Fears were raised last night that the key port of Dover could be overrun by illegal immigrants after it emerged Labour is to axe a whole tier of senior border staff. All 24 staff with the title immigration officer – responsible for deciding whether migrants should be let into the country – will lose their jobs. They have been credited with 40 per cent of all the removals of illegal immigrants from Kent last year.
But the UK Border Agency plans to use cheaper junior staff who will not have the same powers to challenge those suspected of being illegal immigrants or potential visa over-stayers.
In another blow, proposals are also being made to shut down the 60-bed Dover detention centre. The facility is used to detain offenders before deportation and to hold immigrants awaiting interview.
Sue Kendal, branch secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union, said: ‘Dover is losing its entire immigration officer team and we are in danger of reverting to the bad old days of mass influxes.
‘We risk leaving the door open for a free-for-all, including people who want to harm the UK. The Government talks tough but in reality it is cutting front-line officers.’
Two chief immigration officers will also be axed, leaving just five, and assistant officers will decrease from 23 to 21. Further cuts in nearby Folkestone take the job losses to 30, according to unions.
The cuts, revealed in a leaked email, do not affect immigration officers on the Continent who check passports before travellers set off for the UK.
Mrs Kendal said: ‘Immigration officers do what we call “challenging interviews”, meaning they can challenge the answers given. This is a crucial stage but soon it will have gone. Assistant immigration officers have far fewer powers and can’t do this, but of course they’re much cheaper to employ. ‘They also won’t be operating for 24-hours-a-day any more. Kent is the UK’s frontline for immigration but some posts are being moved to Croydon, which is hardly a hotbed of illegal entry activity.’
In the job cuts memo regional deputy director Graham Ralph wrote: ‘The budget for Kent – including Dover, will be reduced by £1.5million annually. ‘This is a difficult and uncertain time for everyone. I urge staff to work together to get through this restructure.’
A spokesman for UKBA said: ‘We are consulting with unions and staff over the planned restructure of our Kent immigration team. ‘It is anticipated there will be fewer full-time equivalent positions in Kent, with some of these positions transferring to Sussex. It is not proposed the restructure will result in compulsory job losses.’ All remaining staff will have to reapply for their jobs.
Last night shadow home secretary Chris Grayling said: ‘Yet again Gordon Brown and his ministers are being completely hypocritical. ‘With an election due they have been trying to talk tough on immigration while behind the scenes they have been cutting our border controls. Things have to change.’