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I am a UK citizen and full passport holder since birth. I now live full time outside of the UK, each time I visit the UK, my passport is rejected by the electronic passport gates and I am routed to a human. Even when passing thru the human checkpoints something flags up on their computer and they park me in a little waiting area, go off and speak with a supervisor (or someone) and come back confused about the process (i.e. they have started filling out some documentation, before their supervisor advises them they should not be doing this process with a UK citizen), and ask me a series of questions (why I am travelling, where I am staying etc.) they don't seem to ever have a record that I am living outside of the UK and they ask me for residence information each time. After begrudgingly sharing them my reasons for travel and residence infos they always permit me entry.

Last time the border officer said they would submit a request to the home office to avoid me getting flagged each time, and I shared a mobile phone number for them to contact me regarding this (which they never have).

I am getting fed up of the hours long process each and every time I try to visit family in the UK, and honestly it puts me off traveling there all together. As a UK citizen they have no legal basis to deny my entry, am I under any obligation to answer any of their questions and what can they do if I refuse to answer further questions? How do I get this resolved, do I need to get a lawyer involved.

Should add that this is over a 2-year process this is happening, and I am not (knowingly) on any Interpol lists or anything like this 😁 I don't have issues traveling anywhere else in the world, only thru the UK border.

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    This is not a duplicate, because obviously you're a citizen, but I would recommend following the complaints process as in this answer. Given you're a citizen I'd also recommend contacting your MP (particularly if you don't get a prompt response to your complaint). travel.stackexchange.com/questions/96671/…
    – MJeffryes
    Commented Jun 12, 2023 at 14:51
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    I'm a U.S. citizen I'm on a similar list in the U.S.. Until it gets resolved—as I certainly hope it does—try to be as polite and as patient as you can with the people you talk to. They're probably doing behavioral profiling to see if their questions make you nervous. And at the end of the day, they're just doing their jobs like anyone else.
    – adam.baker
    Commented Jun 13, 2023 at 8:10
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    I agree with @adam.baker: "begrudging" is most definitely not the right attitude in this context. I had a friend who, passing through a UK port, was asked about one of his cases (possibly for ski poles) and made an ill-advised "submachinegun in violin case" joke: he was taken to one side by large humourless gentlemen and despite normally being chatty would never disclose what transpired over the next few hours. Commented Jun 13, 2023 at 10:26
  • And I suppose I should note that even being born in the UK and later obtaining a UK passport (you obviously weren't born with it in hand), doesn't necessarily mean the matter is settled. There are some interesting cases of surprised brits and you might be close enough to a borderline case for them to scrutinize the details every time you use your passport.
    – ouflak
    Commented Jun 15, 2023 at 13:04
  • This might be too much to ask, but is your place of residence some "hotspot" like Syria, Libya or Palestine? Commented Jun 15, 2023 at 15:34

4 Answers 4

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As a UK citizen they have no legal basis to deny my entry,

Correct.

am I under any obligation to answer any of their questions

Yes. That's their job after all. If they have reasonable grounds to believe that you are not a UK citizen, they need to do what they have to make sure you indeed ARE what you and your passport say you are.

and what can they do if I refuse to answer questions?

They can detain you until they have independently confirmed that you are a UK citizen.

How do I get this resolved, do I need to get a lawyer involved.

At this point a lawyer would indeed be the best option. Obviously there is something in the home office record that's associated with your passport or person. Governmental systems are often arcane and convoluted and working with someone who knows how to deal with this can greatly increase the chances of success in finding out what it is and how to to fix it.

A lawyer can also advise you on what to say the next time you get flagged. There may be certain key words or trigger phrases to help things along.

This is indeed a frustrating experience especially if the underlying reason is really stupid. A friend of mine had a very common name, like "Paul Smith". Turns out there was a "Paul Smith" on an airline's "do not fly" list and every time my friend checked he was questioned and bothered, despite him being a completely different person. He tried multiple times to have the airline straighten this out but they never did. Eventually he gave up and just stopped flying with this airline altogether.

