The UK recently introduced passport exit checks at all ports in the UK.
The exit checks are designed to provide a greater understanding of who is leaving the UK and create a clearer picture of individuals who have ‘overstayed’ the duration of their visas, meaning they have been in the UK illegally.
We understand that the new checks should not noticeably impact upon airline passengers but anyone travelling by Eurostar or ferry may now face greater scrutiny as to their immigration status on leaving the UK. Further, the checks mean that the Home Office is now likely to receive information about how long those who are using business visitor visas have been in the UK.
How Do The Exit Checks Work?
When leaving the UK, information included in passports or travel documents will be collected for all passengers on scheduled commercial international air, sea and rail routes.
The majority of airlines already provide the Home Office with Advance Passenger Information (API). This is given to airlines by customers when booking their flights. As the new rules do not require staff at airports to carry out any additional passport checks nothing should noticeably change for airline passengers.
The new checks are likely to have more of an impact on travel routes where API is not correctly provided. This means that passengers travelling via Eurostar, Eurotunnel and ferry will now have to present their passport and any other travel documents, such as ID cards, for checking or scanning to UK immigration officials on departure.
The passenger details contained in a traveller’s documents will be then transmitted to the Home Office and, if it appears that a visa holder has overstayed their visa, staff at the port are likely to contact UK Visas and Immigration. Whilst it is not clear whether any other on-the-spot action would be taken against over-stayers, once the Home Office has assessed the data received following the exit checks a visa holder might find that their visa is later revoked, that they face additional questioning on their next attempted entry to the UK or that it creates an adverse immigration record which could impact any future visa application.
Impact on Business Visitor Visas
Whilst a large proportion of business visitors leave the country by air, these changes could have a significant impact on those who travel out of the UK via Eurostar, Eurotunnel or ferry. For these travellers, the Home Office will now receive additional information regarding how long they have remained in the UK. Any business visitors who have remained in the UK for more than a short period may arouse suspicion that they have, in fact, been carrying out more than the ‘permitted activities’ for which the business visitor visa allows and have been ‘working’ in the UK. It will also affect business visitors who remain in the UK for longer than the cumulative maximum permitted duration of a business visitor visa (i.e. six months in any 12 month period).
Employees on business visitor visas will therefore need to be more cautious when it comes to the duration and purpose of their trip to the UK and be prepared for greater scrutiny by the authorities on both entering and exiting the UK. Anyone who is carrying our work whilst in the UK for a UK company is likely to require a visa which permits them to work in the UK.