Immigration officers accused of racial profiling as they stop thousands of British citizens

British citizens are stopped by immigration officers ten times a day on average, new data reveals, prompting fresh accusations people are being targeted because of their skin colour.

An investigation by the Bristol Cable and Bureau of Investigative Journalism shows nearly a fifth of all people stopped and asked to prove their immigration status are British - a proportion which has remained unchanged for almost seven years.

Immigration officials are supposed to conduct their checks based on intelligence or behaviour that gives them “reasonable suspicion” someone has committed an immigration offence. Yet British people are stopped more than any other nationality, our data shows.

Since the start of 2012, British citizens have been subject to immigration spot checks more than 25,000 times.

The findings have sparked outrage from MPs and human rights lawyers, who said the fact so many of those stopped were British suggested that stops were based on racial profiling rather than intelligence.

“These findings are further evidence of the deeply ineffective and very likely discriminatory practices used by the Home Office,” said MP David Lammy. “It is absurd that each year thousands of British citizens are being spot checked by immigration enforcement.”

Dawn Butler, Shadow Secretary for Women and Equalities, said: “These statistics are appalling but sadly not surprising, as I recognise this evidence from my own lived experience. Immigration enforcement should not discriminate against any individual as it results in huge structural barriers against black and minority ethnic people in the UK.”

A previous Bureau and Bristol Cable investigation found a fifth of people stopped by immigration enforcement operations between 2012 and 2017 were British citizens. MPs and human rights lawyers said this suggested racial profiling was taking place and called for the Home Office to review its procedures.

However new figures, which cover the 21 months immediately after the five years covered by the first dataset, reveal nothing has changed - even after the Windrush scandal and outcry over the Home Office’s “hostile environment” policy. British citizens still make up almost a fifth of all people stopped, and Brits are still stopped more than any other nationality.

In London, the rate at which Brits are caught up in immigration stops has actually increased, making up 16.7% of all stops in the latest time period, compared to 13.7% of stops from 2012 to 2017.

Leading immigration barrister Colin Yeo said the situation was deeply concerning. “It is hard to imagine that there can be a good intelligence basis for thinking a British citizen is an immigration offender,” he said. “This raises the worry that such encounters are driven by racial profiling.”

Home Office guidelines state spot checks should be carried out only when officials have a “reasonable suspicion” that someone has committed an immigration offence. This can be based on intelligence or because of a person’s behaviour - but it must not be based on an individual’s personal characteristics. An immigration officer “must not stop an individual based on their physical appearance,” the rules say.

The Equalities Act 2010 actually makes it illegal to stop someone on the basis of their race or ethnicity - however the Home Office does not routinely record the ethnicity of those encountered, meaning it is impossible to know just which British citizens are being challenged.

MPs and experts are calling on the Home Office to start recording ethnicity in its data, to allow for better scrutiny of who they are targeting.

Shadow Immigration Minister, Labour’s Afzal Khan said the data raised “serious questions” and called for the Home Office to “examine its methods of immigration enforcement.”

That call was echoed by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, who have challenged the Home Office before on this issue. A spokesperson for the commission said: “It would be extremely concerning if immigration officials and the Home Office are carrying out checks through racial profiling.

“The Home Office should review its immigration policies to ensure they are in accordance with their legal equality duties and take appropriate action to address any shortcomings.”

A Home Office spokesperson told the Bureau: “Enforcement operations by Immigration Enforcement officers are intelligence-led and are carried out only where there is a reasonable prospect of encountering immigration offenders. Immigration Enforcement officers do not carry out random visits and nor do they stop individuals at random.”

Officers interact with people “for a range of reasons,” said the spokesperson, and it was “not unusual” for them to encounter British citizens during the course of their operations.

Our reporting on local power is part of our Bureau Local project, which has many funders. None of our funders have any influence over the Bureau’s editorial decisions or output


  • Tom Wills

    Do we know how many of the non-British people turned out to be innocent? I wonder if this would even more strongly indicate that people are being randomly stopped rather than on the basis of intelligence?

    Reply Reported
  • Telh

    People are streaming over the border from Africa in their hundreds so why would you neglect the obvious suspects?

    Reply Reported
  • Rafael Dos Santos Abreu

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