The UK Border Force is preparing to install biometric cameras in airports that would put an end to physical passport checks and scans. Jenny Southan reports

Following the example of Singapore Changi airport, which is this year implementing a facial scanning immigration clearance system, the UK is also poised to eliminate the need for passport presentations at its borders, aiming for a “frictionless” travel experience.

This ambitious initiative will see the deployment of new e-gates equipped with advanced facial recognition technology at airports, allowing travellers to enter the country without conventional passport checks.

Phil Douglas, the Director-General of Border Force, has spoken to The Times about the vision he has for an “intelligent border” that leverages facial recognition technology more seamlessly than current methods. Drawing inspiration from international benchmarks, including Dubai’s facial recognition for 50 nationalities and Australia’s next-generation e-gates, the UK plans to elevate its border management to a “gold standard”.

Douglas shared insights from his Australian experience, highlighting the convenience of applying for an electronic travel authorization in advance and the ease of entry without needing to physically present a passport. The UK will be trialling this cutting-edge technology at airports in 2024, ahead of a comprehensive procurement process for the new gates. If successful, 270 existing e-gates will need to be replaced at 15 airport and rail stations across the country.

In other news, the UK is expanding its electronic travel authorisation (ETA) system, already mandatory for visa-exempt foreign nationals traveling to Britain. The system requires applicants to download an app, complete a questionnaire, scan their passport, and submit a photograph. Initially implemented for Qatari citizens, it will soon encompass nationals from several Middle Eastern countries, with plans to extend it to all visa-exempt visitors, including those from Europe. It costs £10 per person.

British and Irish travellers’ biometric data is currently captured during the passport application process, facilitating a more informed border control that can pre-assess individuals based on their travel history, compliance with immigration laws, and security records.

Douglas envisions a significant reduction in the use of traditional passport desks within the next few years, thanks to this technological advancement. This development coincides with the EU’s efforts to fortify its borders through the introduction of the Entry/Exit System (EES), which will collect biometric data from non-EU passport holders.