Watchdog calls for evidence on how e-passport gates have affected people's ability to prove immigration status

David Bolt's e-gates inspection will look at how visa-free entry to the UK has affected people's ability to demonstrate they have a right to be in the UK and access services

The government’s immigration watchdog has asked people to submit evidence on how the government's use of e-passport gates has affected people's ability to demonstrate their immigration status.

David Bolt, HM chief inspector of borders and immigration, has asked for evidence to inform an inspection of the gates, which are used to authenticate international travellers' e-passports. They then link passports to travel documents using biometric data.

The inspection is one of the final pieces of work Bolt will lead before stepping down in October.

Border Force has increased its use of the gates in recent years and they are now a "key component" of its strategy to manage the UK border, Bolt said.

However, their use, in conjunction with ever more stringent documentary requirements for people to demonstrate their right to live, work and access public services in the UK, has been a cause of concern for some MPs and migrants' rights groups.

Their use enabled the Home Office to extend visa-free entry to nationals from six countries – known as B5JSSK nationals – who are visiting for up to half a year. This means they do not obtain a stamp in their passport or any other documentation proving their right to remain in the UK for that period.

After the B5JSSK extension was announed, landlords' groups said it could make it difficult for them to check whether prospective tenants had the right to rent in the UK.

Migrants' groups and MPs have meanwhile voiced strong concerns over the lack of physical documentation being issued to EU nationals who obtain settled status in the UK, and future plans to move to a "digital-only" system without paperwork.

Bolt said he was seeking evidence on the extension of e-passport gate use to B5JSSK nationals (from Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea and the US) in 2019, as well as the impact on extending their use to 12-17 year olds in 2015.

He also called for evidence on how the decision not to stamp passports on arrival had affected people who are required to demonstrate their immigration status for right to rent checks or to access public services.

He will also look at how that decision has affected people who mistakenly use the e-passport gates, such as short-term students.

Evidence is also being sought on the gates' ease of use; their ability to detect attempts to circumvent passport control; and the measures Border Force has taken to identify and protect vulnerable travellers using them.

Asylum casework inspection

Bolt has also extended the deadline to submit evidence on the Home Office’s asylum casework.

Last month he invited “anyone with relevant knowledge and experience” to write to him with their evidence and views on how the asylum system is working.

Bolt said he was particularly interested to hear from people with first-hand experience concerning the “accessibility, clarity and adequacy” of Home Office policies and guidance on the asylum process.

He is also seeking information on the availability, costs and quality of advice and support for asylum seekers; the quality of screening interviews, substantive interviews and asylum decisions – including for asylum seekers with protected characteristics; and timescales, including the reasons for delays.

Evidence on the department’s comms, including decision letters sent to asylum seekers with the outcome of their case, and its responsiveness to queries and challenges, are also welcomed.

“The precise scope of the inspection is yet to be finalised so please feel free to include any other points you consider relevant and would like to see covered,” Bolt added in a statement.

The immigration inspector does not investigate nor make decisions about specific cases. However, Bolt said in both cases he was “keen to hear about individual cases, insofar as they serve to illustrate particular points, issues or trends”.

The inspections are among five Bolt announced earlier this year. He said he would also look at the EU settlement scheme; adults at risk in detention; and UK Visas and Immigration’s front-end services. A further “one or two” would be confirmed at a later date, he said.

Last month Bolt added to the list with a call for evidence on Border Force freight operations, as well as for the settled-status scheme.

People wishing to submit evidence on asylum casework are invited to email Bolt by 31 August, and on e-gates by 7 September.

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