Home > Politics / Current Events > Open Letter to the UK Home Office about the Imminent Closure of the IRIS E-Gate System

Open Letter to the UK Home Office about the Imminent Closure of the IRIS E-Gate System


Forgive me for a temporary diversion into non-photographic territory.

For those of you aren’t one of the nearly 400,000 UK-based frequent travellers who use the IRIS system, it is a rare case of something that takes a good deal of pain out of travelling internationally. It is an automated system installed at several UK airports which allows registered users to gain entry to the UK merely by looking into an iris scanner. If you are like me and are A) a frequent business traveller or B) a non-EU citizen, this is a life saver. IRIS lets me breeze past hour-long queues and I am often at the baggage carousel before the bags have started coming out.

However, for one reason or another, the system has never quite taken off. I have an inkling that it’s down to the fact that the need for pre-registration has put a lot of would-be users off, especially when the registration offices within Heathrow and Gatwick have been keeping increasingly erratic opening hours, and unfortunately with the austerity measures it now means that these offices have largely been closed. Word has been seeping out that the programme’s days are over, and that the machines will only be run until such time as they malfunction or start to need maintenance, at which point the system will be shut down.

I was upset enough about hearing this that I have written to the appropriate address within the Home Office. If you are upset about this as well, I would urge you to do the same.

To: irisinfo@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk

To whom it may concern:

I write to express my displeasure at the imminent closure or retirement of the IRIS e-gate system.

I am an expat US citizen who has lived in London for many years. I will not be eligible for a UK passport until late 2012, but I have an Indefinite Leave to Remain visa and a US passport. I am a frequent business traveller, and because of the IRIS system, I have saved countless hours I would have otherwise stood in a queue.

With the staff reductions underway at UKBA, and the resulting pressures on the remaining border agents, surely this is not the time to be adding to the numbers of people having to queue for inefficient manual checks?

However, if the retirement of IRIS is a fait accompli, and it is only a matter of time until the system is decommissioned, then may I enquire what are the planned alternatives for frequent non-EU national travellers such as me?

I am thinking along the lines of one of the following suggestions:

  • Addition of non-EU expats to the e-passport system – This would seem to make sense considering the sizeable investment in the e-passport infrastructure throughout the UK airports
  • Alternative automated biometric e-gate system – I have heard rumours of a facial recognition technology, and again I would suggest that this be extended to cover non-EU nationals
  • Separate queue for longterm visa holders / resident expats – In past times when the IRIS machines have been malfunctioning, I have occasionally seen an “IRIS queue” spring up at an adjacent border desk, for people who would normally use the IRIS machine. Surely this could be a low-cost alternative solution in which you have a dedicated queue for long-term residents (people on ILR or work permits) who simply needed identity verification rather than the lengthy entry interrogation posed to tourists and other temporary non-EU visitors?

Lacking any of the solutions above being put into practice, the prospect of once again joining the non-EU passport queues fill me with dread, and make me re-think my need to travel at all.

Thank you for your time and consideration,
Luke Robinson

  1. Drew kaza
    May 2, 2012 at 12:13 pm

    hi Luke:

    I’m in complete agreement with you about IRIS…what an absurdity to kill it! Have you had ANY response to this?

    best

    Drew

  2. May 2, 2012 at 12:16 pm

    Not a peep, Drew. I imagine, at the moment, that the UKBA and Home Office have bigger fish to fry. But clearly, a *functional* IRIS system or equivalent would eliminate a lot of their current woes…

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