Believe it or not, academics work hard over the summer. In the past four weeks, I’ve made two research trips abroad, to Bergen and Barcelona. They were great trips — but I worked hard to prepare my presentations.
In both trips, I spent time waiting in passport control. On my trip to Bergen, I only had to do this at the end of the first leg, between Norwich airport and Schiphol. Since the Netherlands and Norway both participate in Schengen, I was able to clear arrivals and get on to the city centre bus within about ten minutes.
Without wishing to sound unduly precious — my time is important to me. Specifically, it has an opportunity cost.
The opportunity cost of time lost in transit has been recognized by the government, most notably in its calculations of the economic benefit of HS2. According to WebTAG 2013 (to be used in subsequent infrastructure evaluation), the value of business time is £31.96/hour; the value of leisure time drastically less at £6.04/hour.
Information like this allows us to calculate the costs to UK passengers of the UK’s non-participation in Schengen. (This is only a small fraction of the total cost: the cost of processing passengers is far larger).
Specifically, we can say that the cost to UK passengers is:
- number of business visits by UK nationals returning from Schengen participating countries per year *
- average wait in hours *
- opportunity cost of business time +
- number of non-business visits by UK nationals returning from Schengen participating countries per year *
- average wait in hours *
- opportunity cost of non-business time
Thanks to Travelpac data from the ONS (in turn derived from the International Passenger Survey), we know that there were 4,463,471 business visits by UK residents returning to the UK, and 34,216,766 non-business visits by UK residents returning to the UK. This gives us information for (1) and (4).
We don’t know anything about the average wait in hours at passport control, because the UK Border Force (wisely?) doesn’t collect this information. Rather, it collects information on the percentage of passengers processed within a certain amount of time (25 minutes, for European Economic Area visitors).
Almost all (>95%) passengers are processed within this time, presumably because the Border Force has got better at distributing resources since the chaos of 2012.
If we take one minute and twenty five minutes as lower and upper bounds (and this is quite generous to the Border Force, because the real maximum times are north of two hours), then we can estimate the average time, Taagepera-style, by taking the geometric mean, or five minutes. This gives us information for (2) and (5).
We can then plug the WebTAG 2013 figures in to get the following:
- cost to business passengers: £11,887,710
- cost to other passengers: £17,222,439
for a total of over £29 million.
This is a very, very conservative estimate of the cost to UK residents, because it doesn’t count the cost to us of waiting in line to have our passports checked in other member states.
If wait times in other member states are similar to those in the UK, then the cost is double this figure.
This estimate is also very conservative because it ignores the cost to government. It costs £2.85 to process each passenger visit. This number can’t be multiplied by the number of visits from Schengen member states, because it ignores fixed costs, and different (likely higher) costs for non-EEA visitors. But the processing cost is very much larger, because it doesn’t just include the 38 million visits of UK nationals from Schengen countries, but the visits of all visitors coming from Schengen countries.
29 million might seem like small potatoes — but whenever I have to show my passport flying to a Schengen member state, I feel like I would quite like my slice of that money back.
 Sorry, Norwich International Airport — an airport which tries to justify the pretensions embodied in its name by the most ridiculous forms of security theatre.