Australian passport holders can now speed through border control at UK airports, including Eurostar.
– Updated May 20, 2019 –
The notoriously long immigration lines at Heathrow Airport, London’s busiest and most congested hub, just got a lot shorter for many Australian passport holders.
The British High Commission says from today Australians with chip-enabled passports can breeze through immigration using the e-passport gates – a service previously reserved for UK nationals and European Union (EU) and European Economic Area (EEA) visitors.
They join visitors from New Zealand, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Canada and the United States who can access the fast-track gates at Heathrow and other UK airports, as well as the Eurostar terminal at St Pancras Station.
The automated system means people arriving from these seven countries no longer have to fill out paper landing cards or wait in queues for face-to-face approval by a border official.
The changes were not expected to start until June, but authorities have confirmed the e-gates are now up and running for those with chip-based passports.
All visitors arriving at UK ports and airports – including the 1.4 million Aussies who visit annually – still face identity and security checks.
All up, more than 78 million passengers pass through Heathrow each year – that’s about 214,000 people a day on average – and it’s usual for immigration wait times to exceed two hours.
Based on targets from the Home Office, Brits and EU residents are supposed to get through immigration in under 25 minutes, while other international arrivals are supposed to clear immigration in less than 45 minutes.
But London’s Evening Standard found official targets for clearing immigration at Heathrow were regularly missed last year, with figures showing 70,000 passengers were forced to wait too long in some months.
While the changes are a welcome relief for travel-weary Aussies after a 24-hour flight, it could be a different story for UK nationals who face the prospect of even longer queues.
Hopefully, Heathrow will expand the number of automated gates available for arriving passengers at peak times.
Registered Traveller Scheme Takes A Hit
Throwing the e-gates open to visitors from the so-called “Five Eyes” alliance, along with Singapore and South Korea, raises doubts about the long term viability of the Registered Traveller Scheme (RTS) in the UK.
The scheme allows visa holders on an approved passport list to skip the long immigration queues and, for a fee of £70 (A$128), jump in the fast-moving EU channel. To keep the annual membership you must also pay £50 (A$91) each year.
It has long been a worthwhile investment, particularly for time-poor business travellers arriving at Heathrow after a long flight half way round the world.
But given many of the scheme’s biggest member countries – Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Canada and the US – no longer need to pay to access the e-channels, the scheme is likely to take a big hit. New memberships are no longer being accepted from those countries.
However, the RTS will still have wide appeal for visitors from countries like Argentina, Brazil, Israel and Mexico.
To ensure its viability, the scheme has been expanded to include 15 new countries, including Papua New Guinea, Nauru and Macau.
Zip Through Hong Kong, Singapore and Dubai
While faster entry to the UK is long overdue, Heathrow is not the first airport to speed up the arrivals process.
It’s not widely known, but Australian passport holders can already use the e-passport gates in Hong Kong, Singapore and Dubai airports – just as many visitors to Australia can also do on arrival.
Australians can use Hong Kong’s automated e-Channel lanes (the same ones used by HK residents). Registration is free – just visit the e-Channel registration offices in the immigration hall before you reach baggage collection.
It’s available to all Australian passport holders, even for those on their first visit, and it means you won’t have to fill out forms on arrival.
There’s no need to sign up if you’re already enrolled in the e-channel service for frequent visitors.
In Singapore, the enhanced-Immigration Automated Clearance System also lets Australian passport holders skip the queues.
In Dubai, the Smart Gate program is another great way to speed through passport control on arrival. You can enrol on the spot when you arrive, just ask.
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