Civil servants across the government have been asked by the Home Office to work as border control officers during next week's one-day strike against public sector pension reform. An estimated 3 million public sector workers, including teachers and probation officers, are expected to participate in the strike.
Selected groups of government employees were contacted this week and asked if they are willing to walk through picket lines and check passports as passengers arrive at airports and ports from abroad next Wednesday.
It is the first time that the government has sought to recruit other members of the civil to break a strike by immigration officials. A government source confirmed the plan but added that any recruits would be restricted to checking British passports and other "low risk work".
A spokesman for the government could not say whether civil servants who worked could expect to receive any perks or how much training they could expect to receive over the next week.
UK Border Agency staff in embassies across the world has already been offered taxpayer-funded flights to Britain if they are willing to work during the strike.
The approach raises the spirit of Whitehall mandarins flicking through the documentation of airline passengers as they enter Britain.
The move comes in the wake of an uproar after it emerged that full checks on visa nationals from outside Europe had been regularly deferred at Heathrow because of staff shortages.
The row had put the home secretary, Theresa May, under intense political pressure and ultimately incited the departure of UK border force Chief Brodie Clark.
Emails seen by the Guardian depict the government has asked immigration officials from India, South Africa and Russia to return to the UK to cover next Wednesday when thousands of their colleagues plan to take industrial action.
Staff willing to return and cross a picket line would also be allowed to extend their stay to spend time with their families. About 18,000 immigration officials are expected to join the strike next week, a month before the deadline for a deal between the government and union leaders on pension reform.
It is understood the head of human resources at the agency, Joe Dugdale, called up the Public and Commercial Services Union last week and asked if it would be willing to provide minimal cover on the day of the strike. The union refused.
The general secretary of the PCS, Mark Serwotka said that it was an insult to hard-working border force staff that the government was scratching round trying to fill skilled posts with people who were essentially volunteers.