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UK: Biometric ‘Permission to Travel’ Scheme in Borders Bill Will Affect Tens of Millions of People

(Statewatch) – The attack on the asylum system proposed by the UK government in the Nationality and Borders Bill has provoked outrage. However, the Bill also includes proposals to introduce an electronic ‘permission to travel’ scheme that would involve gathering biometric and other data from tens of millions of people. The UK Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) is conducting legislative scrutiny on the Bill; Statewatch submitted written observations to the inquiry last week.

An assault on the asylum system

The UK government published reforms to the Nationality and Borders Bill in July this year, as part of its ‘New plan for Immigration‘. The Bill seeks to reduce protection and increase penalties for refugees arriving to the UK via a country other than the one they are fleeing from, or arriving on UK territory without having first acquired permission. For those who manage to reach the UK, access to benefits and family reunion rights will be limited, and it will become harder than ever to obtain indefinite leave to remain. Meanwhile, UK Border Force will be authorised to conduct illegal pushbacks, and asylum claims could be processed off-shore.

All in all, the human rights implications of the Bill are dire. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has expressed its concern that “the plan, if implemented as it stands, will undermine the 1951 Convention and international protection system, not just in the UK, but globally.”

Electronic travel authorisations: ‘permission to travel’ scheme

One aspect of the Bill that has been overlooked amongst the (entirely justified) furore is a proposal to establish a new electronic travel authorisation system. The purpose of such a system would be to evaluate the eligibility of travellers who do not require a visa to enter the UK and prevent them from travelling should they not meet the desired requirements – in the words of the Home Office, to “block the entry of those who present a threat to the UK.”

Other countries operating such schemes include the USA (Electronic System for Travel Authorisation, ESTA), Canada (Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) and Australia (Electronic Travel Authority, ETA). The EU is also in the process of developing a European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS).

Statewatch’s submission to the Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR), which can be viewed in full here, outlines the problematic legal basis proposed for the scheme and explains how it could undermine the rights to privacy, freedom from discrimination, and the UK’s obligations under the Geneva Convention. Read Full Article >

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