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At some airports (such as Frankfurt airport's non-schengen zone), the border police/immigration sometimes start checking passport/visa and asking questions at arrival gate, and afterwards passengers have to go through the actual passport control anyway. This also happens occasionally at airports in Canada (and rarely in US - mostly just flights from sensitive countries) when officers started to question foreigners as they get off the plane and then of course there is the real border control aftwerwards. What is the point of this, really? To identify suspcious illegal migrants a bit early, before they go through the actual border control in just a few minutes?

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  • 2
    Perhaps a resourceful illegal immigrant is hoping to find an alternative route to landside, if they know they won't get past immigration. Aug 4 at 15:01
  • Border Control is only one area that the Bundespolizei is responsible for. Federal Police (Germany) - Wikipedia: The Federal Police is primarily responsible for border protection, railroad and aviation/air security. In addition, the agency is responsible, among other tasks, for the protection of federal constitutional bodies. Aug 4 at 17:19
  • Where have you seen this in Canada? I've never seen anything like it there. In both Canada and the US, you get off a plane and get forced through a sterile maze of hallways that leads to the customs/immigration hall. Generally, there's no way to not follow the directed path, and other than bathrooms, no place to stop between the plan and the customs hall
    – Flydog57
    Aug 5 at 20:57
  • I've never seen this in the US either. Aug 5 at 23:40
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    I have had this in Frankfurt once when arriving from China. Possible reasons I could think of are 1) it makes it easier to have translators where they might be needed, and 2) if someone arrives without documents, it is still possible to determine which plane this passenger arrived in and therefore, which airline to fine and where to send the passenger back to.
    – Jan
    Aug 6 at 15:08

4 Answers 4

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A guess: sometimes travelers will destroy their own travel documents before reaching passport control, for a variety of reasons that the destination government doesn't approve of. Doing a check before the traveler has access to a toilet, garbage can, etc, makes this more difficult.

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    In that case, all the person has to do is to leave his documents in the seat pocket of his seat in the plane.
    – dezkev
    Aug 6 at 5:06
  • 4
    It's going to be a lot easier to search an individual plane and it's associated records than a whole airport. Aug 6 at 8:39
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    they can tear the passport on the flight and flush it down the toilet
    – amphibient
    Aug 7 at 1:47
  • @amphibient that assumes they are familiar with airports and their proceedings and even this particular airport.
    – Tom
    Aug 7 at 5:51
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In Frankfurt, there will be some passengers who are not expected to reach passport control at all because, having arrived from a non-Schengen airport, they are on their way to another non-Schengen airport. Some of these passengers are required to have an airport transit visa. The officers may be verifying these visas as a form of audit to confirm that the airline has processed and reported these passengers correctly.

Other reasons for such checks could include suspicions about specific individuals on the flight (whether they are wanted for a crime or merely suspected of an immigration violation), or concerns that some might do something undesirable between arrival and passport control (or, if applicable, between arrival and international departure without needing to go through passport control). For example, there could be some passport-swapping scheme.

Of course, the scrutiny may also have nothing to do with immigration matters but could be looking for smugglers (before they have time to pass their goods on to someone else or hide them somewhere in the airport) by checking for people who become nervous under questioning.

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    I've been on multiple flights where the authorities had concerns about specific individuals on the flight and met the arriving plane at the gate. In some cases, this meant having to show our passports as we exited the plane so they could identify whoever they were looking for. Another time (this one in Germany), someone from the Bundespolizei came on board a regional jet and arranged for a specific family to disembark first and come with him; this led to a rather odd delay while the officer forgot the family's name and subsequently came back on board having written on his hand with a pen. Aug 4 at 21:15
  • @ZachLipton how did you know that the authorities did this because of concern about specific individuals?
    – phoog
    Aug 5 at 13:41
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    They clearly had lists of the people they were looking for in those cases. But I don't doubt that sometimes they do general checks, especially in Europe, of people coming through the non-Schengen area, since some of them will never reach passport control at all. Aug 6 at 19:14
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In some airports, travellers in transit with certain citizenships are handled differently: they will be escorted to a secure area, where they will be held until their connecting flight departs (to which they will be escorted as well).

There is a strong link between citizenships which are required to have an airside transit visa and such procedures.

The actual reason for this (both ATV and the escorting) is unclear, but is usually related to people pretending to connect but actually attempting to enter the country at the connection airport.

It may be:

  • because there have been known security holes allowing people to bypass the normal border checks somewhere (possibly once they are in the waiting area for their connecting flight —- lots of shops, restaurants and services, so opportunities for well organised networks to get someone out)
  • Because once they are in the airport they will go to passport control and try to claim asylum. Not sure whether that can actually work nor how escorting them will avoid the issue, but I’ve seen that mentioned

For this case, in my experience the checks are cursory for people with a “good” passport: just vaguely wave your passport and you’ll be let through.

Another case is when temporary internal Schengen checks are reintroduced and for operational reasons they can’t route you through normal passport control (though this does not quite match the case in the question). In that case I’ve seen officers with special mobile passport check terminals at the gate, checking everybody like they would at a normal passport control booth.

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  • Can you include an example of an airport with such escort procedures?
    – JonathanReez
    Aug 6 at 22:33
  • I’ve not experienced them myself but I believe I’ve read about it being done at CDG.
    – jcaron
    Aug 7 at 13:14
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Some countries like Thailand do this to determine which queue you should go in (visa-holder/visa-exempt, visa on arrival), as different passports can have different qualifications, and may need to go to different parts of the airport as a result.

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