The UK Border Agency has disclosed that it is working on plans for fast-track passport lanes for rich travellers at Heathrow and other British airports so it can avoid a repeat of the two-hour queues witnessed this year. Brian Moore, the departing head of the UK Border Force, told MPs that “high-value” people who were considered valuable passengers by the airlines or valuable to the British economy would be given priority treatment at immigration control under the plans.
It would be an extension of a priority queueing system tried out this year at Heathrow, under which passengers from Australia, Canada, the US, New Zealand and other mainly “old Commonwealth” countries who do not need a visa to enter Britain would be fast-tracked.
Moore told the Commons home affairs select committee: “It is an idea that officials are discussing with port operators. It will then go back to ministers for them to consider whether and how it is going to be progressed. It is an idea that is being pursued.”
Keith Vaz, the committee chair, pressed Moore as to whether it meant the super-rich would have a fast-track into Britain. Moore said it would cover people who were “valuable to the economy and were valued by the airlines”. He said the move was intended to demonstrate that Britain was “open for business”.
The plan is likely to be seen as highly divisive, especially if there is any repeat of the two-hour queues at passport control earlier this year and in the runup to the Olympics. Even at normal times, passengers from outside the EU are expected to queue for up to 45 minutes to get through passport control at Heathrow. The airport has a target to keep passport queues below 25 minutes for passengers with EU passports.
UKBA declined to give any further detail on who would qualify as a “high-value business person” to get such preferential treatment. But it could be safely assumed that frequent business-class flyers might well be nominated by airlines to qualify. Other wealthy individuals and their families that British embassies, consulates and large companies nominate as valuable to the UK economy might also be offered such a fast-track into Britain.
Moore said similar fast-track schemes were in operation in other countries, with some airlines offering first-class ticket holders speedy passport checks.
The super-rich from outside Europe have already been offered a fast track to settle in Britain under immigration rule changes proposed last year. Overseas “super-investors” who are willing to keep £5m in a UK bank account are to be given the right to stay indefinitely in Britain after only three years, two years faster than the five-year wait imposed on every other migrant. An overseas investor who is willing to deposit more than £10m will be able to stay after an even shorter period: two years.
This contrasts sharply with the new minimum income threshold of £22,400 a year introduced in July for a British citizen wanting to bring an overseas spouse and child into the country to live with them.