Ran into a desk of Border Force officers at Stansted after clearing security. I then started thinking the exit border checks imposed at non-air borders had been extended to airports, but as I was taking out my ID card an officer looked at me confused and told me to keep walking.

What do these Border Force agents actually do, if not conducting exit border checks?

  • 2
    Deterrence? Rapid Reaction? Selectively doing some additional screening?
    – djna
    Aug 24, 2016 at 20:01
  • 2
    Were they Border Force or Stansted Airport Police?
    – Gayot Fow
    Aug 24, 2016 at 20:05
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    Were they in a group somewhere you had to go through like a corridor? If so I've encountered the same at Heathrow, they stop a few people seemingly at random and ask them a few questions. I was stopped once and asked a few basic questions about who I was, where I was going, then a few basic questions that someone like me could easily answer but someone who'd been lying would struggle with. I think I may have been picked because I was travelling alone on a route associated with drugs trafficking. Other times they've just let me pass and stopped different people. Aug 25, 2016 at 12:15
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    @user568458 There were a couple of them at a stand in the corridor between security and the shops. The stand didn't block off the corridor, but was positioned to the side. A woman in front of me was questioned by them, however when I stopped and took out my ID card, an officer gave me a "why are you showing me this?" look and told me to move on.
    – Crazydre
    Aug 25, 2016 at 19:05
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    I've seen them also. The desks are at several airports in the UK but are usually unmanned. Stansted is one of the only places I've physically seen them (in several occasions).
    – MO92
    Nov 8, 2016 at 11:07

2 Answers 2


First things first. We do not pay the Border Force to amble aimlessly about in airports, nor to cluster at departure walkways without a specific purpose. While it's true that sometimes a preventative show of force may be called for, this is done by the police. Stansted has a dedicated police force to accomplish this (as does Heathrow, as does Gatwick) and they concentrate at the outside airport drop-off point in the first instance, but since you were inside at the time you wouldn't have seen it anyway. The police will also concentrate at tube stations serving the airport.

Next, Stansted is hopelessly understaffed and there are few, if any, resources available for exit checking. Exit checking is done by interfaces to the various airline systems and dovetailing the information they get to their own systems. It means exit checking is primarily a "back office function". Even worse, more often than not, the primary control point for arrivals is staffed by HMRC officers who have little or no clue how the rules work.

So why are they in position where you saw them? Let's look at some of the possibilities...

  • Stansted is a site where forced removals take place (as is Heathrow, as is Gatwick). These occur when the Home Office has chartered a flight to some place like Pakistan or The Gambia and seeks to return the most recent group of illegals, usually more than 50, and often more like 80+. When there's a forced removal scheduled, the Border Force will concentrate units at various "choke points" throughout the airport (including the arrival of armed police units outside the airport). While the removal cases themselves are handcuffed and channelled through secured passageways not accessible to the public, they know that trouble can occur anywhere during these events and so they have to be ready to swarm. There is nothing to prevent them from challenging passengers walking through the public channels and they are entitled to do that, especially if the person looks suspicions. But essentially they are waiting to swarm if the situation calls for it. When the removal is over, they will stand down and head for the locker room or cafeteria or tarmac inspections of freight and animals or even back to bed.
  • Next, the chances are REALLY good that if you see a lot of them clustered in an odd place, away from the primary control point, they have received a tip-off and are waiting to swarm on an arriving or departing passenger. They would be beyond the security checkpoint because they may have to run the guy's photo and this could take a while. Security may want to stop the flow of people through the passageway until the arrest has been made and the "choke point" is great for accomplishing this, or they may need to catch the person's accomplices along with the person, or watch what the person does before arresting them, or whatever. You'll notice an exit to the side nearby because they like to minimise an enforcement exposure to the public eye (it gets people upset) and the passageway you describes sounds perfect for squirreling the person out of sight quickly. There will also be plain clothed agents in the shops area. Tip-offs are the major source of how the Border Force's intelligence arm works.
  • And finally it could be just any crap training lecture they are receiving on some finer point of immigration law or customs law. For all you know those agents may be Brazilian or American or HMRC agents or graduate trainees or anything else.

It's within your rights to ask them outright what they are doing there; and it's within their rights to tell you to take a hike. Personally I don't recommend it, it can distract them from their mission.

Further reading: An Inspection of Border Force Operations at Stansted Airport

Also: An Inspection of the Intelligence Functions of Border Force and Immigration Enforcement

  • 3
    I note that heading out from Heathrow T2 on 6.3.2017 there were a row of clearly temporary desks immediately after passing through security (metal detectors, baggage scan) with immigration officers checking the passports of everyone going through. I asked the officer who checked my passport who said they were carrying out "random" checks, and would be unlikely to be there the next time I went through. These checks only involved visual inspection of passports, with no references made to electronic systems or notes taken. I can only presume they were looking for something specific...
    – ssmart
    Mar 17, 2017 at 15:35

"What do these Border Force agents actually do, if not conducting exit border checks?"

The missions of these various agencies are often very broad and overlapping.

It's quite possible they were there just as a 'show of force', with no specific tasks. Agencies will often take turns doing this, Border Force one day, Airport Police then next, HMRC after that.

The simplest answer is that those Officers were there because that was their post for the day.

For clarity, I am familiar with these situations. You can always ask the Officers, politely. But keep in mind, they probably cannot tell you anything about their specific task, if they had one.

To be perfectly clear, yes, it can be that simple. They are there just to be there, with no other specific mission.

  • Downvote total unwarranted. This not a question that can be answered specifically without locating the station commander. My answer, while not specific, is 100% correct.
    – DTRT
    Dec 23, 2016 at 16:29
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    Your answer might be correct, it is also useless as it does not answer the main question, nor do you have sources (and you know by now that we do always ask for those on this site.) I have not voted on this answer yet, I do wait for you to improve it.
    – Willeke
    Dec 23, 2016 at 17:24
  • @Willeke No, it is not useless and does answer the question. The question is "What do these Border Force agents actually do" and 'show of force' is a common mission absent specific, not publically known activities. They could have been posted there just to be there.
    – DTRT
    Dec 23, 2016 at 17:29
  • Why are people down voting this?
    – Gayot Fow
    Mar 17, 2017 at 16:48
  • @GayotFow Because they don't understand that being visible is a legitimate LE tool. Appearing like they're looking for something is an effective deterrent.
    – DTRT
    Mar 17, 2017 at 18:43

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