If officials fail to meet the target, their earnings could suffer under a new appraisal system.
Civil servants staffing immigration desks have been told that the number of incomers they refer for interrogation should reflect the average for the entry point concerned.
Liberty, the civil rights group, yesterday demanded an inquiry into the revelations and an immediate statement from the Home Office. Andrew Puddephatt, the group's general secretary, said it was "outrageous that the Government was "playing statistics with people's lives".
The Home Office has received complaints about the new arrangement from immigration officers arguing that it puts pressure on officials to raise objections to a person's entry simply to ensure that their salaries do not suffer.
Section one, clause seven of the criteria used to assess the officers states: "The proportion of cases referred for further examination which result in refusal and/or asylum claim should reflect the port average."
After protests from civil servants, Terry Farrage, director of the Home Office department in charge of ports of entry, acknowledged in a note on 22 September that there was considerable concern over the clause, adding that it should be applied "sensibly"and should not assume "undue importance".
Mr Puddephatt, however, said: "If such a directive is being issued to immigration officials, the demand for proper due process laws and greater accountability of the officials is all the more urgent. The need to fulfil quotas is certain to force officials to refer cases on a random basis. This random factor severely discredits the methods which immigration officials use and casts the entire immigration procedure into doubt.
"It is outrageous to be playing statistics with people's lives, especially refugees and asylum seekers, who are often at their most vulnerable, feeling lost and disorientated, when they arrive in this country."
The National Union of Civil and Public Servants, which represents immigration officers, also believes the clause should be deleted. Union officials argue that despite the note from Mr Farrage, staff may feel obliged to stop incomers simply to meet the target. The temptation to do so would be particularly marked at the end of an assessment period. It is thought that over-zealous managers may well forget or ignore Mr Farrage's advice.
John Sheldon, general secretary of the union, said the clause may lead to some foreign nationals being detained when a "totally objective" decision would have been to grant entry. "An appraisal system that makes use of such blatantly bogus measures as this, places intolerable pressure on immigration officers, is highly suspect, wide open to abuse and should be scrapped immediately."
A Home Office spokeswoman drew attention to the cautionary note issued by Mr Farrage, saying the clause was not "written in tablets of stone".Reuse content