With effect from 8 April 2015, passengers leaving the United Kingdom (UK) by Eurostar or ferry will be subject to passport exit checks and information recorded.
The Home Office has reinstated its commitments to conducting 100% exit checks for passengers leaving the UK by introducing exit checks to the Eurotunnel and ferry operators on 8 April, during the Easter holiday period.
Airline operators already perform passport exit checks on passengers. Advance passenger information (API) is obtained by the airlines prior to travel and then submitted to the Home Office, a measure that minimises disruption to travellers by way of delays at the airport.
To avoid potential queues with the new roll out, Eurotunnel will make use of API and it is hoped that the ferry companies will follow suit. Until then, ferry operators will manually conduct passport checks, record and pass on the data to the Home Office, who will then use that information to identify individuals who may have breached immigration laws.
However, the Home Office and passport exit checks have had a less than happy past. In 2003, the previous government initiated the e-Borders programme. According to the Home Office, e-Borders would:
… “create a joined-up modernised intelligence-led border control and security framework.”.
This was to be done by using automated border control systems such as the Iris Recognition Immigration Scheme for registered travellers and the Automated Clearance Service for biometric passport holders.
Although the programme has a beneficial purpose and has been endorsed by successive governments of all hues, it has been much maligned and proved extremely costly. With the upcoming rollout in April, the Freight Transport Association (FTA) has already expressed concern about the Home Office’s ability to deliver 100% robust manual exit checks at the main cross-Channel terminals, highlighting the potential traffic chaos and long tailbacks of traffic which could result.
The potential for huge disruption to passengers and travellers due to the introduction of passport exit checks for Eurotunnel and ferry operators at this time was recognised by the Home Affairs Committee who have expressed concerns and suggested additional measures to alleviate any disruption. The government is currently trialling exemptions to coach tours and may, with the prior approval of the minister, relax immigration checks where there are excessive queues. The FTA and Home Affairs Committee have gone further by proposing that the government concedes greater exemptions to coaches with large amounts of children under the age of 16 and other similar proposals.
Freight operators are unfortunately well aware of excessive queuing on the M20 motorway under Operation Stack, where lorries are ‘stacked’ by Kent Police and the Port of Dover when services from the Channel Tunnel or the Port of Dover, both significant international transport gateways, face great disruption. The new traffic layout on the A20 leading up to Dover, designed to help traffic flow, may at least ease matters at that vicinity.
The immediate impact of the introduction of passport exit checks for Eurotunnel and ferry operators remains to be seen. Nevertheless, our advice to those travelling by Eurostar or ferry over the Easter break would be to plan your journey carefully, allow additional time for your journey and pay close attention to travel reports. Hopefully a much deserved and enjoyable break can be had!