UK Border Agency

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UK Border Agency
Abbreviation UKBA
Logo of the UK Border Agency
Agency overview
Formed 1 April, 2008
Preceding agencies
Dissolved 1 April 2013
Superseding agency Border Force
UK Visas and Immigration
Immigration Enforcement
Employees 23,500
Legal personality Governmental: Government agency
Jurisdictional structure
National agency
(Operations jurisdiction)
United Kingdom
Legal jurisdiction United Kingdom
General nature
Specialist jurisdictions
  • National border patrol, security, and integrity.
  • Customs.
Operational structure
Headquarters 2 Marsham Street, London, SW1P 4DF
Sworn members 10,000
Unsworn members 10,000
Minister responsible James Brokenshire, Minister of State for Immigration
Agency executive Rob Whiteman, Chief Executive
Parent agency Home Office
UKBA 42m Customs Cutters Five
Planes Yes
Detection dogs Over 100

The UK Border Agency (UKBA) was the border control agency of the Government of the United Kingdom and part of the Home Office that was superseded by UK Visas and Immigration in April 2013.[1] It was formed as an executive agency on 1 April 2008 by a merger of the Border and Immigration Agency (BIA), UKvisas and the Detection functions of HM Revenue and Customs. The decision to create a single border control organisation was taken following a Cabinet Office report.[2]

The agency's head office was 2 Marsham Street, London. Rob Whiteman became Chief Executive in September 2011. Over 23,000 staff worked for the agency, in over 130 countries. It was divided into four main operations, each under the management of a senior director: operations, immigration and settlement, international operations and visas and law enforcement.[3]

The agency came under formal criticism from the Parliamentary Ombudsman for consistently poor service, a backlog of hundreds of thousands of cases, and a large and increasing number of complaints.[4] In the first nine months of 2009–10, 97% of investigations reported by the Ombudsman resulted in a complaint against the agency being upheld.[5] The complainants were asylum, residence, or other immigration applicants.[5]

On 26 March 2013, following a scathing report into the agency's incompetence by the Home Affairs Select Committee,[6] it was announced by Home Secretary Theresa May that the UK Border Agency would be abolished and its work returned to the Home Office. Its executive agency status was removed[7] as of 31 March 2013 [8] and the agency was split into two new organisations; UK Visas and Immigration focusing on the visa system and Immigration Enforcement, focusing on immigration law enforcement.[9][10] The border control division of the UKBA had already been separated from the rest of the agency in April 2012 as the Border Force.


The agency attained full agency status on 1 April 2009. Immigration Officers and Customs Officers retained their own powers for the enforcement and administration of the UK's borders, although management of the new organisation was integrated and progressively officers were cross trained and empowered to deal with customs and immigration matters at the border. The Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009 received Royal Assent on 21 July 2009. This allowed the concurrent exercise of customs powers by HMRC Commissioners and the Director of Border Revenue; it was the first step in overhauling immigration and customs legislation.

A UK Border Agency officer examines counterfeit football shirts upon their arrival in the United Kingdom

The UK Border Agency had a staff of 23,500 people located in over 130 countries. Overseas staff vetted visa applications and operated an intelligence and liaison network, acting as the first layer of border control for the UK. The organisation operated as the single force at the border for the UK. Local immigration teams worked within the regions of the United Kingdom, liaising with the police, HMRC, local authorities and the public.[11] In August 2009 HM Revenue and Customs transferred several thousand customs detection officers to the agency, following Parliament agreeing to give it customs control powers. The agency then began to investigate smu ggling. The agency was developing a single primary border control line at the UK border combining controls of people and goods entering the country.

The agency's E-borders programme checked travellers to and from the UK in advance of travel, using data provided by passengers via their airline or ferry operators. The organisation used automatic clearance gates at main international airports.

The agency managed the UK Government's limit on non-European economic migration to the UK. It was responsible for in-country enforcement operations, investigating organised immigration crime and to detecting immigration offenders including illegal entrants and overstayers. The body was also responsible for the deportation of foreign national criminals at the end of sentences.

The UK Border Agency's budget combined with that of the Border Force was £2.17 billion in 2011-12. Under the spending review the agency was required to cut costs by up to 23%.[12] At its peak the agency employed around 25,000 staff, but 5,000 posts were due to be cut by 2015 against the 2011-12 levels.[13]

Founding Chief Executive Lin Homer left the agency in January 2011 to become the Permanent Secretary at the Department for Transport. Deputy Chief Executive Jonathan Sedgwick was acting chief until the new CEO, Rob Whiteman, took over on 26 September 2011. Sedgwick then became director of international operations and visas.[3] In July 2011, the strategic policy functions of the agency moved to the Home Office.

