Immigration queues to go, practical problems inbound

Media outlets reported on the weekend that the Department of Immigration and Border Protection will begin trialling a new system to handle inbound passenger entry.

Using new technology, incoming passenger cards (Form 15) will be a thing of the past as biometric scanners (face, iris, and fingerprinting) will be used to identify and check passengers against information already kept, for instance, in the chips embedded in electronic passports, issued by many countries. This is the next step from the SmartGate technology currently installed at many airports. It is estimated that approximately 90 per cent of travellers will travel through immigration without any human interaction, and will have a quick and seamless experience comparable with domestic travel.

This technology will be piloted at Canberra airport in July this year, with the potential to be rolled out to major airports (Sydney and Melbourne) by the end of the year. Of course, this does not mean anyone will be able to walk through just because they bought a ticket to Australia. Visas will still be required and passengers of interest will still be scrutinised.

While this technology is most welcomed, especially for returning citizens and permanent residents, a migration agent will see one major downside.

Many visa applicants are required to detail their travel history when applying for a visa. This is increasingly becoming difficult when they travel in passport-free territories, such as within the Schengen Area, as little evidence is provided of border crossing. This, along with the diminishing use of immigration and emigration stamps, will make it very difficult for a visa applicant to recall the dates they travelled to what countries. When personal particular forms ask for dates and reasons to travel over the last 10 or even 30 years, one wonders just how accurate an applicant can be. The danger is providing false or incorrect information, which can lead to a visa refused or cancelled in some situations.

Migration agents and visa applicants can only hope that along with this new technology, questions requiring travel history can be amended, perhaps instead asking for a list of countries travelled to rather than exact dates.