Up to now, international travellers arriving in the UK by air or sea from outside the European Economic Area have had to fill in landing cards.
From Monday this is no longer necessary and international passengers will also now be able to enter the UK through e-gates at passport control, which are currently only open to those from inside the UK. Travellers from the EU are already exempt.
UK Border Force director general Paul Lincoln, in a letter to staff, said it would ‘help meet the challenge of growing passenger numbers’.
About 16 million landing cards are issued every year and have been in use since 1971. They are used to record what is said to border staff on arrival. They ask details of the person’s visit to the UK as well as where and how long they are planning to stay. Proposals to scrap them were announced in August 2017.
Unions have warned the move risked weakening immigration controls. The ISU accused the Home Office of “ignoring” warnings from experienced staff despite the Windrush scandal which saw the department destroy thousands of landing cards.
“We acknowledge it is a minority of cases but it was not necessary to do this with just two working days’ notice,” said the spokeswoman.
A letter from officials to Border Force staff, seen by the BBC, says much of the data collected by paper landing cards will soon be available digitally.
It adds that the withdrawal of the cards will enable staff to ‘focus more on your interaction with passengers’
The letter to staff added: “These changes will enable frontline officers to focus their skills and time on border security issues and on cohorts who present the greatest risk of immigration abuse.”
The paper-based system was described by the Home Office as outdated and costing the public £3.6 million a year.