Consultation explores whether e-passport gates hamper ability to prove immigration status

Watchdog asks for submission of evidence

Credit: Crown Copyright/Open Government Licence v3.0

The government’s immigration watchdog has asked people to submit evidence on how the government’s use of e-passport gates has affected people’s ability to demonstrate their immigration status.

David Bolt, HM chief inspector of borders and immigration, has asked for evidence to inform an inspection of the gates, which are used to authenticate international travellers’ e-passports. They then link passports to travel documents using biometric data.

The inspection is one of the final pieces of work Bolt will lead before stepping down in October.

Border Force has increased its use of the gates in recent years and they are now a “key component” of its strategy to manage the UK border, Bolt said.

However, their use, in conjunction with ever more stringent documentary requirements for people to demonstrate their right to live, work and access public services in the UK, has been a cause of concern for some MPs and migrants’ rights groups.

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Their use enabled the Home Office to extend visa-free entry to nationals from seven countries – known as B5JSSK nationals – who are visiting for up to half a year. This means visitors from Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea and the US  do not obtain a stamp in their passport or any other documentation proving their right to remain in the UK for that period.

After the B5JSSK extension was announced, landlords’ groups said it could make it difficult for them to check whether prospective tenants had the right to rent in the UK.

Migrants’ groups and MPs have meanwhile voiced strong concerns over the lack of physical documentation being issued to EU nationals who obtain settled status in the UK, and future plans to move to a “digital-only” system without paperwork.

Bolt said he was seeking evidence on the extension of e-passport gate use to B5JSSK nationals (from Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea and the US) in 2019, as well as the impact on extending their use to 12-17 year olds in 2015.

He also called for evidence on how the decision not to stamp passports on arrival had affected people who are required to demonstrate their immigration status for right to rent checks or to access public services.

He will also look at how that decision has affected people who mistakenly use the e-passport gates, such as short-term students.

Evidence is also being sought on the gates’ ease of use; their ability to detect attempts to circumvent passport control; and the measures Border Force has taken to identify and protect vulnerable travellers using them.

People wishing to submit evidence on asylum casework are invited to email Bolt by 7 September.


Sam Trendall

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