UK government announces plans
for a ‘contactless’ digital border

Home Secretary Priti Patel has set out plans to begin the rollout of secure “contactless” border crossings as part of a wide-ranging announcement on the future of the UK border.

On 20 July 2022, the government published its “New Plan for Immigration: Legal Migration and Border Control” strategy, which outlines steps the government will 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 digitalisation 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 eGate 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.

Home Secretary Priti Patel said: “As Home Secretary I have been focused of taking back control of our immigration system through my New Plan for Immigration.

This includes ensuring we have a border that is fit for the 21st century which allows travellers to get a visa and pass through the border easily, while maintaining national security.

I am also committed to ensuring our fantastic Border Force are given access to the most up to date automation technologies so they can use their specialised skills on protecting our border from those who seek to harm 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.

What will the future UK border look like?

The Home Office has made it clear that the long-term goal is to deliver a fully digital end-to-end customer journey for those seeking to enter the UK, without compromising on security. 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. The strategy identifies the following steps which the government will take over the next few years to reach their vision for the border of the future.

  • Near-term – By the end of 2023, the Home Office’s priority is to increase the use of eGates among those who are already eligible to use them. This will be achieved by:
    • Conducting proof of concept trials to see if the age limit for current eligible nationalities that can use the eGates can be lowered from 12 to 10 years.
    • Improving messaging to assist travellers in using eGates correctly.
    • Increasing the number of eGates available at any time to ensure shorter queue times.
  • Mid-term – From 2023, the use of automated entry (including eGates) will be further expanded to cohorts not currently able to use them. The expansion will focus on individuals who already have an immigration permission e.g., people with Indefinite Leave to Remain, or Student Visas. While the numbers are not significant in border crossing volume terms, their processing times are longer, so any automation of these cohorts will improve flow at the border.
  • Long-term – Further exploration into the future of automation will be carried out longer term. This includes identifying feasible technical solutions for contactless entry and trialling a pre-clearance model against a highly automated border model on select departure points where border control requirements are fulfilled before departure.

Join the conversation

What are your thoughts on the Home Office’s vision for a fully digital immigration system? To join in the conversation around this topic and all aspects of UK immigration, search for Smith Stone Walters on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. We look forward to welcoming you to our online communities!

Alternatively, if you have an immigration question, our experts are on hand to help. To speak to an advisor, please contact us today.

Share story
Back to top of page