BATES WELLS: Airports using e-gates – what has changed?09/05/2019

The Home Office has recently introduced the use of electronic passport gates for citizens of Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea and the United States of America.

Citizens of these countries can now simply swipe their passport at the e-gate upon arrival in the UK. Those with entry clearance or a biometric residence permit (BRP) should be admitted in line with their existing grant of permission to stay, also known as “leave”.  Other entrants will automatically be granted leave as a visitor for six months, with employment and recourse to public funds being prohibited.  

Various concerns have been raised about the impact of the changes. For example, the UK Council for International Student Affairs has warned short-term students of the risk that they could be inadvertently admitted as visitors rather than in the correct short-term student category. This is because they would have passed through an e-gate when they should have sought entry at a desk where an immigration officer could have granted them leave as short term students on arrival.  Home Office guidance reflects this. It also states that those seeking entry in the following categories should not use the e-gates:

  • Short-term students seeking entry for up to 6 months
  • Tier 5 (Creative or Sporting) with a Certificate of Sponsorship valid for up to 3 months (and seeking to enter without a visa)
  • Permitted paid engagement visitors
  • Those accompanying or joining an EEA family member

There is also a concern that visitors may unintentionally become overstayers in the UK, as they may not be aware of the date on which their leave is due to expire.  Prior to the use of e-gates being introduced, the general rule was that a person would have a stamp in their passport detailing the terms of their leave and potentially an interaction with a UK Border Force official reminding them of these restrictions. Under the e-gate system citizens of eligible countries will only see an immigration officer where the system detects an issue and refers them to a desk. Border Force – Strategic Communications and Campaigns Communications Directorate of the Home Office confirmed on 23 August 2019 that entrants who queue up to see a Border Force Officer rather than using an e-gate when they enter, will now not have their passport stamped with the date and conditions of their entry, and will receive only verbal communication of the conditions of their leave.

This also complicates the evidence required to be retained by Tier 2 and Tier 5 sponsors.  Formerly, sponsors were not required to investigate or record the date of entry to the UK, only to confirm that employees had the right to carry out the relevant work in the UK.  Following a change to the guidance on 6 August, sponsors are now required to check the date of entry to confirm that the worker did not enter before their visa started.  If the individual used an e-gate, sponsors are instructed to check other evidence, such as tickets or a boarding pass, and to record the date of entry but they are not required to retain evidence of the date.  The exception to this is Tier 5 (Creative and Sporting) migrants entering without a visa for under three months who, as noted above, must not use the e-gates and must have an ink stamp confirming their status. Chetal Patel, Partner in our immigration team, recently discussed the changes to record keeping for sponsor licence holders. To read her full article, please click here.

The situation may be complicated if the UK leaves the UK on 31 October 2019 without a deal.

Click here to read the Home Office’s ePassport Gate Guidance.