The United States is one of seven new countries whose citizens are now able to use ePassport kiosks in airports and train stations throughout the United Kingdom in a move designed to “speed up border controls for low-risk countries,” the British government announced this week.
Travelers from Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea, and the United States—which represent more than 10 million arrivals into the United Kingdom annually—can now get into the same lines as European Union (EU) and European Economic Area (EEA) nationals. (Here’s a refresher on how to renew your U.S. passport if yours has expired.)
The news comes after media reported that wait times for non-EEA passengers at London’s Heathrow Airport had at times reached more than 2.5 hours last summer.
Border Force, the entity responsible for passport control checks at all U.K. airports, regularly reports wait times at Heathrow, with the goal of processing 95 percent of passengers from non-EEA countries within 45 minutes. But clearly, it hasn’t been reaching that goal.
The hope, according to Karen Dee, chief executive of the U.K.’s Airport Operators Association, is that long lines will no longer be a potential deterrent for visitors to the United Kingdom (although we imagine that U.K. and EU nationals are likely not happy that their much shorter lines are now allowing in millions of additional passengers).
“Enabling more passengers to use ePassport gates is an important next step in our joint efforts to enhance the welcome at the border,” Dee said in a statement. “It will demonstrate the U.K. is open for business, tourism and visiting friends and relatives.”
The ePassport kiosks date back to 2008 and up until now were only accessible to those with a U.K., EU, EEA, or Swiss biometric passport. They use facial recognition technology to match the passenger’s face to his or her passport photo. People who don’t get approved at the kiosk must have their passport and identity checked by border officers.
There are currently 264 ePassport gates at 16 air and rail terminals throughout the United Kingdom. The airports with them are Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, East Midlands, Edinburgh, Gatwick, Glasgow, Heathrow, London City, Luton, Manchester, Southend, and Stansted. They are also in place at the Brussels, Lille, and Paris Eurostar train terminals.
The kiosks can be used by those age 18 and over, and those age 12 to 17 who are accompanied by an adult. The British government is also no longer requiring any non-EEA travelers to fill in landing cards upon arrival in the United Kingdom.