Nearly 900 Border Force posts, equivalent to 10 per cent of staff, have been scrapped over the past two years in the Government's austerity drive.
The scale of the cuts emerged as Damian Green, the Immigration minister, announced that 80 extra staff were being drafted in to Heathrow to avoid a repeat of last week's chaos at passport control. Amid warnings that the disruption was damaging Britain's reputation around the world, David Cameron told ministers to get a grip on the situation.
But the problems that the Border Force faces in dealing with surprise surges of passengers at arrival gates were underlined by staffing figures obtained by Labour. They show that the force's strength fell from 8,874 two years ago to 7,988 at the end of March, a drop of 886, and the reductions are set to continue.
As the cash squeeze continues, numbers are expected to fall to 7,759 in March 2013, 7,476 in March 2014 and 7,322 in March 2015. Over five years the force will have lost 1,552 officers, a reduction of more than 17 per cent.
Mr Cameron's official spokesman said yesterday: "It isn't purely about staff numbers. It's about how you manage your resources effectively and flexibly to ensure you have people in the right place." But Yvette Cooper, the shadow Home Secretary, accused ministers of a "shocking level of complacency" and claimed the "management of Britain's borders is drifting from one shambles to another".
The pressure on ministers intensified as Sir Keith Mills, the deputy chairman of the London Olympics organisers, Locog, warned that damage was already being done to Britain's image overseas. "We have set about using the Games to promote the country worldwide and if we are not friendly at the borders, that is not a good sign," he said.
During a visit to Heathrow yesterday, Mr Green said: "The problem is that people, at certain times, on certain days, have to wait too long. We're addressing that problem." He said the Border Force needed to work better with the airport operator BAA and the airlines and promised that 80 more people would be taken on at Heathrow during the month. The announcement was likened by the Public and Commercial Services Union to putting "a sticking plaster on a serious injury".
Earlier Mr Green clashed with Willie Walsh, the chief executive of British Airways' parent company IAG, over how long new arrivals at Heathrow had to wait to clear passport checks. Mr Green denied there had been any queues of more than 90 minutes and suggested passengers had been "confused" by delays waiting for their luggage.
But Mr Walsh countered: "We have accurate, detailed information that shows people queued for up to two hours and 31 minutes on Friday."Reuse content