The UK sees thousands of people enter the country or cross its borders every single day. The reasons for visits vary from person-to-person, be it business, seeing relatives, returning after a trip abroad or tourism. An immigration officer is often the first person they will come into contact with upon entering the UK.
What is an immigration officer?
An immigration officer (or passport officer) makes informed decisions on who is allowed to visit or stay in the UK. Immigration officers must have extensive knowledge of the country’s immigration policies and laws before working in this role.
Typically, immigration officers have several potential places to choose from regarding where they work. Unsurprisingly, an immigration officer tends to work with UK Visas and Immigration (in the UK Civil Service). As a result, you will be stationed at different ports around the UK, either working at airports, ports or the Channel Tunnel. It is also possible to be selected for work abroad, working in an embassy or other diplomatic posts.
As this role is based within the Civil Service, immigration officers are considered civil servants.
As this is a regulated industry, you must complete a continuing professional development (CPD) every year.
The responsibilities for a custom officer will largely depend on where you are working and at what level. The general responsibilities needed for an immigration officer are:
- Arrange for safe passage home for those who cannot stay.
- Collate and collect statistical data.
- Conducting interviews.
- Dealing with contraband.
- Enforce the immigration laws that govern the UK borders.
- Examining passports and visas.
- Liaise with foreign embassies.
- Observing passengers.
- Organise holding centres for those not permitted to stay in the UK.
- Presenting your findings in investigations to superiors.
These responsibilities will expand as you take on more senior positions. In senior roles, you may be required to train other immigration officers, manage budgets or prepare detailed presentations and reports for your superiors.
The salary you earn will depend on your rank and where you are based. The most common starting immigration officer salary is between £21,000 and £36,000.
At more senior levels, you can increase your earning potential. At senior levels, you will likely have your job title changed from immigration officer to senior immigration consultant. The general immigration officers salary is usually around £52,000.
The training and development you will need to expand your skill set will largely be handled by your employer.
A degree is not a requirement for this role, but is recommended. Generally, you are only required to work to a college level, earning a diploma of higher education or a BTEC. University qualifications will stand you out from the crowd and increase your earning potential, as well as giving you the option to explore other careers or jobs in this sector.
The best subjects to study are:
- Economics degrees
- International business degrees
- International relations degrees
- Law degrees
- Modern foreign languages degrees
- Politics degrees
- Public services degrees
Postgraduate degrees are welcome, but are not a requirement. Applicants are generally recommended to have achieved at least two A-Levels of grade C or higher as well.
Training and development
The training and development you will need to expand your skill set will largely be handled by your employer. You will still be responsible for your own training and development as well, such as sourcing third party courses and programmes that may be of benefit to you.
Most initial training will take place over a 10 week period once you have been hired. Training will usually take place at Heathrow, Gatwick or Manchester Airports or at the Port of Dover.
Training for this role is mainly based around improving your soft skills. For instance, you will be learning to improve in areas such as conflict resolution, general communication skills and diversity awareness.
As this is a regulated industry, you must complete a continuing professional development (CPD) every year. Your CPD, along with many other potential training programmes is well covered in the Civil Service Fast Stream scheme, which aims to provide a wealth of resources to those in need of further training.
Work experience in this role will be very hard to find at a pre-university level.
The skills you need to be successful in this role will depend on what role you have and where you are working. Your skills can be further honed and improved through regular training and development.
The most common skills needed for an immigration officer are:
- A logical approach.
- Excellent attention to detail.
- Excellent interpersonal skills.
- Excellent written and verbal skills.
- Good teamwork skills.
- Inquisitive mind.
- Proficient IT literacy.
- The ability to keep your temper and remain calm.
- The ability to work on your own.
Proficiency in another language is also greatly advised. It is not a requirement for this role, but given that you will be speaking to people from different countries, many of whom do not speak English, an ability to converse in a foreign language will be greatly appreciated.
Work experience in this role will be very hard to find at a pre-university level. As immigration officers have to handle lots of sensitive information and speak to people who are in the midst of very serious issues, work experience is not generally permitted. You can find work experience in other areas of the civil service or any airports, but not as an immigration officer or another job in immigration.
Work experience is not a requirement for this role, but will stand your application in good stead. Prior experience working in an airport or embassy is welcome. Work experience in the law, politics or in public services will also be appreciated.
An immigration officer (or passport officer) makes informed decisions on who is allowed to visit or stay in the UK.
The career prospects for this role are very good. You will generally start off as an immigration officer, typically as a junior, but will soon work your way up to a general officer role.
Once you have enough experience, you will move into more of a management role. This is a role that focuses on training up new officers and liaising with the senior management of an embassy or airport and reporting on your findings.
As you are technically a member of the civil service, it is possible to look into other roles. Civil service jobs span over multiple industries and designations, so you will need to see which civil service job best suits your experience in immigration beforehand.
If you are working in an embassy, it is possible to look into ambassadorial roles. These roles are designated by the government and will need years, potentially as much as ten, (sometimes in other immigration jobs) before you will have forged the contacts necessary to move into this role.
It is also possible to look into other home office jobs. The home office, a ministerial department responsible for immigration and law, often has lots of immigration vacancies that open up for those with experience.
Freelancing is not common, however, some immigration officers provide their knowledge of immigration to those who need it. This will generally involve training new immigration officers, although you may be asked to help with exceptional cases or issues.