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E-Borders and Travel to the UK

By: Louise Smith, barrister - Updated: 13 Aug 2012 | comments*Discuss
Uk Immigration E-borders Travellers

E-Borders is the name given to the new electronic immigration system used to keep track of travellers entering or leaving the UK. With over 200 million people coming to or leaving the UK each year, it is vital that a comprehensive method of monitoring all travellers is in place.

E-Borders helps the UK Border Agency combat immigration fraud and a wide range of other crimes including identity fraud, child trafficking and terrorism. E-Borders is also intended to make entering and leaving the UK easier for legitimate travellers.

The Purpose of E-Borders

The main purpose of E-Borders is the electronic collection and storage of information about travellers coming to the UK. This information will then be analysed to ensure that travellers are legitimate and to identify, before they arrive, those who pose a threat to the UK or who intend to commit crime here. The travel patterns of passengers will also be analysed to provide the UK authorities with better statistics on UK residency.

There are many different elements to E-Borders and it will take several years before the system is fully in place.

Gathering Information about Travellers Before they Come to the UK

Under the E-Borders system most travellers to the UK have to provide the UK authorities with the details from their passport, or other travel document, before they travel to the UK. This will usually be done when a journey is booked. This enables the UK Border Agency to make checks on individual travellers before they arrive to ensure that they are entitled to come to the UK.

The passenger information required by the UK Border Agency is collected by the carrier on which an individual is due to enter the UK. Airlines, ferry companies and train operators all have an obligation to collect the information from passengers and pass it on to the UK Border Agency before the passenger arrives in the UK as part of the check-in procedure.

The information collected will be stored for up to 10 years and will be held in accordance with UK data protection laws. This means that the information should only be provided to those organisations which are legally entitled to access it and which require the information as part of their official function.

There are currently some exceptions to this requirement – for example those arriving in the UK on light aircraft do not have to provide advance information. However, the intention is to make the provision of advance passenger information a pre-requisite for all travellers crossing the UK border.

What Type of Information is Collected Under the E-Borders System?

There are several items of information which are – or which will be – collected about travellers coming to the UK. These include:
  • The information stored on travel documents which can be read electronically – either via a series of symbols and numbers, an electronic strip or a micro-chip;
  • Information about the carrier on which the traveller is entering the UK – such as airline and flight number;
  • Information about the traveller’s reservation and payment method;
  • Biometric information, which is information about the unique identifying features of the traveller such as fingerprints and DNA.

IRIS – The UK Iris Recognition Immigration System

Some UK airports have already introduced the Iris Recognition Immigration System (IRIS) which enables passengers entering the UK to pass through immigration automatically. Instead of showing their passport to a border official, incoming passengers pass through a special barrier which screens their irises. The system should allow passengers to pass through passport control more quickly than by the conventional method.

Eligible travellers must first register for the system. Registration is free and takes about ten minutes; it can be done at a participating airport by passengers departing the UK after they have passed through airport security. A special photograph is taken of a passenger’s iris and details from their passport are recorded.

To be eligible for enrolment on the IRIS scheme passengers must satisfy certain immigration requirements. A full list of those who are eligible for the scheme is available from the UK Border Agency website. Passengers who register for the IRIS scheme but who subsequently do not pass through an IRIS barrier for six months will no longer be eligible for the scheme and will have to re-register if they wish to use IRIS again at a later date.

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