The UK Government is working closely with ports and carriers for the introduction of exit checks at the border from 8 April. Exit checks will improve the Government’s understanding of who’s leaving the UK and, at the same time, create a much clearer picture of who’s staying in the country when they have no right to be here. These checks will also help the police and security services track the movements of known criminals and terrorists.
The Home Office has been working closely with ports and carriers – who are collecting the exit check data from their customers – since 2013. This has helped in the design of a system that takes into account the unique needs of businesses and the challenges faced at each port or on each route in order that the new checks are brought in with the least possible impact on customers.
The launch date of Wednesday 8 April was chosen such that carrier staff were not conducting new procedures for the first time across the busy Easter Weekend.
James Brokenshire, the Minister for Security and Immigration, explained: “It’s right that we have an immigration system that’s fair, that tackles illegal immigration and that clamps down on those who try to cheat the system by staying here when they have no right to do so. Exit checks will provide us with vital information that confirms a person’s exit from the UK. The coalition Government committed to reintroducing them in 2010 while the Immigration Act 2014 put in place legislation which gave carrier and port staff the powers to carry out these checks.”
Brokenshire continued: “Port and travel operators are experts in their business and know their customers best, which is why we’ve supported them to design and trial the systems for collecting data in a way that will minimise the impact on those customers. It’s vital for the country’s economy that our ports operate smoothly and that families can go away on holiday on time. It’s also important for our national security that we continue to strengthen our borders. After two years spent working closely with the ports we will stay focused on successfully introducing these checks together.”
In conclusion, Brokenshire commented: “The UK already has one of the most comprehensive systems in the world for recording who travels across our borders. Delivering on our commitment to reintroduce exit checks will make us even more secure and better informed than ever before.”
View from the operators
Offering its views on this new development, operator Eurotunnel Le Shuttle said: “We’re ready for exit checks. Eurotunnel has expended considerable time and effort on preparing for the Government’s introduction of exit checks at all ports and airports from 8 April 2015. We’ve been working hard to ensure that the checks will not affect our customers’ journeys.”
The Port of Dover stated: “The Port of Dover is at the very heart of the UK’s economy, handling £100 billion of UK-European trade each year. To accommodate exit checks and minimise disruption to the town and the Port of Dover, we will continue to seek the support of the relevant agencies with whom we work closely in order to help deliver on national security objectives. We’re playing our part, but this issue affects us all and our role is to ensure that, together with all partners, we keep traffic, Dover and the UK economy moving.”
MyFerryLink explained: “MyFerryLink has been working hard on developing systems that will provide the exit checks data requirements for Government at the same time as ensuring that the long-standing positive customer experience of ferry travel is maintained. We’re confident we will achieve that goal for 8 April and beyond.”
How will exit checks work in practice?
Detailed exit checks will now take place at all airports and ports in the UK. Relevant information that’s included in passports or travel documents will be collected for passengers leaving the country on scheduled commercial international air, sea and rail routes.
The data collected will provide the most comprehensive picture yet of whether those who enter the UK leave when they’re supposed to do so. The information gained will improve the Government’s ability to identify and tighten the immigration routes and visas that are most vulnerable to abuse.
Exit checks data will assist the authorities in targeting those individuals who have overstayed their visas and are in the UK on an illegal basis. For example, the Government can use new powers brought in by the Immigration Act 2014 to remove driving licences and prevent individuals from opening bank accounts where it’s known that they have not left the country.
While predominantly an immigration and data tool, the checks will also improve national security by helping the police and security services track the movements of known or suspected criminals and terrorists, in turn supporting wider work orchestrated across Government and that conducted by law enforcement agencies.