The drowsy scramble for a pen at the end of a long-haul flight will become a thing of the past as Australia’s immigration officials set out on a mission to eliminate paper from the international arrivals hall.
If the Department of Immigration and Border Protection gets its way, international travellers should be able to make their way out of any of Australia’s 10 international airports without even taking their passport out of their luggage.
Immigration has officially commenced the tender process for a three-pronged suite of technologies that will enable its vision for a paper-free, “seamless traveller experience” for incoming guests.
The first stage of the process replaces the existing fleet of smartgates with biometric-only border crossing technology that will match passengers with stored facial images, collected from advanced passenger processing systems, rather than what is stored on their passport chip.
This means passengers won’t be asked to present any documentation at the gate. An expected 90 percent of all travellers will be able to use the automated technology, not just those with approved e-passports.
The government has already quietly passed new legislation that will allow the facial matching process to go ahead.
Immigration also wants to get rid of the ticketing kiosks located ahead of smartgates to “provide a seamless minimal contact process for arriving travellers,” according to tender documents.
Even as passenger numbers increase year-on-year, the agency has committed to a target of 92 percent of travellers processed within 30 minutes of joining a primary immigration queue.
Travellers will catch a first glimpse of the new system at Canberra airport’s fledgling international wing under a limited pilot, but it will eventually turn up in all ten major international airports across the country.
Beyond the immigration queue, the department also wants to digitise the incoming passenger declaration form passengers currently need to fill out by hand, which determines how they are processed through biosecurity checks.
The future alternative could be a device-enabled electronic questionnaire dynamically tailored to a passenger’s circumstances, using existing data to minimise the number of questions that legally need to be asked.
Biometric matching will link a passenger's response - for example whether they have any food products to declare - to their face or another biometric marker as they move towards the customs screening point.
Instead of handing an Immigration “exit marshall” their filled out form, passengers will be channelled to either biosecurity checking desks, or to the airport exit, without any intervention on their part.
The department is currently taking bids for the first round of smartgate tenders. It says digitisation of passenger forms and exit marshalling will the subject to a future RFT.