Policy paper

Exit checks fact sheet

Published 29 March 2015

The coalition government committed in 2010 to reintroducing exit checks. From 8 April 2015, we will collect information on passengers leaving the UK as we do for those entering.

Exit checks will provide us with vital information that confirms a person’s exit from the UK. While predominately an immigration and data tool, the checks will also improve national security by helping the police and security services track the movements of known or suspected criminals and terrorists, supporting the wider work across government and law enforcement agencies.

1. Background

Before 1994, embarkation controls were operated by immigration officers at the majority of air and sea ports. Whilst this meant a visible presence in most locations. these controls were limited. The paper-based embarkation checks were piecemeal, were not carried out on all modes of transport, and only a small proportion of passengers were checked against watchlists. The paper-based nature of the checks meant that there was only limited ability to match records and therefore no usable information about outbound passengers was collected. In 1998 embarkation checks were scrapped entirely.

Since 2004 the UK has moved to a more sophisticated approach to checks by starting to collect Advance Passenger Information (API) for both inbound and outbound air passengers. API includes the passenger’s full name, nationality, date of birth, gender and travel document number, type and country of issue.

We are already collecting more data than the old embarkation checks process ever did through API, which is provided for about 80 per cent of all journeys – including 95 per cent of flights. We have a better picture than ever before about who is leaving the country, but it does not cover all modes of transport. That is why the coalition government pledged to reintroduce exit checks for all scheduled commercial international air, sea and rail routes.

We introduced legislation, through the Immigration Act 2014, to give carriers and port operators the power to carry out embarkation checks – and to give the government the power to compel them to do so if necessary. We have been working closely with the air, maritime and international rail industries to ensure that exit checks are brought in with as little disruption to customers and to their businesses as possible.

2. What exit checks will do

From 8 April, exit checks will take place at all airports and ports in the UK. Information that is included in passports or travel documents will be collected for passengers leaving the country on scheduled commercial international air, sea and rail routes.

The data collected will be provided to the Home Office to give us the most comprehensive picture we have ever had of whether those who enter the UK leave when they are supposed to. The information will improve our ability to identify and further tighten the immigration routes and visas that are most vulnerable to abuse.

Exit checks data will help us to target people who have overstayed their visas and are in the UK illegally. For example, we can use new powers under the Immigration Act 2014 to remove their driving licences and prevent illegal overstayers from opening bank accounts.

While predominately an immigration and data tool, the checks will also improve security by helping the police and security services track the movements of known or suspected criminals and terrorists, supporting the wider work across government and our law enforcement agencies.

3. How exit checks will work

We have worked with industry to implement exit checks in a way which minimises the impact on passengers’ journeys. Most passengers will not notice any significant difference to the usual outbound travel processes.

The majority of airlines already provide the Home Office with Advance Passenger Information (API). This is given to airlines by customers when booking their flights. For these passengers, nothing will change and they will not notice the new system in action.

Where API cannot be provided – for example on some rail and ferry journeys – carriers and ports will check travel documents and collect data by checking or scanning passports or national identity cards.

The checks will be carried out by staff working for the airline, rail or ferry operator. Every port is different and operators may conduct checks in different ways which best fit with their current embarkation processes, but data will be gathered on all passengers – this is the requirement we have set.

4. Q&A

4.1 Will this result in a delay to my journey?

We have worked with ports and carriers to find the most suitable way to deliver exit checks with the least impact on passengers.

As with any journey, we recommend that you give yourself enough time to reach your destination. Have your passport or travel document to hand and ready to be checked. If you have any specific questions, contact your carrier or port operator in advance.

4.2 What will happen to my data?

The passenger details contained in your travel document will be transmitted to the Home Office. This information will then be processed by our systems to improve migration controls and security.

All data will be processed in line with the Data Protection Act 1998, the Human Rights Act 1998 and the common law duty of confidentiality.

4.3 Who will be checked?

The vast majority of passengers leaving the country on scheduled commercial international air, sea and rail routes will go through exit checks. School coach parties of children 16 years and under who meet the criteria will be exempt from exit checks.

Alternative arrangements, separate from exit checks, are being put in place to cover:

  • journeys made within the Common Travel Area (journeys between the UK and the Republic of Ireland, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man)
  • small, non-scheduled flights (General Aviation)
  • non-commercial pleasure boats (General Maritime)