onto passengers travelling from Britain to the U.S. Passengers who had experienced the nightmare of long queues at U.S. immigration and customs when they touch down on American soil will gladly pay.

US Immigration and Customs Pre-Clearance at UK Airports

Besides pricier flight tickets, passengers will likely be asked to turn up at the airport earlier to undergo questions from US officials in addition to the normal security checks. Again, passengers would rather be turned away in their own backyard than once landed on American soil. So, if British are ready to pay more and don’t mind turning up early to be interrogated, what’s the problem here?


The question being asked is why should the American immigration officers allowed to be armed in Britain, although it’s a normal custom in the U.S. So far, two airports – Manchester and Edinburgh – are reportedly considering the scheme.  Gatwick, however, declared that it has ‘no plans’ to participate in the program.


Heathrow, UK’s busiest airport, on the other hand, has turned the idea down because of the obstacles involved in bringing the U.S. immigration officers to the country. The airport also said such system would not be practical because it would require large area of a terminal to be sealed off. Like an embassy, this area would be under U.S. immigration jurisdiction – a tricky issue concerning UK’s sovereignty.

US Customs and Border Protection - Ireland Dublin Pre-Clearance

Ireland is the only European country with pre-clearance facilities – a deal between the U.S. and Ireland dates back to 1986. Dublin Airport claims the whole process can save passengers at least two hours. Passengers are not subject to further checks as flights arrive would be treated as if they are domestic rather than international terminals at US airports.


The U.S. already has special immigration checks in six countries around the world, with more than 600 law enforcement officers stationed at 15 locations. US Secretary of Homeland Security, John Kelly supported establishing pre-clearing immigration procedures in the UK as it could improve flight security and shorten waiting times at arrival.


U.S. pre-clearance exist at most major Canadian airports, including Calgary, Toronto, Edmonton, Halifax, Montreal, Ottawa, Vancouver, and Winnipeg. Other countries involved in the program are Ireland (Dublin and Shannon), The Bahamas (Freeport and Nassau), Bermuda, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates and Aruba. The UK will be the seventh country, if they agree with the plan.

Armed US Immigration and Customs Officers - CBP

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) air pre-clearance operations could only exist if the Government of the United States and the government of the host countries establish such agreements. In Fiscal Year 2016, CBP personnel stationed abroad pre-cleared 18 million travellers, representing over 15% of all commercial air travellers to the United States.


The primary objective of establishing CBP in strategic locations is to assist the U.S. in identifying terrorists, criminals, and other national security threats prior to their boarding an aircraft bound for the United States, and is a critical step in DHS’s continued efforts to enhance national security and facilitate growing international travel and commerce.


However, even if United Kingdom agrees to sign an agreement with the United States on establishing the CBP operations at selected airports in the country, it could take up to 5 years to be implemented. Therefore, excited travellers eager to pay more so that they could avoid mind-boggling queues upon their arrival on American soil will have to wait.

UK Manchester Airport

UK is not the only country currently in discussion with the U.S. on establishing the pre-clearance facilities. Agreements had been reached late last year for new facilities in Stockholm in Sweden and Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic. Even during Obama administration, Heathrow and Manchester as well as Schiphol in Amsterdam were part of a study for pre-clearance.


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