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A friend of mine is travelling to the UK soon from the Middle East without a return flight booked. She works for a Middle Eastern airline and is only able to book significantly reduced plane tickets with her airline a day or two before the flight.

What I would like to know is what she can expect UK side, once she lands, from immigration control? Looking around on the internet, it appears that people are allowed into the country without a return flight but I couldn't find any more detail than that. i.e. Will she be allowed straight through immigration or will she have to go through a lengthy landing interview?

She is a Thai national, she currently holds a 6-month tourist visa and will be staying with me for the duration of her trip. If relevant, she spent 3 years living in the UK as a student (she left 2 years ago) and only intends on staying for 4 days.

  • Having a return flight ticket can be used to (try to) prove two things: that you intend to return home, and that you have the money to buy the ticket (on top of what you need during you stay) so you don't remain stranded even if you intend to leave. If she can prove enough ties to her home country (lease, employment contract, family...) and enough funds to pay for the flight back, I suppose she should be OK. Also, I thought airline personnel could buy the ticket at any time, they just are waitlisted to a very, very low priority? – jcaron May 4 '16 at 14:16
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    @phoog, HMRC, CPS, SFO, etc etc etc – Gayot Fow May 4 '16 at 19:08
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    @phoog, your terminology is fine. In TSE we focus on the 'landing interview' because it's a universally understood concept, but that 'interview' is a part of a bigger process formally called 'inspection'. For most travellers the inspection consists of the landing interview, but sometimes for Brits/EU nationals the 'inspection' gets intense. Come in through Dover sometime :) Terminology-wise you will ALWAYS be correct to say 'inspection', for travellers you will always be understood when you say 'landing interview' (which is a smaller piece of the 'inspection'). – Gayot Fow May 4 '16 at 20:16
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    @phoog, the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 gave IO's awesome powers. And those powers go well beyond admission, bouncing, etc. Plus it gave IO's inland powers as well. – Gayot Fow May 4 '16 at 20:22
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    fortunately they are out of scope at TSE :) – Gayot Fow May 4 '16 at 20:23
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A person with a UK entry clearance arrives at a control point without a return ticket, will it be OK?

Return tickets are not mentioned anywhere in the rules. What is mentioned is the IO's entitlement to be sure that the person has the capacity for onward travel to a place outside of the Common Travel Area; and capacity is best established by showing that a ticket has been bought and paid for, but not always. That line of enquiry is mostly part of the landing interview for non-visa nationals like Canadians and Americans anyway.

The fact that they have an entry clearance tells the IO that the government has already established that the person has sufficient capacity (or they would not have qualified for the visa in the first instance, right?). So it's not going to be something the IO wants to waste time with because it's simply rehashing what somebody else already approved. Instead they will move on to other stuff, like if the person is still employed and if they are going to be safely accommodated during their visit.

If the topic of a return ticket arises incidentally through some other line of enquiry, the outcome will be solely reliant on two things: personal impact and articulation skills. So if your friend is having stress about it, she can undergo a mock landing interview with one of her colleagues. Having 'insider' access to travel arrangements is a truly great premise all other things being equal.

Also, the 'canonical' advice for people arriving on an entry clearance is to bring all the stuff they used to qualify during the application stage.


Adding: there's a related article at UK Immigration officers arrivals interview questions that takes up what non-visa nationals can expect

  • I'm going to guess that, even for non-visa nationals, the topic of a return ticket only comes up if they've otherwise decided there is some reason for concern. In the last 4 years I've flown to the UK without a return flight booked (with an Air Canada flight pass it is better not to if there's any uncertainty about the return date) at least a dozen times and the issue has never been raised. – Dennis May 5 '16 at 1:50
  • @Dennis nice one! I have made the relevant edit. thanks – Gayot Fow May 5 '16 at 2:22

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