New Biometric Controls and how they affect YOU!

Americans planning to travel to the UK over the summer holidays should be aware of changing laws and new biometric controls being put in place. It is still possible to travel to the UK for up to 6 months with no additional visa if you're traveling from the US, but you may have to prove to the immigration officer that you can legitimately stay for that length of time.

You may need to prove the following:

  • That you don't intend to stay for more than 6 months and that at the end of that time, you intend to leave the UK.
  • That you don't intend to seek employment of any kind during your stay.
  • That you don't intend to study or attend school of any sort.
  • That you can maintain yourself without needing recourse to any public funds.
  • That you can afford to fly home.

Most Immigration Officers will require seeing your return flight ticket before allowing you into the country. Ultimately, it is up to the individual Immigration Officer if you will be allowed into the UK if you are traveling without a visa.

We recommend you bring bank statements for proof of funds and a letter or contract from your employer showing you are expected back at work during the appropriate time frame. Apartment leases or the like may also be used to prove your ties to the US.

"Biometrics is the science of using digital technology to identify individuals based on an individual's unique physical and biological qualities. Quite simply, biometrics is the technique of recognising a person's identity from a physical characteristic (like a fingerprint or iris pattern) or a personal trait (such as voice pattern or handwriting)."*

The e-Borders programme will be fully operational by 2014, but in the mean time, there are two test projects in operation.

One part of the e-Borders programme is IRIS, or Iris Recognition Immigration System. It stores a persons iris pattern and passport details in a database enabling them to pass through immigration electronically without ever coming face to face with an Immigration Officer. The system is aimed at frequent travelers, including British citizens and foreign nationals who are temporarily or permanently resident in the UK. Enrolled passengers can enter an automated immigration control barrier using the IRIS system.

Project Semaphore, another test component of e-Borders, will run until March 2008. This project checks passenger names against government law enforcement databases before they arrive in the UK allowing the prevention of those on certain watch lists developed by UKIS, Police and Customs and Excise. It incorporates the pre-entry controls API (advance passenger information) and the PNR (passenger name records) which are provided by the airlines. The information provided by carriers allows background checks of passengers before they arrive in the UK.

In addition to these two, starting in 2007 other components of the e-Borders programme will be put in place. These include:

  • Biometric ID Visas - These are now operating in at least 37 overseas entry clearance posts. All visas will be replaced by the biometric ones by 2008.
  • e-Passports - Also called biometric passports are now issued to all new applicants who qualify for a British passport. These new biometric passports will include a chip containing information such as a facial image, and eventually fingerprint information.
  • ARC's Application Registration Cards - These cards will be in place for asylum seekers and will contain biometric fingerprint and facial data, as well as employment status.

Upon exiting the UK, people will be counted out at border control by recording fingerprints of those leaving through mobile exit controls and these will be added to the biometric database. If people have overstayed, or otherwise broken immigration rules, storing their biometrics means those people will be linked to their previous history and may be refused entry in future.

UK-Yankee© maintains a discussion forum which holds valuable one-off tips for those seeking entry to the UK. More information on the changing procedures can be found at the following links:

e-Borders Creating an integrated, secure border for the 21st Century (pdf file)

Borders, Immigration and Identity Action Plan (pdf file)

What is IRIS


*quoted from now defunct page at

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