Why has UK Borders Force changed immigration rules for cruise passengers?

The UK Borders Force has, with virtually no consultation, made a significant change to the way cruise passengers in transit are treated when they come ashore at UK ports.

Previously, cruise lines whose ships were scheduled to berth for given periods at UK ports would submit passenger and crew manifests well in advance of arrival. This gave the Borders authorities plenty of time to check out those on board and consequently clear them for entry in advance.

Now passengers are subjected to a face to face check of their documentation before they may come ashore.

There are cost implications for the cruise lines from this, as well as the obstructive nuisance-value to passengers.

The cruise industry has raised formal objections to this through the convener of the Scottish Parliament’s Marine Tourism group, Stuart McMillan.

Mr McMillan is alarmed that this change of pr0ocedure, in terms of passenger experience and of additional costs, looks likely to impact on cruise companies’ interest in scheduling visits to Scotland, which has been the major UK destination.

The MSP has now written formally to the UK Home Office Minister for Immigration, Mark Harper, asking for an urgent rethink of this new practice on border controls for cruise passengers – before they do lasting damage to the industry in Scotland.

This is no small matter.

In 2012 just under 400,000 people visited Scotland from cruise ships – with the industry overall showing a five-fold increase in numbers in the decade between 2000 and 2010.

Business from cruise ships currently contributes £41m to the Scottish economy – with Scotland named 2012 ‘Destination of the Year’ at the Seatrade Cruise Insider Awards.

Mike Cantlay of VisitScotland is quick to attribute this accolade in large part to the success of Brave, the Disney animation film for whose marketing campaign VisitScotland contributed £7 million.

While Brave does indeed show a range of images of Scotland;s spectacular landscape, we remain to be convinced that this particular film will achieve the impact hoped and claimed for it.

Any Disney film will be seen in large numbers and therefore return decently at the box office – but the good ones are all over the reviews. We have seen very little reviewing of Brave by the critics and media platforms likely to shape its impact and drive up its audiences.

It is a simplistic piece and often borders unhelpfully on the caricature – which is not helpful for a country aiming to be grown up and to attract a grown up audience.

Skyfall, though, is a very different matter. This is a cracking film, very well made, with a superBond plotline and is a runaway success. It has real life Glen Coe, Glen Etive and a major fire scene set in that glen, with Dalness Lodge – well, a  model of it – burned out. And it’s just been nominated for Best Picture at the Producers Guild of America Awards. This film really will sell Scotland.

However, the UK Borders Force intervention in the operation of shore visits from cruise liners is clearly unhelpful  to tourism industry development, to say the least.

With these ships carrying between three and four thousand passengers, it is not hard to imagine quite what an obstruction to the experience is a face-to-face document check for each of them.

Industry body, Cruise Scotland’s Chair, Richard Alexander, has told Stuart McMillan, in writing: ‘Scotland receives a large volume of transit calls arriving from foreign ports in comparison to the rest of the UK. A number of cruise lines have already expressed extreme dissatisfaction over the current UKBF stance on completing face-to-document checks and passing on additional unwelcome costs.

‘At a time when Cruise Lines are already facing increasing operational costs, this is effectively a new tax on their operations. They have also indicated that this will make the UK uncompetitive and unappealing and act as a deterrent for ships to call at UK ports.’

Mr NcMillan says: ‘“Serious concerns have been raised about the UK government’s immigration checks for cruise ship passengers that cannot be ignored.

‘I have written to Mr Harper to ask for clarity on how these rules are affecting Scotland as the voices from the industry say it is hugely negative and must be changed before it is too late.

‘I have heard passengers have faced lengthy delays as a result of this system, which is having a detrimental effect on the industry in Scotland.’

Mr McMillan’s intervention is timely and constructive. This is not an issue which can be left to pass by default. There is no practical benefit from its introduction beyond the previous procedure – which requires to be reinstated without delay.

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15 Responses to Why has UK Borders Force changed immigration rules for cruise passengers?

  1. So, to summarise the sentiment here – because it’s been done for years, it’s okay not to properly vet anyone arriving on a cruise ship and only visiting for a few hours?

    This loophole is a dream for undesirables and maybe FA would be interested in pursuing the UKBA perspective on this, appreciating it’s not immediately apparent at the moment.

    I could probably guess – undesirable wishes to enter UK but has blacklisted passport. They discover that if they book on a cruise that stops at a UK port, all that is submitted is a manifest, no electronic checks of the passport are done. Bingo – fake passport created in someone elses name, jump on a cruise, take a day trip and disappear into the UK without a trace.

    Am I being dramatic? Maybe, but given the lengths these people go to, probably not far from the truth.

    Looking forward to hearing the other side of this story.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  2. What do other countries do?

    I have read many reports on the USA’s TSA at airports, they seem particularly moronic even by jobsworths’ standards. I can’t imagine them letting in cruise ship passengers without proper checks.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  3. Before boarding a UK flagged cruise ship in Vancouver for a cruise to 5 Alaskan ports finishing in Seattle we had to go through full US Customs and Immigration checks,biometric eye photos and fingerprints etc, and were issued with a Green Visa Waiver Card this enabled the non-US passengers, like ourselves, to disembark and embark at will at the ports of call. At the end of the cruise in Seattle we left the ship when our taxi arrived to take us to our hotel with no further hassle.

