Immigration forms: what’s the use?

When it comes to immigration formalities, every country is different. Singapore is an absolute breeze, with a line never extending more than a few people, whilst Denpasar is one of the most horrific and enduring experiences a traveller might have to go through.

In the past, all nations made passengers complete declaration forms on arrival, primarily for the purpose of customs and quarantine, in order to screen people and ensure prohibited goods were not brought in. Most countries now have done away with using the forms for this matter, and instead prompt passengers to voluntarily declare any restricted items. The forms are instead used to collect security data about passengers, including reason for travel, length of stay, and where the traveller will be staying in the country.

Most of this data appears to be for statistical purposes, rather than immigration control. As countries push toward the highly digitised age, forms and even passports begin to disappear. Most countries that do require passengers to complete immigration forms don’t ask the task of their citizens. Singapore and Hong Kong, for example, only require foreigners to complete the forms. In fact, foreigners holding frequent visitor cards, elite frequent flier cards or a residency permit are exempt from this requirement. In Singapore, selected foreign residents are eligible for this exemption after visiting the country more than 3 times in 1 year, and enrolling into a ‘trusted traveller’ sort of program.

Many other countries, such as Malaysia, may only ask foreigners to complete an arrival card, whilst ignoring the need for a departure card. Hong Kong and Singapore, in fact, essentially use the same arrival card for departures. All of this is almost purely for statistical purposes, as the information declared is of little use.

Australia is one of the few countries that still requires its own citizens and residents to complete detailed and comprehensive arrival and departure cards. Every single departing passenger must complete a green form, requesting data such as flight number, travel plans, occupation, residency status and cash-carried declarations. The majority of this information is contained within passport and airline databases, under APIS (Advanced Passenger Information System). All travellers departing from Australia have all their details logged within APIS, primarily including all important passport details. Airlines themselves also have a record of the passenger’s immediate travel plans with them. They are also responsible for ensuring passengers have correct visa entitlements when travelling to another country, and so all this information is also available within the airline’s systems. As all this information is already available within several databases, a consolidation and agreement between several parties would make the outgoing cards redundant. Following the recent roll-out of automated departure immigration at Australian airports, the cards are not even looked at by officials, and are instead dumped in a box.

Incoming passenger cards are another story, and in a country where biosecurity is of paramount importance, these yellow cards are scrutinised even further to ensure travellers do not carry in any restricted items, specifically food and plants matter. The cards have been a valuable source of income for the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, as several weary-eyed and possibly non-English speaking travellers are met with a fine of over A$300 for failing to declare a few chocolate bars left in their luggage. A move away from this intense system would see passengers simply walking through a red or green channel, as is common at most airports around the world. Doing this would save significant time, primarily by reducing the notoriously long lines at international arrival customs.

In a recent article by Australian Business Traveller, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection announced they they would implement a plan to remove the outgoing cards over 2017-2018, and proceed to remove incoming cards through 2018-2019. This is an incredibly welcome move, and a step into Australia’s digital future. There are already plans, in fact, to scrap the physical passport, in favour of an electronic alternative.


2 Comments Add yours

  1. If amazon can make a store where u walk in and out with groceries without a checkout.. surely Australia can track some people to the country they are boarding… Especially since the airline has the data of where they are going!


  2. Australia’s quarantine regulations are tough, but you’re unlikely to get fined for not declaring some chocolate bars. Some people, especially coming from this part of the world, bring a whole wet market with them and fail to declare it even if the card’s in their own language. No sympathy if they’re then fined.


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