eGates, whether good, bad or ugly, are a distinctive feature of UK borders. Seven countries have joined UK and EU citizens in being entitled to use them, increasing their use. Used correctly they speed up entry and save time and money. However, time saved queueing at the airport can cost more in the long run – there are times when not to use them!
An eGate is an unmanned facial recognition portal, it is connected to the Immigration database and will check a traveller’s leave in the UK. If they have no valid leave the eGate will issue an automatic grant of leave as a visitor for 6 months. It is an alternative to a post manned by an immigration officer. There will be no questions and no endorsement in the passport.
If the eGate is unable to process a traveller, usually due to a failure in facial recognition, the traveller will be referred to the manned desk and processed in the traditional manner.
Who can use an eGate?
Travellers can normally use eGates if they:
- have a biometric symbol on the cover of their passport,
- are aged 12+ (12 to 17 year olds must be accompanied by an adult), and
- are either:
- a British citizen
- a national of an EU country, Australia, Canada, Iceland, Japan, Liechtenstein, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore, South Korea, Switzerland or the USA
- a member of the Registered Traveller Service
However, it is crucial to understand the purpose of the visit and the type of visa they may already hold to assess whether they should use the eGate.
Aside from the basics of facial recognition there are potential unseen issues. The main area of concern is the lack of endorsement or stamp in the passport. The main areas of concern come under three headings:
Those entering as a visitor do not have a record of their entry date to calculate the expiry of their visit, currently 6 months for standard visitors. They are under a duty to follow the visitor rules and know the date they will need to leave the UK. Furthermore, if they are entering under Permitted Paid Engagements visa they must see a border official for a stamp in their passport.
- Entry before the start date of Entry Clearance
Arrival before the start date of entry clearance will result in an automatic grant of visitor status. The unaware traveller may then believe they are in the UK under their entry clearance visa when in fact they are present as a visitor. In those circumstances they must exit the UK and re-enter to activate their entry clearance in the correct category.
- Right to work
If an eGate is used for the first entry within the validity of an entry clearance visa (for example a Tier 4 student) there will be no evidence of entry. Under the traditional route the stamp would clearly show the date of entry and validate the visa. If there is no stamp an employer must request evidence of entry, i.e. ticket or boarding pass, in addition to the passport for proof of right to work. If a student is intending to work, they should either use the manned desk or request a stamp from a border officer before leaving the airport.
Who should not use an eGate?
Certain people entering the UK must visit an immigration officer, depending on the purpose of their visit. Anyone entering for the following reasons can use an eGate but they must also have their passport stamped by an officer:
- for short term study of up to 6 months
- with a Tier 5 Creative and Sporting Certificate of Sponsorshipfor short-term assignments (up to 3 months)
- to carry out Permitted Paid Engagements
- being the family member of an EEA national seeking to join them permanently in the UK
In addition to the above, travellers should not use an eGate if:
- it is their first entry on a new entry clearance visa – the lack of endorsement in the passport will cause problems with their proof of right to work and may cause issues with clarity around their date of entry for future applications, or
- there has been a significant change in facial appearance for example a piercing or even a significant hair cut!
What if it goes wrong?
A stamp can be requested in the passport at any point before leaving the airport. However, if the mistake is realised later and the incorrect entry clearance is granted via an eGate there are two options:
- Contact the Home Office and request the correct endorsement. This is likely to take some time and whilst waiting the applicant will only be able to carry out activities permitted under a visit visa.
- Exit the UK and re-enter using the manned desk. This is likely to be the quickest option, although it will depend on the nationality and whether they can leave the UK for the EU and re-enter or if they will need to return to their country of nationality.
It is almost certain that the digitalisation of entry to the UK will continue and increase. The Home Office have stated that EU citizens will continue to be eligible to use the eGates Brexit or no Brexit, deal or no deal.
The reality of any problems with the eGate will unfold in November-December of this year, when those granted an automatic right of entry as a visitor are due to leave – inevitably it may be that mistakes need to be made to highlight the weakness in the system.
Advice to clients – if in doubt, see a human!
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