Passengers arriving from green and amber list countries are being waived through airport security without having their COVID status checked.
Border Security staff have been told not to routinely check documents in a move to ease congestion at airports.
Reports in The Guardian say the policy came into effect on Monday, with the change in approach confirmed by border staff union, ISU.
In addition to no longer checking whether arriving passengers have received a negative COVID test or have booked a test, border staff have been told not to check for a passenger locator form when one cannot be found on the IT system.
They are only required to check, or question the passenger, when they display ‘other warning or behavioural indicators to suggest non-compliance’.
Electronic gates will also no longer direct passengers to see border control offices when a locator form cannot be found.
The changes were outlined by border staff who contacted the Guardian and in leaked documents the newspaper said it had seen.
According to the BBC, trade union ISU confirmed the new instructions were accurate.
“Ultimately this is a political decision,” the union was quoted as saying. “Certainly, it will reduce queue times significantly and hopefully also the level of verbal abuse to which Border Force staff are subject.
“That is welcome to us. The impact on the UK’s Covid security is ultimately a scientific determination.”
While the changes may ease bottlenecks at airports – which will be welcomed by passengers and the industry – critics will say the lack of checks risks importing COVID to the UK.
However, while the government would not comment on the leaked memo, it stressed airlines are legally required to check the status of passengers.
Critics of the border regime will argue that alone should be sufficient without the need for airports to repeat the checks.
“The airlines are legally obliged to check this information when boarding so if that’s done correctly there’s no need for the same thing to happen when arriving,” one agent said.
A government spokesperson said: “This legal requirement on carriers is underpinned by a robust compliance regime, which is overseen by regulators,” a spokesperson said. “Our utmost priority is protecting the health of the public and our enhanced borders regime is helping reduce the risk of new variants being transmitted.
“All passenger locator forms are still being checked by carriers, as they are legally required to do, and to suggest otherwise is wrong. This legal requirement on carriers is underpinned by a robust compliance regime, which is overseen by regulators.
“Compliance with these rules is essential in order to protect the population from new variants of Covid-19, and so there will be tough fines for those who do not follow the rules.”
Airlines UK said: “Carriers are committed to working with Border Force on these requirements, which is why compliance has remained consistently extremely high.”