Home Secretary Theresa May announced to Parliament on 26 March 2013 that the agency would be abolished due to continuing poor performance, and replaced by two new smaller organisations which would focus on the visa system and immigration law enforcement respectively. The UKBA's performance was described as "not good enough", partly blamed on the size of the organisation. A report by MPs also criticised the agency, and described it as "not fit for purpose". It was also claimed that the agency had provided inaccurate reports to the Home Affairs Select Committee over a number of years.[9] The agency was split internally on 1 April 2013, becoming a visa and immigration service and separate immigration law enforcement service.[14]


UKBA Cutters, such as HMC Searcher, are capable of top speeds of 26 knots[15]
The UKBA often cooperated with the Police, such as at this customs raid. The officer on the left is a Police Community Support Officer (PCSO)

Staff held a mixture of powers granted to them by their status as immigration officers and customs officers.

Immigration powers

Immigration officers had the power of arrest and detention conferred on them by the Immigration Act 1971, when both at ports and inland. In practice, border force officers exercised powers under Schedule 2 of the Immigration Act 1971 and inland immigration officers under S28A-H of the Immigration Act 1971 and paragraph 17 of Schedule 2. This led to separate training for border and inland officers.

This act is applicable in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. "Designated Immigration Officers" are port immigration officers who have been trained in detention under PACE. UK Border Agency immigration officers wear a uniform with rank insignia. Enforcement immigration officers wear body armour and carry handcuffs and ASP batons.

Offices of the UK Border Agency in Sheffield

Customs powers

Customs officers had wide-ranging powers of entry, search and detention. The main power was to detain anyone who had committed, or who the officer had reasonable grounds to suspect had committed, any offence under the Customs and Excise Acts.[16]

Removal of foreign nationals

The UK Border Agency occasionally removed foreign national criminals at the end of their prison terms. Over 5000 foreign national prisoners were deported each year. The agency also removed failed asylum seekers and others illegally in the UK. A 2009 report by the National Audit Office cited lack of detention space to support the asylum process. The agency had over 3000 detention spaces in removal centres run by private contractors or the Prison Service.[17]

Immigration control

UKBA officers man the UK border at London Heathrow Airport's Terminal 5

Common travel area

Immigration control within the United Kingdom is managed within a wider Common Travel Area (CTA). The CTA is an intergovernmental agreement that allows freedom of movement within an area that encompasses the UK, Isle of Man, Channel Islands (Guernsey, Jersey, Sark and Alderney) and the Republic of Ireland. Authorised 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, i.e. 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 as the first Schengen country entered is France. UK Border Agency checkpoints in France are operated at Gare de Calais-Fréthun, Gare de Lille Europe, Marne la vallée Chessy TGV, Gare d'Avignon centre, Channel Tunnel, Calais ferry terminal, Dunkirk ferry terminal and Gare du Nord station, Paris. A checkpoint operated at Boulogne-sur-Mer until the port closed in August 2010. United States border preclearance is an equivalent system operated by that country's equivalent to the UKBA at some airports outside the US.


Student visas

There have also been difficulties with the management of student visas under Tier 4 of the Points-Based System. The assessment of the Independent Chief Inspector, carried out between July and August 2010, found that there was an inconsistent response towards applications, with some cases given extra time to prepare and others dismissed for minor reasons.[18]

Dropped casework

In November 2011, the Home Affairs Select Committee issued a report that found that 124,000 deportation cases had been shelved by the UKBA. The report said the cases had been dumped in a "controlled archive", a term used to try to hide the fact from authorities and auditors that it was a list of lost applicants.[19]

Border checks

Following allegations that staff were told to relax some identity checks, in November 2011 the UK Home Office suspended: Brodie Clark, the Head of the Border Force;[20] Carole Upshall, director of the Border Force South and European Operation;[21] Graham Kyle, director of operations at Heathrow Airport.[20] The Home Office is presently investigating allegations that Clark had agreed to "open up the borders" at certain times in ways ministers would "not have agreed with".[20] It is alleged that between July and the end of October 2011, queues at passport control were "managed" so as not to annoy holiday makers.[21] The BBC reported that staff may have been told not to scan biometric passports at certain times, which contain a digital image of the holder's face, which can be used to compare with the printed version and check the passport has not been forged.[20] It is also believed that "warning index checks" at Heathrow and Calais were also suspended, which would have applied strict security checks against official watchlists of terrorists, criminals, and deported illegal immigrants.[22]

After Clark refused the offer to take early retirement, he was suspended and the investigation began.[20] A two-week inquiry led by former Metropolitan Police detective Dave Wood, currently head of the agency's enforcement and crime group, sought to discover to what extent checks were scaled down, and what the security implications might have been. A second investigation, led by former MI6 official Mike Anderson, the Director General of the Home Office's strategy, immigration and international group, sought to investigate wider issues relating to the performance of UKBA regarding racism.

