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Biometric border control changes cause concern for UK ports, juxtaposed controls

Biometric border control changes cause concern for UK ports, juxtaposed controls

The initial launch of the EES border control system is expected to cause worse delays at ports than airports. Those at Kent’s Channel Tunnel, where French immigration processes take place under juxtaposed controls, estimate that processing times for cars would increase from under a minute to between five and seven minutes, according to The Times.

Getlink, operator for Kent’s Channel Tunnel, is building a passport processing space for non-EU states. Passengers would have to get out of their cars to register their biometrics at a terminal, and only once finished, they would be able to continue to French border control.

The facilities would cost £67 million (roughly US$84 million) to install and would be able to process border crossings at a rate of 500 cars an hour. The tunnel has a max hourly capacity of 840 cars.

Officials at the Port of Dover, St Pancras, Folkestone, which also have duplicative controls, as well as the Eurostar terminal in London are also worried of bottlenecks. Cruise ships would also face delays due to checks as third country citizens enter and exit.

In a meeting with the European Scrutiny Committee, Jack Steer, P&O Ferries director, says that an app would make more sense, particularly at juxtaposed borders. In an airport, users are inputting biometrics in near-ideal conditions with consistent lighting. “It’s all done in that sanitized environment,” he says.

The Port of Dover, however, is a completely different environment. Weather in itself can affect the flow of traffic. Now, users must expose themselves to the weather and submit their biometrics, while environmental factors can affect the tech’s functionality in getting an accurate fingerprint scan.

Nichola Mallon, head of trade and devolved policy at Logistics UK says that “upstreaming” the process by using an app instead of implementing registration at the physical border. The EU is in the process of creating an app that would achieve this, but it may not begin rolling out until summer of 2025 at the earliest.

In a submission to members of parliament, officials of Dover Port referred to an “existential risk facing critical supply chains, businesses, communities, and the tourism economy of nations on both sides of the Channel from the current lack of appropriate regime for the introduction of EES,” according to Connexion France. The results would be detrimental to both the British and French economy, they argue.

In light of the upcoming implementation, the UK is seeking to establish a partnership with the Schengen Area to remove checks from the Gibraltar-Spain border for its citizens, according to a negotiations letter from UK Minister for Europe to Sir William Cash, Chair of the European Scrutiny Committee.

Even prior to Brexit Britain was not, nor does it want to become, a member of the Schengen Area, which allows citizens of member countries to travel freely in the area without border controls. The Schengen partnership would mitigate the impact of the UK’s presence as a third country of citizens who frequently cross EU borders.

Under such an arrangement, those at Gibraltar would pass through UK immigration first, and Schengen immigration immediately after.

While it was initially planned for May, the EES system is now scheduled to launch on November 6th due to IT problems and French officials who lobbied for the system to be implemented after the Summer Olympics.

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