Home Office announces plans for contactless digital border with digital verification of visas and identity
By Litty Simon LONDON Aug 11: The UK home office has set out plans to secure ‘contactless’ border crossings. Home Secretary Priti Patel made the announcement recently that the planned system transformation will involve a digital process for applying for permission to travel and identity verification for immigration applications, as well as using eVisas to cross the border and demonstrate entitlements within the UK. The government aims to take over the next few years to improve the end-to-end customer journey of those crossing the UK border. The strategy focuses heavily on the digitalization and automation of the migration and border system, which will streamline travel, improve security and position the UK as a world leader in legal migration. Eventually, the government hopes that the border experience will be contactless for the majority of people. With this in mind, in 2024 the Home Office will begin pilot testing technologies that would allow some passengers to enter the UK and undergo automated border screening without having to go through an e-Gate or speak to a Border Force officer. Passengers would instead undergo pre-screening and be identified at the border using the latest technology. This approach would ensure the security of the border and the UK public whilst helping to speed up legitimate journeys to the UK. The Home Secretary also announced plans to pilot extending the minimum age of eGates from 12 to 10 years old. The move would reduce journey times for British families. The future border will make it harder for those who pose a threat to enter the UK and make it easier for those who contribute to our economy to have a seamless experience through our border. The overall vision is to transform the UK Border, making visible changes to security, flow, and passenger experience by enabling automated entry to the UK for most passengers across all modes of transport at all ports. However, the rollout will take some time to achieve. ‘Digital by default' system The ‘digital by default' agenda for the immigration system will be pursued further, with more people being able to enrol their biometrics digitally (or being able to reuse previously enrolled biometrics), making their application online and receiving an eVisa rather than physical proof of their status. eVisas Visa vignettes and biometric immigration documents (biometric residence permits and cards) are due to be replaced by eVisas by December 2024. This deadline coincides with the expiry of a large number of existing biometric immigration documents. These are currently only valid to 31 December 2024, even if the holder’s immigration permission expires after this date. Originally the reason for short-dating was due to the current encryption technology in the cards not meeting EU requirements from 1 January 2025. However, since the UK left the EU, the Home Office has continued to short-date with the expectation that the cards will be phased out by the end of 2024. Individuals will be given guidance on how to convert the proof of their status to an evisa by this date. Sponsorship In terms of recent developments, the Home Office has put in place automatic checks with HMRC to be able to verify whether skilled workers are being paid in line with their certificate of sponsorship. The timelines for sponsorship reform have been revised due to resourcing limitations. This most likely refers to the need for resources to be diverted to processing Ukraine Scheme applications. The planned review of service standards to reduce the time needed to sponsor workers is now anticipated to be in place by Spring 2023. The new ‘Sponsor a Visa’ service is now anticipated to go live for a limited roll-out in early 2023. The ‘Manage a Licence’ service is due for limited delivery by late 2023 and the ‘Become a Sponsor’ service by early 2024. Travelling to the UK A permission to travel scheme will be put in place in 2023, under which all travellers will either need a British or Irish passport, eVisa or Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA). This could have significant cost and practical implications for individuals who are currently demonstrating their long-term residence in the UK using physical documents, for example, an indefinite leave stamp or certificate of entitlement to the right of abode.