International passengers would be whisked through immigration and customs without stopping or even encountering humans, while passport scanners and paper cards would be a thing of the past, under a radical overhaul of Australia’s airports due to start this year.
The Department of Immigration and Border Protection has sought technology that would abolish incoming passenger cards, remove the need for most passengers to show their passports and replace manned desks with electronic stations and automatic triage.
The plan goes much further than the SmartGates currently installed at some airports that require passports to be scanned electronically. Those gates, introduced less than 10 years ago, will be retired as part of the new “contactless” system.
Instead, passengers will be processed by biometric recognition of the face, iris and/or fingerprints, matched to existing data. By 2020 the government wants a system in place to process 90 per cent of travellers automatically, with no human involvement.
“I think it could be a world first,” said John Coyne, head of border security at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. He said it was the long-term vision of the most senior immigration bureaucrats to “streamline” the arrivals process so international passengers could “literally just walk out like at a domestic airport”.
The Seamless Traveller project has been in train since 2015, with almost $100 million budgeted over five years, but the DIBP has only now embarked on the most ambitious aspect of the project, which it says will “transform the border experience”.
Though the government knows what it is looking for, it doesn’t yet know what it’s going to get. “The department is asking tenderers to provide innovative solutions to allow arriving travellers to self-process,” an immigration spokeswoman said.