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    • We had to go through the biometric USA immigration rigmarole last year whilst our flight from New Zealand to UK was being refuelled at Los Angeles. We left the aircraft, passed through immigration & were corralled in a locked room back at the top of the air bridge adjacent to the aircraft. It was a wholly pointless exrercise to deal with a two hour secure stay and was certainly not a welcome feature between thirteen and ten hour flight sectors. It’s the sort of hassle that says “Avoid the USA in future” & the UK BF would do well to take note.

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  4. Lets take the first para…. The UK Borders Force has, with virtually no consultation, made a significant change to the way cruise passengers in transit are treated when they come ashore at UK ports…… “Virtually no consultation” But consulted all the same. This is an implementation of a rule that has always been in existence, that is, that landing is at the discretion of the UKBA Immigration Officers and they may chose to inspect – so now they do, every time.
    “Transit” only an Immigration Officer has discretion outside the Rules to allow visa nationals to transit the UK without requiring them to hold a visa for that purpose – for that they need to inspect. I think the rules comes under VAT08 Special visitors.
    This is a sensible application of the rules. Thespians and scribbler were recently defending the indefeasible, the position of Scots for Scottish jobs, now here’s a sensible alternative for which Scotland and the UK as a whole has a Border Force- stopping illegals piling in through the back door. Then again this is far removed from the persistent world wide problem of ships’s crew members being denied shore leave, even if our papers are in order, many countries and ports including the US of A do not allow shore leave at all, because they do not recognize the validity of our documents
    This article is a press release, a piece of puff, a non-story.

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    • Is this article based on a press release by SNP MSP Stuart Macmillan, convener of Holyrood’s cross-party group on recreational boating and marine tourism. The same guy who is way behind the curve on the current Coastguard debacle and who again appears again way behind with the Border Agency? So you get off your plane at Edinburgh airport and go through immigration, why no immigration check at Leith docks, its only done once on arrival, whether or not you then visit any other port in the UK? You’re free to wander with no further ID checks, indeed the requirement to carry personal ID in the UK was repealed in the 50s after WW2. There is nothing romantic about stowaways or illegals- they are at times dangerous and occasionally armed, coupled with the fact that the ship gets heavily fined if they land. This Stuart Macmillan – he’s having a laugh – isn’t he?

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    • Does this mean that in the (hopefully unlikely) event of the SNP winning the independence referendum then they will not have controls on passengers of cruise ships in Scottish ports?

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  5. The cruise liners’ representatives raised it as an issue. Given they have experience of how other countries handle the matter more sensitively but with rigour the MSP was right to raise it.

    It’s not as if the UK Border Agency has a particularly good reputation for competence

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

    • Why should our immigration service run differing systems for ports of entry. Arrive at an airport the officer checks you and your papers – all in order on you go. The Agency now want all arrivals including passengers on cruise ships who are seeking to go ashore to present a passport satisfactorily establishing identity and nationality but, unless the immigration officer has good reason to do otherwise, they should normally limit their examination to establishing that the document is valid, contains a United Kingdom visa where necessary, and is in the hands of its rightful holder. This has always been in the immigration rules. Not too onerous, and brings the process into line with airline arrivals. Indeed, the requirement, to rely solely on the ship’s passenger manifest, is changing due to the introduction of the UK Borders Agency e-borders system. Of course, the cruise and liner trade will see this as an additional cost, and invariably up the cruise price. And yes the Border Agency and its personnel are far from perfect. But one check and you enter Scotland and the UK, yes you will have a boarding pass, but there are few countries that give you this freedom to roam unchallenged, and mingle with the locals, and this freedom doesn’t required the whole population to carry ID* as a matter of necessity. *A number of countries do not have national identity cards. These include Australia, Canada, Denmark, Ireland, India, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, the United Kingdom and the United States. Clearly a decision has been made stop cruise passengers exemption and get rid of the “one state two immigration systems”. It probably isn’t perfect in it’s implementation. I agree, I’ve been through easier systems too, but they tend not to handle the volume of people that transit the UK .

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    • Graeme, the Cruise Liner companies are only interested in profit. When we see the lengths that some will go to to try and get into the UK, then this move to enforce the rules must be welcomed.

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  6. It appears that this is an example of the UKBA showing how it can flex it’s muscles. Security is all about advance checking and making folks queue is just kid on security showboating. Look at Glasgow airport with advance US immigration facilities or the fact that you don’t get past check in for let us say Australia, unless you have an online electronic visa ot eta. Yes, it does seem that the shambolic UKBA is just showing itself for the mess that it is.

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    • So, how many Immigration Officers (and their associated desks) are going to turn up at Oban to disembark 2000+ passengers? 2? – even 20 means each one processes 100 passengers. And then hang about all day, because, unlike an airport, the cruisers don’t all disembark on arrival.

      They don’t all go back on board. Some will take taxi or hire car to meet up with the liner at a later port.

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  7. Shambolic? This isn`t some schoolground spat,it`s the security of our country. Time for some adult debate, not the usual huffing and puffing from the nationalists when a decision is made that they didn’t sanction and that they do not like.

    The lack of appreciation of this issue and the wider context is worrying.

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  8. By contrast, dedicated transport oriented ocean liners do “line voyages” and typically transport passengers from one point to another, rather than on round trips. Traditionally, an ocean liner for the transoceanic trade will be built to a higher standard than a typical cruise ship, including high freeboard and stronger plating to withstand rough seas and adverse conditions encountered in the open ocean, such as the North Atlantic. Ocean liners also usually have larger capacities for fuel, victuals, and other stores for consumption on long voyages, compared to dedicated cruise ships.`.

    Visit our personal web page as well

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