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    Thanks for the pointers. I don't think they are ever questioning that I am a UK citizen, when I present them a valid UK passport. If they were just doing an identity check, that's one thing, but to justify my travel and provide my residence details is the part I really object to. I'll investigate the complaints procedure and looping in Lawyer / MP etc.
    – jgtor
    Commented Jun 12, 2023 at 15:19
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    @jgtor: there is SOMETHING in your record that makes them do this. Unless you know what that is, it will be hard to work around it.
    – Hilmar
    Commented Jun 12, 2023 at 18:35
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    @Polygorial in the UK it is.
    – jwenting
    Commented Jun 13, 2023 at 8:29
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    Before spending money on a lawyer, I would recommend trying to contact your MP and seeing if they can help you. Although you are no longer resident in the UK, you can still reach out to the MP for your last UK address for help. Commented Jun 13, 2023 at 11:14
  • @jgtor Yes, I also think they're not doubting your citizenship. Apparently someone with the same name as yours did something and the name ended up in the security databases. If it's a very common name or even a name associated with a high-risk country (Iraq, Afghanistan...), I won't be surprised they subject you to lengthy questioning. Commented Jun 15, 2023 at 13:23
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UK Border Control isn’t only about checking whether you are a British Citizen. The Officers have access to data of interest to other agencies, for example to the police. If you are wanted for arrest or interview by the police, you can be flagged on the Borderforce system, and Borderforce staff have powers to make you wait (for a defined and limited period of time, even if you are a UK citizen) till the police arrive and take over.

A problem that can occur is that the agency providing the information to Borderforce does not always have a full name or date of birth. Consequently the computer may flag up everyone of that name. If there’s a warrant out for the arrest of Paul Smith aged around 45, then anyone who loosely fits that profile may get flagged (and that's probably why the e-gates won’t let you through).

The best you can do is raise this vigorously with the Home Office and ask them to ensure that you are flagged as NOT the person wanted on their system. Possibly to provide you with a letter to show to the Immigration Officer.

You can choose not to answer any questions when you enter, but I don’t think that will help you at all. They hold all the top cards at that point. Refusing to answer questions may seem odd and will probably guarantee a longer wait than if you co-operate.

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"my passport is rejected by the electronic passport gates", it could be as simple as the RFID chip in the passport being damaged or corrupt. A polite note to the passport office with a description of the symptoms and asking them if this could be the problem could result in the passport being re-issued and your problems going away. If they insist there is nothing wrong with the physical passport, then a letter to your MP should help identify and unblock any issues with the Foreign Office.

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    If this was the problem, they would be manually cleared very quickly and advised to replace their passport. Plus other countries would have problems with the passport too, which the OP stated is not the case. Commented Jun 13, 2023 at 13:34
  • This process also puts on record the OPs issues entering the UK and offers a path to resolve (or at least acknowledge) them.
    – Paul Smith
    Commented Jun 13, 2023 at 14:23
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    Are you the Paul Smith from the other answer?
    – tevemadar
    Commented Jun 13, 2023 at 15:43
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    Foreign Office have nothing to do with this situation.
    – MJeffryes
    Commented Jun 13, 2023 at 17:02
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    Ha! There are a great many (and many great) Paul Smiths, but there is only one me. Perhaps my favorite Paul Smith was a director of Woody WoodPecker cartoons.
    – Paul Smith
    Commented Jun 13, 2023 at 17:40
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I've never had cause to try this, but ...

Short of employing a lawyer, you might make a data subject request under the Data Protection Act, for all personal data stored and consulted by a computer when you present your passport at the e-gate, and the reason for the subsequent delay. There are very limited grounds for refusal to provide access to one's own personal information, and if they cite national security you will immediately know that you are on some list that you should not be on!

It will also cause somebody with managerial responsibility for the data to actually LOOK at what it says about you, and that might be all that is necessary to get the problem fixed. (Ie, they fix the data, send you a copy of the fixed data showing nothing untoward, and next time the e-gate magically lets you through! )

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