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Singapore, UK, EU face headaches with border biometrics

Singapore, UK, EU face headaches with border biometrics

Nobody likes long queues at the border. After reports of delays with automated immigration lanes and e-gates, governments are boosting initiatives for automated biometric border technologies, including e-gates and automated lanes, with the latest initiatives coming from Singapore, UK, and the EU.

Singapore to introduce more e-gates after border crossing delays

Singapore is allowing more travelers to use automated biometric immigration lanes without prior enrollment after a glitch caused an hours-long checkpoint delay that affected 85,000 travelers and caused 21 passengers to miss their flights.

The Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) said on Tuesday that eligibility for the Automated Clearance Initiative (ACI) has been extended to passport holders of 51 jurisdictions, including Australia, United Kingdom, Canada, China, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea and the United States.

ACI uses multi-modal biometric scanning technology that requires passengers to scan passports, irises and facial features. Visitors are then emailed an electronic visit pass. The systems are provided by companies including Tascent and NEC.

Trials began in 2018 while the initiative was first rolled out in May 2022 with passport holders of 16 countries eligible. Since then, more than four million foreign visitors have used the ACI.

But the rollout has not been without issues. In March, another technical glitch during a system upgrade caused delays of nearly 4.5 hours at Singapore’s checkpoints forcing immigration authorities to review its upgrading processes.

By the first quarter of 2024, Singapore’s immigration office expects 95 percent of all arrivals at Changi Airport to be cleared through the automated lanes. The system is set to increase its clearance throughput to meet the growing volume of travelers which is expected to reach 300 million per year by 2025.

UK facing headaches over automated immigration

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said this week that he is hoping to reach a deal with the EU that would allow Britons to pass European immigration checkpoints quicker through biometric e-gates.

The European Commission seems to agree: On Tuesday, it said that new automated checks at EU borders should make life easier for British travelers.

The statements come after complaints of long traffic queues this month at English Channel ferry ports caused by the Easter weekend rush, strikes in France and increased border checks after Brexit. UK citizens currently have their passports stamped manually.

European citizens are also running into issues entering post-Brexit Britain. Last week, London’s Gatwick Airport saw 40-minute queues as travelers complained about e-gates failures. The e-gates, managed by the UK’s Home Office, have previously run into problems, most notably in autumn 2021 when they failed three times in as many months.

The EU is in the process of introducing a new Entry/Exit System (EES) that will allow for automated checks on non-EU citizens. The EES was due to be introduced in late May, having already been pushed back from last year, but a new deadline has been set to the end of 2023. The bloc is also delaying fingerprint and facial scans for travelers, although the change has not been officially announced.

The new EES is a part of the European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS) that will be implemented in 2024.

The UK is also introducing its own Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) scheme.

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