ESTA briefing – position on proposed new UK immigration rules

ESTA is very concerned about the recently-announced new UK plans to combat illegal immigration.

ESTA recognises the challenges and cannot condone any willing assistance from drivers and road goods transport companies to facilitate illegal immigration, but we have a number of reservations related to the new proposed immigration rules, specifically where they are aimed at the road transport sector.

In summary, the UK Government is proposing:

– to increase the fines levied on transport companies by raising the maximum penalty per person found entering illegally and will consult on what amount would encourage greater compliance.

– to introduce a new penalty to cover hauliers found with an unsecured vehicle, regardless of whether clandestine entrants are found on board or not, and to revise standards on minimum expected security levels on vehicles.

– to impose a penalty in all cases where a migrant is found on a lorry, even where the vehicle has been secured.

– to explore other measures to encourage greater numbers of drivers and hauliers to take more responsibility for countering the threat from illegal entry to the UK.

ESTA’s arguments are as follows:

  • It cannot be accepted that drivers and transport companies are automatically held liable forsituations where stowaways are found on the vehicle. Drivers and transport companiesshould be assumed innocent until proven guilty. This is a basic human right. Penalties shouldonly be imposed when guilt has been established and should be proportional to the provensecurity measures undertaken by drivers and companies. Compliance with security-relatedrecommendations and protocols should be incentivised. Companies implementing bestpractices should be rewarded.
  • The new plan will effectively place the liability for stowaways on board the vehicle on the driverand the transport company regardless of the measures undertaken to secure the vehicle.Drivers and companies will be assumed to be guilty and it is questionable whether they will be able to appeal. It should be noted that in the EU and the UK, human trafficking or smugglingis already included as a serious offence which can lead to the loss of a company’soperating licence in EU and UK legislation. It is essential that drivers and road transportcompanies who have implemented adequate security measures and procedures should not bediscouraged from continuing with their efforts. The levying of a penalty regardless of thesecurity measures taken, risks having a completely adverse effect.
  • The new plan does not recognise the risks run by drivers on the UK routes and the possibilitiesof their vehicles being attacked in organised and sometimes brutal ways. Even the tightestsecurity measures have proved futile in a number of circumstances because illegal immigrantsare aided and equipped by organised crime. Tackling organised crime is the responsibility ofgovernments, not that of transport companies.
  • It should be noted that exports from the EU to the UK have fallen since 1 January 2021compared to the same period in 2020. An increasing number of complaints have been receivedfrom transport companies working on routes to the UK and many drivers simply refuse towork those routes. The implementation of the new plan could further dissuade companiesand drivers to work on routes to the UK and could hamper the free movement of goods andtrade.
  • The authorities have a key role to play in providing security to drivers and vehicles including thesecuring of key hubs such as ports and railway terminals. Past experience has shown thatcontrols in Calais and the entry into a secured zone have not been a guarantee againststowaways penetrating a vehicle after it has been checked. The technology used to check thevehicle is not without fault and vehicles have even been penetrated in the secured zones andduring ferry crossings. Drivers cannot watch over their vehicles at all times during thosejourneys.
  • Drivers cannot take direct action against suspected stowaways and fully depend on thesecurity authorities to intervene. It should also be noted that distress calls made bydrivers suspecting the presence of stowaways are often unanswered or not treated as apriority which causes additional loss of time, up to eight hours or more. Governments andsecurity authorities must take responsibility for providing adequate security and assistance.
  • The authorities should not control and penalise more. More efforts should be undertaken totarget those actively and willingly involved in human trafficking.

ESTA calls on the UK Government to seriously reconsider the proposed measures and organise amuch more extensive consultation with industry (national and international) on any proposals forimplementing measures. Measures should be proportionate to the objective to be achieved andshould encourage and reward good practices in the industry.

You can view the full UK Government policy document at:

Details of the consultation with the freight transport industry are in the section Civil Penalties for Illegal Entry.