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At the end of the year I'd like to visit the UK with my girlfriend and her mother for a week or two. I'm a UK citizen and passport holder. They are EU citizens and Spanish passport holders.

This week I've read the news (#1 #2) that EU citizens are being denied entry and detained for several days before being sent back to their point of origin.

I have also read many tales of woe in the past (example) regarding people being badly treated by the UK "Border Force".

My concern is that there's a chance that my travel companions will be detained if the person at the border doesn't believe that they want to come on holiday. They might suspect that I'm trying to smuggle two EU citizens into the UK under the guise of a holiday.

My question is will it help or hinder if we approach the passport desk as a group? Or should they approach the desk separately from me? Or should I give up on the idea of going to UK with them?

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    I wouldn’t read too much into these stories, there’s a political motive behind some reports, albeit the examples relating to people suspected of intending to work are real. If you are concerned, make sure your girlfriend and her mother carry documents to prove they have sufficient funds for the trip, accommodation, a return ticket and some evidence of ties to Spain eg copy of employment contract. If asked, that should be sufficient to prove they are genuine tourists
    – Traveller
    May 15 at 7:13
  • thank you, @Traveller , proving sufficient funds shouldn't be a problem, and we'll all have return tickets. Accommodation will be with members of my family, not in a hotel or anything, so not sure how to prove that. The employment contract might be an issue: my girlfriend's a teacher and in Spain many teachers employment contracts are only for a year and are renewed just before the new school year starts; and her mother is due to retire this year, and recently became a widow, so has fewer ties to home than she did last year. Would showing my Spanish employment contract help at all perhaps?
    – Aaron F
    May 15 at 23:02
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    (I would hate for anything to happen to them at the border and spoil what should be a happy family holiday. I'd feel responsible and culpable, and I'm contemplating just calling the whole thing off for now. Although a part of me also thinks that, realistically, by the time we want to travel, all of these current problems I read about in the news will be resolved and we won't actually have any issues. I would like to be prepared just in case, though)
    – Aaron F
    May 15 at 23:07
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    @AaronF return tickets are useless. Everyone who plans to enter as a visitor and remain indefinitely has a return ticket, because they know that not having one increases, by orders of magnitude, their chances of being detected. The immigration officers know this, so they expect intending overstayers to have return tickets that they intend not to use. I'll add an answer.
    – phoog
    May 16 at 23:51
  • Where do you reside?
    – phoog
    May 16 at 23:59
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My concern is that there's a chance that my travel companions will be detained if the person at the border doesn't believe that they want to come on holiday. They might suspect that I'm trying to smuggle two EU citizens into the UK under the guise of a holiday.

I don't want to sound patronizing, but it seems like you need to take a deep breath. For every case you've seen of someone being detained, and for each of the thousands of cases you haven't seen, there are millions of cases of people being admitted to the UK, undertaking their planned visits, and leaving, with no incident whatsoever.

Yes, the immigration officer might suspect that you're trying to smuggle them in, but it's extremely unlikely. The cases you've read about mostly involved people who really were planning to do something forbidden by UK immigration law, even though many of them did not realize it. Others were detained incorrectly because of widespread misunderstanding among Home Office staff about permissible activities for visitors (that is, it's allowed for visitors to look for work, but many immigration officers seem to think that it is not). But you're not proposing anything that might be seen as impermissible, much less anything that is actually impermissible.

Maybe you won't speak to an immigration officer at all, since as far as I know, EU citizens can still use the automatic passport gates (as citizens of several non-EU countries have been able to do for some years now).

My question is will it help or hinder if we approach the passport desk as a group?

My guess is that it will help. But if you're really worried about this, the trick is to be prepared for a challenge just as anyone should be, whether a citizen of Spain or Japan or Nigeria.

If you live in Spain or have other ties there, you should be prepared to show evidence of that, too, because it tends to reduce the probability that your girlfriend would want to remain in the UK to be with you.

If you are questioned by an immigration officer, don't show anything unless you have a reason to. You don't want them to be suspicious that you're too well prepared, which might cause them to think that you have something to hide. Just be prepared to address concerns that the officers might have if the officers show signs of actually being concerned.

Don't bring a large amount of luggage. The first person I ever heard of who was turned away at the border was an American who was in fact planning to overstay in the UK. She had brought a huge suitcase for a visit that was supposed to be two weeks.

Or should they approach the desk separately from me?

If they can use the automated gates, of course you should all do that. If they cannot, then everyone will be a lot less nervous if you all go through the line together and present yourselves together. If one of you is flagged to speak with an officer, you should go together to keep your traveling group intact. If they really want only one of you, they'll let you know.

Or should I give up on the idea of going to UK with them?

Absolutely not.

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    "If you live in Spain or have other ties there, you should be prepared to show evidence of that, too, because it tends to reduce the probability that your girlfriend would want to remain in the UK to be with you." - this is a good tip that I hadn't previously considered, thank you
    – Aaron F
    May 17 at 15:06

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