Priti Patel, the United Kingdom’s Home Secretary, recently announced that her administration was planning a trial run for a new contactless electronic border system. The Home Office is ready to start testing the system that would both make it easier for individuals who positively contribute to the economy to enter the country and more difficult for those who form a threat to the country and its people.
Approved candidates will be able to enter the country and go through an automated border screening process without any need to speak to a UK Border Force officer or use an eGate.
The new digital system forms part of broader efforts to expedite legitimate trips to the UK. The latest technologies will be used to identify and pre-screen passengers at the nation’s borders while still protecting the security of the public.
The UK government a while ago also announced its New Plan for UK Immigration and also issued a statement that explains its revised Migration and Border Control Strategy. Part of these initiatives will include lowering the minimum age for using eGates from the current 12 years to 10.
In a statement that appeared on the UK government’s official website, Patel said that since she became Home Secretary she has concentrated on developing a new plan for Immigration that will take back control of the system. She added that this would include making sure that the nation has a border that is suitable to the rapidly changing needs of the 21st century. Another one of the requirements is that it should allow visitors to easily obtain a UK visa and pass through border control without in the process endangering national security.
Patel went on to say that she remained committed to ensuring that the UK Border Force enjoyed access to the latest technologies that enable them to use their specialized skills to better protect the country’s borders against individuals who wanted to harm the United Kingdom.
Independent review of UK Border Force
Apart from publishing its new digital border control plans, the Home Office also announced in February 2022 that the country’s Border Force would be put through a comprehensive independent review that will be carried out by Alexander Downer, the man who used to be the immigration minister for Australia.
This review has since been completed and in his report, Downer recommended that the country’s Border Force should get a better-defined voice and identity with the Home Office. Other recommendations include appointing a single cabinet minister for Border Force, the establishment of an advisory board that will regularly review the demands that Border Force has to deal with, and a Border Force Academy where staff can get regular training.
UK Border Force dealing with exceptional challenges
In the report, Downer further added that the country’s Border Force was dealing with what he described as ‘exceptional challenges’. One of them was the Channel migrant crisis. Others included illegal drugs, immigration abuse, organized crime, and firearms.
He went on to say that every individual he talked to at Border Force, from frontline officers to operation managers and top management, was totally committed to serving the best interests of the country and wanted Border Force to improve so it can remain the best in fighting both emerging and current threats.
Downer believes that his recommendations for Border Force would have a positive impact on the agency and make it more resilient so it could better deal with emerging challenges.
His recommended strategy sets out how the new electronic border control system will both improve security and streamline travel to the country, while at the same time positioning the United Kingdom as a world leader in the area of legal migration.
The benefits of the UK ETA
In a statement, the UK government responded by saying that the ETA scheme will make it “easier for our friends to come to and contribute to the UK, but harder for those we do not want to come here.” It added that over the next couple of years they also planned to introduce other improvements that will help to ensure that the country’s legal migration and border control systems remained among the best in the world.
The statement also added that these improvements would range from ‘invisible changes’ like enhanced targeting at our national borders to ‘visible changes’ like improved customer service.
One of the benefits of the new Electronic Travel Authorization system is that it will make it possible for larger numbers of international visitors to enjoy the use of eGates, while DCA (Digital Customer Accounts) will provide travellers who apply for British visas with a smoother process and improved access to eVisas.
Home Office also added that the new electronic system will assist immigration authorities in better understanding the needs of individuals who come to the UK before they even commence their journeys. It will also reduce the long queues at UK immigration and help to improve security.
The ETA system will provide access to the UK for travellers who do not have a visa (or who do not need one) and want to visit the UK or are transiting. Once approved, an ETA will be valid for several trips over a yet-to-be-announced period of time.
Home Office concluded by saying that the new system was created to “act as an additional security measure, allowing the government to block threats from entering the UK, whilst also providing individuals with more assurance at an earlier point in time about their ability to travel.”
Visitors from Gulf countries and UAE among first trial new Digital Border System
Travellers from the United Arab Emirates and Gulf countries last week received a pleasant surprise when the British government announced that they would be among the first to be eligible to use the new ETA digital border system. The system is set to be launched next year as a crucial part of the nation’s plans to introduce a totally digitalized border before the end of 2025.
According to the Home Office statement, the first countries to be moved to the new platform will be Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Oman, Bahrain, and Qatar. This will make the entry requirements for these countries’ citizens the same as for visitors from countries such as Canada and the United States.
UK Home Secretary Priti Patel said this meant that these countries would be among the first to be able to apply for the UK ETA when travelling to the UK. She added that their top priority remained the security of the country’s borders. By introducing an ETA system, they would be able to refuse individuals who posed a threat to the country’s safety while making sure that legitimate travellers could receive permission to visit the UK before the time.
The UAE’s ambassador to the UK, Mansoor Abdulhoul, welcomed the news and added that this would particularly benefit Emirati nationals. She went on to say that she regarded this as a great development that would bring new opportunities for both countries.
Until the new ETA system is introduced next year, Gulf travellers will be able to continue using EVW (Electronic Visa Waivers). These are completed online before a traveller embarks on a visit to the United Kingdom.