It was then announced on 5 November by Theresa May that an independent inquiry would also be undertaken, led by the Chief Inspector of the UK Border Agency, John Vine.[23] The Border Force became a separate organisation on 1 March 2012.[24]

2014 Sham Weddings Trial Collapse

In October 2014, the trial of the Reverend Nathan Ntege - accused of conducting almost 500 sham marriages at a church in Thornton Heath, South London between 2007 and 2011 - collapsed after it became apparent that evidence had been tampered with, concealed, or even possibly destroyed. As immigration officers were questioned in the witness box of the Inner London Crown Court it became clear that not only had video footage gone missing but that an investigation log had been tampered with. The trial was halted by Judge Nic Madge, who said in court: "I am satisfied that officers at the heart of this prosecution have deliberately concealed important evidence and lied on oath”. The Judge added: “The bad faith and misconduct started in 2011, when two of the principal defendants were arrested, and has continued throughout the course of this trial. In my judgment, it has tainted the whole case. It has tainted the prosecution against all seven defendants. It is a case in which the prosecution should not be allowed to benefit from the serious misbehaviour of the officer in the case or the disclosure officer”. The Reverend Ntege and six other defendants were formally acquitted of all 17 charges, which related to marriages of convenience in order to bypass immigration laws. UK TV station Channel 4 News later reported that three immigration officers had been suspended and that the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) would be conducting an investigation. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said that it accepted that the handling of the case had fallen below acceptable standards and that it would conduct a full review.[25]

See also


  1. "UK Border Agency". GOV.UK. 2013. Retrieved 27 March 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. "Security in a global hub – Establishing the UK’s new border arrangements". Cabinet Office. Last updated 16 June 2009.
  3. 3.0 3.1 "Our organisation". UK Border Agency. 2013. Retrieved 27 March 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Fast and Fair? – report on UK Border Agency by the Parliamentary Ombudsman, published 9 February 2010
  5. 5.0 5.1 "Press release: Ombudsman publishes report on UK Border Agency". Retrieved 12 April 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. "The work of the UK Border Agency (July-September 2012) - Conclusions and recommendations". UK Parliament. 19 March 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. "UK Border Agency". UK Parliament Hansard via 26 March 2013. Retrieved 8 June 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. "UK Border Agency's transition to Home Office". Former UK Border Agency Website. 3 May 2013. Retrieved 8 June 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. 9.0 9.1 "UK Border Agency 'not good enough' and being scrapped". BBC News. 26 March 2013. Retrieved 26 March 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. UK Border Agency | Our organisation. (2013-04-01). Retrieved on 2013-10-23.
  11. "Our work in your region". UK Border Agency. 2013. Retrieved 27 March 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. "UK Border Agency Business Plan". UK Border Agency. 2011. Retrieved 27 March 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. "The UK Border Agency and Border Force: Progress in cutting costs and improving performance" (PDF). National Audit Office. 17 July 2012. Retrieved 27 March 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. "UK Border Agency's transition to Home Office". UK Border Agency. 3 May 2013. Retrieved 12 May 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. "News release: Preventing drugs and other illegal goods from being smuggled into Britain". UK Border Agency. 9 July 2008. Archived from the original on 30 December 2008.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. "Section 138, Customs and Excise Management Act 1979 (c. 2)". Office of Public Sector Information. Retrieved 12 April 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. "Audit Office report". National Audit Office. 23 January 2009. Retrieved 12 April 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. John Oates (16 February 2011). "UK Border Agency: Good at making cash, crap at making decisions". The Register. Retrieved 25 March 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. Casciani, Dominic (4 November 2011). "BBC News – UK Border Agency attacked for 'dumping' missing cases". BBC. Retrieved 12 April 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. 20.0 20.1 20.2 20.3 20.4 "BBC News – Head of UK border force Brodie Clark suspended". BBC. 5 November 2011. Retrieved 12 April 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  21. 21.0 21.1 James Slack (5 November 2011). "UK border chief axed passport controls: Top civil servant faces sack over decision that left Britain open to terrorists and criminals | Mail Online". Daily Mail. London. Retrieved 12 April 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  22. Alan Travis, home affairs editor (5 November 2011). "Head of UK border force suspended | UK news". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 12 April 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  23. Chris Mason (5 November 2011). "BBC News – Inquiry into border force passport check claims". BBC. Retrieved 12 April 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  24. "Theresa May to split up UK Border Agency". BBC News. 20 February 2012. Retrieved 27 March 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  25. Israel, Simon (23 October 2014). "Trial collapses after immigration officials 'lie under oath'". Channel 4 News. Retrieved 30 October 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links

This link takes you to Visa & Immigration Service