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Home Office unveils digitisation plans for borders and immigration


Mark Say Managing Editor


The Home Office has published plans to step up the use of digital technology in border controls and immigration.

They provide a major element of its new strategy statement on migration and borders, reflecting the move to a points based immigration system and the aim of streamlining processes at the borders.

It emphasises the central role of the Border Crossing system, claiming it has been successfully piloted – despite recent criticisms of its roll out by the National Audit Office and Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee – and saying it enables improvements in operational processes.

It says that by summer of this year all Border Force staff will have the ability to check at a primary control point (PCP) whether an individual has applied for or been granted status under the EU Settlement Scheme.

Visitors and transit passengers who do not currently need a visa for short stays will be required to obtain an electronic travel authorisation – similar to those required of visitors to the US – as a security measure, with applications made online.

Reducing forgery and theft

“Our work towards a digital system for immigration status will enable us to remove the need for the visa vignette,” the document says. “This will reduce costs and improve border security by reducing the possibility of forgery or theft.”

There are also plans to work with air and sea carriers using digital channels to ensure people can show they have a right to enter the UK before boarding, and using data and advanced risk analytics for Border Force officers to focus on people posing the greater risk.

Priti Patel

Home Secretary Priti Patel (pictured) said in a speech to Parliament: “British people will have confidence that the strongest controls are in place. There will be a seamless experience for people coming to the UK for legitimate purposes.

“We are working on further reforms, including Electronic Travel Authorisations, as part of a simpler and more secure, universal permissions to travel requirement.

“Our new plan will make it easier to identify potential threats before they reach the border, through targeted and effective interventions from co-ordinated multi-agency operations.

“Our new fully digital border will provide the ability to count people in and count people out of the country. We will have a far clearer picture of who is here and whether they should be – and will act when they are not.”

Identity and visas

Measures to underpin the new immigration system will include expanding the use of digital systems, such as the ChipChecker service for checking identity so more applicants will be able to apply for a visa using a mobile device to scan their passport and capture their facial image without having to attend an appointment.

There is an ambition for the vast majority of identity checks on immigration status to be carried out digitally by 2024, supported by fingerprint and facial biometrics from applicants to establish their identity, with the former providing for security checks and the latter supporting automation and customer convenience.

While there is currently a mixed approach to capturing biometrics, there are long term plans to explore new digital mechanisms for doing so and binding them to individuals.

Visa nationals will be issued with a biometric residence permit to travel to the UK, along with access to an online service including evidence of their immigration status in accessing public services.

Sponsor process

The process for employers to sponsor visa applicants will be bolstered by automated checks with HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) and Companies House to identify the sponsors, expanding the use of digital status to avoid the need for a biometric residence permit, providing a dashboard to help employers manage sponsored workers, and automatically checking PAYE data from HMRC.

The strategy document points to a phased approach in adopting the measures, saying the Home Office will look at further ways to remove physical documents from the process.

Image by Richard Townshend, CC BY 3.0

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