Border Chief Expects ETA to End Long Lines, Passport Desks

| November 24, 2023
Border Chief Expects ETA To End Long Lines, Passport Desks

Soon, travelers coming to and from the United Kingdom (UK) will not need to wait in line at passport desks, thanks to the new UK Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA).

UK Border Force Director General Phil Douglas expects passport control operations to change significantly with the implementation of the new digital travel permit system, reports TTG Media.

The UK Border Force is a law enforcement command under the UK Home Office.

They enforce immigration and customs controls for individuals and goods at all of the UK’s ports of entry, such as airports, seaports, and rail stations.

“ETAs are very important. I really envisage in the next two to three years passport desks falling away,” Douglas said during the Airlines 2023 conference held on 20 November 2023 at Westminster, London.

Along with passport desks, the UK Border Chief also sees traditional paper documents, such as visas and passports, as a thing of the past, with many countries turning to biometrics and automated systems.

Presently, the UK is trailing behind certain countries in using biometric technology. Dubai Airport, for instance, has already implemented facial recognition for 50 nationalities.

The ETA makes border checks easier

The UK ETA will be mandatory for all foreign nationals who can travel to the UK without a visa for short trips and transits.

One of the main goals of the ETA system is to improve border security by identifying potential threats before they arrive in the UK.

Douglas stressed that the ETAs will help them decide on admission in advance.

“We will be able to identify and target them more accurately because we will have more information about them upfront,” he explained.

The ETA also aims to streamline the immigration process for pre-verified, low-risk travelers without waiting in long queues.

Douglas suggested travelers with “good history” can go through border checks faster through electronic immigration gates (eGates).

While many entry points in the UK already have eGates, the head of the Border Force shared they are talking to possible partners and looking to procure new generation eGates and other automated biometric checks.

He has previously expressed his vision of “completely frictionless borders,” where a person’s biometrics is all that is required for travel.

How eGates work with the UK ETA

To use an eGate, travelers must have a biometric passport. These are passports that have a camera-like symbol on the cover.

The passport’s chip stores the holder’s details like name, birthdate, gender, nationality, photo, and the country that issued the passport.

The chip may also contain travel and visa information and biometrics like facial or iris scans. Soon, it may also store fingerprints.

An eGate scans the passport photo and information page and then takes a new photo of its holder to check if they match.

If everything is okay, the eGate opens automatically. Should there be an issue, an immigration officer handles the case personally.

Individuals traveling with children under age 10 must go through traditional passport checks. Children ages 10 to 17 may use the eGates when accompanied by an adult.

Though many countries already issue biometric passports, only British citizens and citizens of countries with reciprocal visa waiver agreements with the UK can use eGates at the country’s entry points.

These countries include the 27 European Union member countries, Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein, Sweden, Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea, and the United States.

Members of the Registered Traveller Service (RTS), a program for frequent travelers available to citizens of most countries, can also access eGates.

Once the UK ETA is fully implemented in 2024, all visa-exempt travelers must have an approved ETA linked to their passport when using eGates.

As of November 2023, eGates are available in the following UK airports: Heathrow, Gatwick, Manchester, Stansted, East Midlands, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Newcastle, Birmingham, Bristol, Luton, London City, and Cardiff.

They are also available at the Eurostar terminals in Brussels and Paris, known as the juxtaposed controls.

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