Potential pitfalls of using ePassport gates ('eGates') when entering the UK

Potential pitfalls of using ePassport gates ('eGates') when entering the UK

Potential pitfalls of using ePassport gates (eGates) when entering the UK

Nationals of an EU country, Australia, Canada, Iceland, Japan, Liechtenstein, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore, South Korea, Switzerland or the USA (as well as British nationals) are able to use an eGate when they arrive in the UK as long as they have a biometric passport and are at least 12 years old. 

This is generally a welcome move as in most cases the queue for the eGates moves more quickly.  However, this means that the individual’s passport is not endorsed on entry to the UK and this may have several unintended consequences.

Business visitors

Those coming to the UK as a visitor (including business visitors) must spend less than 6 months out of every 12 months in the UK.  In addition, they must not be ‘living’ in the UK for extended periods through frequent or successive visits and, broadly, they may not work whilst in the UK. Generally the Home Office starts to ask additional questions where a person enters the UK frequently or for longer periods.

When individuals enter the UK using an eGate their passports are not stamped. Further, following a recent change in procedure, Border Force officials are no longer stamping visit leave for nationals of Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea and the USA even if they approach an immigration officer and do not use an eGate.   

This means that individuals may not be made aware of the restrictions which apply to visitors e.g. that they must not spend more than 6 months in any 12 month period in the UK and they may inadvertently breach their conditions. 

Further, many individuals and employers track visits to the UK for both tax and immigration purposes and historically passport stamps have been one key way to evidence when someone entered the UK and to keep a record of trips to the UK.  Individuals should therefore ensure that they now keep a separate log of their trips to the UK and we recommend they also retain their boarding passes as evidence of when they entered and left the UK.  EEA and Swiss nationals should also keep these documents to show they entered the UK before we left the EU.

Entering the UK under other immigration categories

Once again, if an individual enters the UK using an eGate their passport will not be stamped.  When a person first enters the UK under a particular immigration category (such as Tier 2 or Tier 1 (Investor)) we strongly recommend that they do not use an eGate and that they speak to an immigration officer and ensure their passport is stamped to show their entry to the UK.  It may be important for a number of reasons to be able to evidence when the person first entered the UK under a particular immigration category.

The Home Office also advises individuals not to use eGates if they are coming to the UK:

  • for short term study of up to 6 months
  • with a Tier 5 Creative and Sporting Certificate of Sponsorship for short-term assignments (up to 3 months)
  • to carry out Permitted Paid Engagements
  • as the family member of an EEA national seeking to join them permanently in the UK.

When subsequently returning to the UK, migrants may choose to use the eGate but they should ensure that they keep a log of all absences from the UK (including departure date, date of return, country visited and reason for absence). This may be needed for tax purposes. Details of absences will also be needed if the individual later applies for settlement and possibly when applying for settled status.

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