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I'll be arriving at Heathrow in June 2015 with my current girlfriend for a holiday in the UK. I've been trying to find out which immigration queue to join at Heathrow Passport Control without much luck. I have a British passport, my girlfriend has a non-EU passport.

Should I join the EU queue and she the non-EU queue or should we both queue together (and if so, which of the queues should we join)?

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    I am now back from the trip. I waited patiently in the non-EU passport queue with my girlfriend, when we got to the front the agent was friendly, made sure her visa was fine and stamped her passport and did a quick check of mine then waved us on our way. There were one or two questions about what our purpose of the trip was (holiday) and what we'd be doing for the time we'd be in the UK, but it was minimal and the agent was very polite about it all. – mccdyl001 Jul 8 '15 at 9:53
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This question arises all the time because they have never published a clear policy. They will, however, tell you their policy in a letter if you write to them.

You should join the EU queue if you are married. Their policy is not to separate families during immigration control, and they will take all reasonable steps to avoid separating families. But since your question involves a girl friend, this policy does not apply. So if your girlfriend joins the EU queue, she would expect a sharp rebuke and instructed to join the non-EU queue. This is especially true if there are lots of people arriving and they are busy.

Note: There have been occasions where an EU/non-EU couple used the non-EU queue and were simply waved through by the IO. This makes the non-EU person an illegal entrant. Don't let it happen.

In the past, under the last government, some of these checks were lifted at times of pressure on the border.

In the summer of 2008 Warnings Index checks were suspended on EEA nationals - children and adults - on Eurostar services. At Calais, Warnings Index checks were suspended on European Economic Area and UK car passengers - again, adults as well as children were not run against the Index. Since 2008, at various ports and airports, this happened on more than 100 occasions.

Officials have told me that once, in 2004, local managers at Heathrow Terminal Three decided to open controls and no checks were made.

Source: Ministerial Statement 7 Nov 2011

See also HC1647 Report (costs GBP 14.50)

See also Oral Evidence given to the Home Affairs Committee 26 March 2013

See also What happens when someone inadvertently enters the UK without a landing interview?

So you and your girlfriend should both join the non-EU queue if you want to transit controls together. Of course you can separate, but this strategy leaves your girlfriend vulnerable to a challenge about your whereabouts. Finally, if all the queues are empty and the IO has his 'leave to enter' stamp and he's in a good mood, she MIGHT get an interview and stamp via the EU queue, but it's not a reliable strategy, especially following the scandals.

Adding

UK immigration queues are segregated by type of passport, not the visa that the person carries. EU/UK nationals can use either queue, but non-EU nationals who are not travelling as documented family members need to use the queues as explained above.

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Source: Border Force site

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    Had been hoping to make use of the (generally) shorter EU queue. But reading your answer made me realise something: it doesn't matter how fast I go through one queue, I'll still be waiting for my girlfriend on the other side before I can leave the airport. May as well spend that time with her in the queue and be there in case the official wants to ask both of us any questions. Will make sure she gets her entry stamp! – mccdyl001 Jun 12 '15 at 10:37
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    Your two links are to a lengthy Wikipedia page and everything the Guardian newspaper has ever written about the former head of the UK Border Agency. Could you please link to something more specific? In particular, even in the link in your comment, I can't see anything that backs up your claim that EU/non-EU couples have been waved through passport control, or that a non-EU citizen being waved through passport control makes them an illegal immigrant. – David Richerby Jun 12 '15 at 15:43
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    Thanks for clarifying. But I still don't see anything backing up the claim that a non-EU citizen being "waved through" passport control makes them an illegal immigrant. – David Richerby Jun 12 '15 at 16:50
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    The reason for an eu/non-eu married couple going both to the EU line is perhaps more about the fact that the non-eu spouse is traveling under the right of free movement rather than about a policy of not separating families. – phoog Jun 12 '15 at 17:14
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    @cnst, please read travel.stackexchange.com/questions/49294/… – Gayot Fow Jun 18 '15 at 16:02
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Stay together and join the Non-EU queue.

However, as mentioned above, sometimes special circumstances apply. For example, my partner and I are British/Australian and my partner has a British residency card. We usually just grab an immigration customer service officer (one of the ones walking round and checking everything is proceeding correctly) and show our passports and the residency card and ask if we can join the EU queue. Usually they say yes.

Make sure that your girlfriend (as a Non-EU person) completes an arrivals card, and that the Non-EU passport is appropriately stamped (or else you will have exit EU issues!).

  • I am not sure I completely follow your logic. What's the point of asking? Being able to refer back to the immigration customer service officer if the actual immigration officer is not happy? Aren't they merely informing you about the rules? If it wasn't allowed in the first place, what authority would they have to allow you to switch lines and how would their decision be documented? Surely, immigration officers do not always check whether you asked before joining the EU queue so if you can do it after asking, you should also be able to do it without asking. – Relaxed Nov 29 '16 at 19:17
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You may be able to get your girlfriend an EEA family permit as your "unmarried partner," if you can show that you and she are "in a lasting relationship." See https://www.gov.uk/family-permit/eligibility for more information.

Because you are a UK citizen, you must also show that you are "exercising your treaty rights" by living (or by having lived) in another EU/EEA country. If you cannot show that, then you must enter under UK law rather than EU law. See https://www.gov.uk/family-permit/surinder-singh for more information.

The EEA family permit is free of charge. If you get one, you and your girlfriend will both be traveling under the EU right of free movement, and you would therefore both be eligible to use the EU line at the border.

In theory, if your girlfriend qualifies as your unmarried partner, and she is from a country whose citizens normally do not need visas to enter the UK, you don't actually need the EEA family permit. But then, to use the EU line together, you ought to have evidence of your unmarried partnership to show the border officer if you are challenged. Getting the permit beforehand would remove this requirement, and, since it is free, the investment is only one of time.

Also, in the past, before I knew any of this, I took my then-girlfriend, who was traveling on a then-non-EU passport, to the EU line in a London airport. I said to the officer, I wasn't sure if we should both come to this line together, and he said, well, no, you're not supposed to, and then he processed us without further ado. That was perhaps 8 or 10 years ago.

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    Regarding the Singh case you refer to. You know that it takes 6 months of working in the EU in order to qualify. Is it proportionate to advise the OP to use that route if his gf is simply a visitor? Work in the EU for 6 months just to use the EU queue at Heathrow? Does it seem like a viable solution? – Gayot Fow Jun 12 '15 at 19:57
  • @GayotFow From the information given in the question, it is entirely possible that the OP has already worked in the EU for 6 months. Given my experience, however, if the long line is very long and the short line is very short, it might be worth at least trying the EU line, even without the EEA family permit. – phoog Jun 12 '15 at 21:42
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    @GayotFow As an EEA visitor with a family permit. My wife is an EU citizen (not UK). The Singh route is not purely a settlement route; rather, it determines which UK nationals can enjoy the EU right of freedom of movement when entering the UK, and are therefore whose family members qualify for an EEA permit. Whether the family member uses the EEA permit for a short visit or a longer stay should not depend on whether the EEA national from whom their right to free movement is derived is British. – phoog Jun 12 '15 at 22:41
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    Did you know that if a person uses the Singh route that they cannot later switch into a UK spouse visa? – Gayot Fow Jun 12 '15 at 22:50
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    I did not, nor do I understand why anyone would want to. – phoog Jun 13 '15 at 7:05

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