Immigration officer

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John is an intelligence officer at the Heathrow intelligence unit, where she works as part of a team dedicated to stopping people entering the UK illegally.

How would you outline your role?

My role is split into intelligence and surveillance. As an intelligence officer, I spend time researching the ways in which people try and gain illegal entry into the UK, and use this intelligence to help strengthen our border controls. On the surveillance side, I monitor flights arriving at Heathrow. Our aim is to stop passengers who don't have permission from entering the UK. I also work with the Heathrow prosecution unit targeting the activities of organised criminals and people traffickers.

What are your main responsibilities?

I check passengers' passports as they disembark to make sure they are valid, and also look out for immigration offenders, or people who have already been identified by intelligence as arriving on that flight. Once we know who these people are, we interview them and search their baggage to gather further evidence for prosecution.

What other tasks do you do?

I also spend time in the office, following up intelligence gathered and preparing for any flights our intelligence says may be carrying illegal immigrants. This intelligence comes from a variety of sources such as other passengers, immigration staff from other airports, and the police.

What hours do you work?

I work shifts for five days a week, including weekends. The hours vary and I could start at night, or when the first flights come in at around 5.00am.

Who do you work with?

I spend time with my team. I liaise with people from various organisations including the police, Customs and Excise, airlines, security staff, immigration officers from around the world, and government agencies both in the UK and abroad.

What special skills or qualities do you need for your job?

Because you are dealing with time sensitive intelligence, you are always working to tight deadlines, so the ability to prioritise is important. You also need to be adaptable and able to learn new laws as they are implemented. Excellent observational skills and an interest in investigative work are essential, as is good judgment and being able to deal diplomatically with people.

Why did you choose this type of work?

I've always been interested in immigration law and studying it at undergraduate level encouraged me to join. It's a fascinating area of government policy. The immigration service also provides a clear career structure.

What training have you received?

My induction training gave me a thorough grounding in UK and European immigration law, as well as covering practical things such as how to spot forged documents and how to interview people.

Do you use any tools or equipment?

IT plays an integral part of the work, and we use equipment such as closed-circuit television (CCTV), video and digital cameras and communications systems.

What do you like/dislike about your job?

Every day is different and I meet people from all corners of the world. I also enjoy being part of a team, sharing ideas and knowledge, and being at the heart of real-life issues. There is also a good balance between working unsupervised and receiving support if you need it. The flexibility of the shift pattern suits me, but working weekends and the unsociable hours isn't for everyone. The day can be very busy and extremely demanding, both physically and mentally.

What are the particular challenges in your work?

Organised crime is becoming more complex and sophisticated, which makes it harder to combat.

How do you see your future?

I love intelligence work and the policy side of things, so perhaps I'll aim at a more senior role working with technology, or a job in policy at the Home Office. If you have an ambition to work abroad then there are lots of opportunities to do so in the Immigration Service.

John's route to becoming an Immigration officer

  • Studied immigration policy as part of degree.
  • Placement at an immigration unit during her course.
  • Worked in IT support.
  • Worked for two years on passport border control, before joining the intelligence unit.

John's Immigration officer tips

  • An interest in current affairs is important.
  • Because you are dealing with the public, you must be able to speak clearly and explain what you are doing, and why you are doing it.

Immigration officer related jobs

  • Criminal intelligence analyst
  • Police officer.
  • Security officer/manager.

Immigration officer salary

  • The Immigration Service is part of the Home Office and pay is governed by Civil Service scales. Immigration officers earn from £18,380 to £23,930.
  • There may also be an additional cost-of-living allowance for working in and around London, plus extra payments for overtime and public holidays.

Becoming an Immigration officer

  • Applicants may not need formal qualifications, but must sit a written exercise designed to test analytical, written and decision-making skills.
  • All applicants must be UK nationals and security clearance is required for all posts.

Modified: 16 June 2013

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