Fast-track lanes for visitors from wealthy westernised countries are to be set up at Heathrow to reduce queues at Britain's biggest airport, the Immigration Minister said yesterday.
Damian Green's announcement of the two-tier border system for non-Europeans provoked accusations that the move discriminated against travellers from developing nations.
Separate passport desks for people from the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Japan would be set up for new arrivals from countries whose citizens do not need a visa to visit Britain. The system will come into force at Heathrow, which has been plagued by delays in recent months, after the conclusion of the Olympic Games.
Mr Green told the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee that Britain could even ask the countries involved to set up reciprocal arrangements to fast-track UK travellers. "If it works, there will be a group of people who will have better experiences at Heathrow. That's beneficial in itself. If it has benefits for other British citizens as well, then absolutely we would be interested in pursuing that," Mr Green said.
But Habib Rahman, chief executive of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, said: "There is no evidence to suggest visitors from other countries are less trustworthy than visitors from these countries. This is a list of wealthy countries with links to the UK. It is based on wealth and trade links and it discriminates against people from the developing world."
Mr Green said from Sunday, all immigration desks will be opened and staffed at airports in the South-east at busiest times as visitors begin to arrive for the Olympics. He said numbers landing at Heathrow could rise to more than 100,000 a day during the Games, but promised enough staff to cope with the influx.
The minister acknowledged the situation at Heathrow had "not been perfect", but insisted it was improving. He said the maximum wait at Terminal 4 during a visit yesterday had been 28 minutes.
Keith Vaz, the select committee's chairman, said he encountered delays of more than one hour on Monday, with half of immigration desks unstaffed. Mr Green disputed his claims, saying 80 per cent of desks had been staffed during Monday's morning peak, with a maximum waiting time of 54 minutes for non-European passengers.
* The UK Border Agency is bringing in a private firm to track down a backlog of at least 150,000 missing migrants who have been refused permission to stay in the UK, Mr Green disclosed.
- More about:
- Commons Home Affairs Select Committee
- Damian Green
- Developing Nations
- Heathrow Airport
- House Of Commons
- Identity Cards