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I am aware EU citizens can stay in the UK unconditionally for up to 3 months, and permanently if they study, have a job or otherwise can support themselves.

That makes me wonder why UK Border Force officers frequently question EEA nationals? Not in the same way as with non-EEA nationals, but at Calais yesterday, it went like this:

IO: Where are you going to?

Me: London

IO: For how long?

Me: 5 nights.

IO: Where will you be staying?

Me: The Arsenal Tavern hostel near Finsbury Park

IO: What do you hope to see in the city?

Me: I'll mainly be seeing a friend

[IO stamps the blank sheet I had asked him to stamp]

Out of curiosity: if, for example, I said I lived there as a student (in fact I was considering studying there for a while), would they usually require to see any specific documentation besides my ID Card (given that I'm an EEA national)?

  • You can also be UK citizen and get asked a lot of stupid questions. I used to get asked at Heathrow where I'd just flown from when I was weekly commuting to Austria - not fun when you're knackered and have had a few beers. As a side question, do the customs officials know the answers in advance (where have you travelled from etc?) – doc Feb 10 '18 at 10:10
  • @doc Customs doesn't, but immigration does thanks to API – Crazydre Feb 10 '18 at 10:26
46

My experience at the UK border is the same and I even have had a short questioning when leaving my own country. Something I am definitely allowed to do. At some point this was at a smaller airport where you have to go trough the border control to reach a few extra-Schengen gates.

The border guard asked where I was flying. I considered this to be a silly question considering that it was written clearly on my boarding pass and that there were no other flights in that extra-Schengen part scheduled for that day. As I was tired after a long day, my sentiment was clear from my response. The border guard picked up on this and replied that he didn't really care about the answer but just wanted to hear me talk to make sure that I was who my ID card said that I was. We've had a short chat and I've apologized for my less than diplomatic reaction.

My conclusion from this is that they don't want to establish if you are allowed into the country, but rather try to catch some deceit. Are you really the person in the ID document? Do you act as someone who has something to hide? They don't really care about what you say, but are merely looking for clues that a person is suspiciously nervous, lying or trying to hide something. As long as you don't admit to criminal activity they will be more interested in the way you say things than in the content of your answers.

  • You had to go through border control leaving the UK by air? Isn't that (very) unusual? – jcaron Aug 19 '16 at 12:52
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    @jcaron was leaving my own country, no such thing as extra-Schengen gates in the UK obviously – Some wandering yeti Aug 19 '16 at 13:40
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    There's also the issue that you may not be leaving of your free will, so slowing down the process can help prevent someone being taking for an arranged marriage etc. – Ian Ringrose Aug 19 '16 at 14:03
  • N.B. If you hand over a ticket to one place and you say another that would be a fairly good sign you do not own the ticket you handed over. – Michael Aug 21 '16 at 10:19
  • @ptityeti At ZRH (my current home Airport) about half of the guards ask me where I'm flying to/arriving from - they don't require you to show a boarding pass (unlike when departing from CDG for example) – Crazydre Aug 25 '16 at 19:14
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The other answers have given good general reasons. I want to add a little bit to your particular case, though. In OP you mention that you asked the border officer to stamp a piece of paper that you had brought for him. You further clarified in a comment:

A blank A4 sheet torn in half which I sometimes bring as a souvenir stamp sheet. When approaching each (French+British) officer, I said "Good evening", handed over my ID+sheet and said (in the respective language) "could you stamp this sheet for me please?". The French officer glanced at the ID for 2 seconds and stamped without uttering a word, while the UK officer briefly questioned me before doing it

There is really nothing wrong with your stamp collection hobby, but it may be one of the reasons the border official struck up a conversation with you. He might not even usually ask EU nationals anything at all. You did something unusual (something less than 1% of travelers do.) Therefore, you singled yourself out, and got his attention. It's a normal human reaction to engage in a small bit of conversation whenever someone gets our attention. Of course, he is a border official, so the questions he asked were totally professional and appropriate. But if you hadn't presented the A4 sheet and asked for a stamp, there might have been no questions. Here's some related reasoning from another answer.

The other answers are also good, by the way. I'm just trying to add another angle. And there's nothing wrong with your hobby, either, I'm just saying the officer's questioning could be related to it.

  • I don't think this is why OP was questioned. As other answers indicate, questioning inbound travellers is pretty much standard procedure. – Rhymoid Aug 21 '16 at 15:30
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    @Rhymoid Really? I am a European who has entered the UK several times and I have never been asked anything. My brother studies in the UK and goes and comes all the time, I don't think he's been asked anything either. You can also note the comment on the question from an experienced user: "That's odd, it never happened to me coming from the EU. I thought they were not supposed to, as none of this is directly relevant to the admission decision (the only valid reason to deny entry is finding that you are a threat to "public policy, public security or public health", a very high standard)." – Revetahw Aug 21 '16 at 15:33
  • Hmm, fair enough. Could it have been because I was travelling with Eurolines? – Rhymoid Aug 21 '16 at 15:43
  • @Rhymoid Could what be? You were questioned when entering the UK? Are you a EU/EFTA national, and did you arrive from an EU/EFTA country? – Revetahw Aug 21 '16 at 16:00
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    Myself I went by SNCF bus (called OUIBUS) from Lyon, crossing the channel by the Calais-Dover ferry. – Crazydre Aug 26 '16 at 19:24
23

Border Officers are trained to look for anything suspicious, and rightly so. Their job is not to welcome you to the country, but to protect the border.

Just because your nationality grants legal right of entry there could be other circumstances that affect your entry; you may be smuggling, your docs may be forged, you may have other nefarious intentions.

An officer will sometimes question you to help discern whether you are legit or not. If you are not then you might be nervous or give other signs. Its just one tool they have in their job. For what its worth, I'm a British citizen and I often get asked questions when returning from abroad (where have you been, where did you stay, how long were you away, was the weather nice, etc). I just give calm answers and don't stress. If I had a couple of kilos of hard drugs in my bags I'd probably be sweating and wide eyed and the questioning would reveal my discomfort.

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    Protip - don't consume your merchandise before passing customs and immigration. – Peter M Aug 19 '16 at 13:52
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    @PeterM Alternatively, check the internal possession laws wherever you're going. Some countries don't count internal possession as a crime, so consuming all the merchandise may be an option. – Delioth Aug 19 '16 at 17:02
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    I'm not convinced these training programs to look for suspicious behaviour even exist. I've looked into this argument a bit, and though I didn't find a study rigorous enough to post an authoritative source, the evidence I've seen so far suggests mini-interviews are not accurate enough to aid in detection. It's possible border guards use them for this purpose anyway, unaware of its deficency, but I suspect these tests are mostly security theatre. – Marcks Thomas Aug 19 '16 at 23:22
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As a retired Immigration Officer, there is a madness to questioning people. Most people do not realize that you were being watched well before you enter the inspection station area. You may notice that most officers have a ear piece or radio. You are being observed and whoever is traveling with you as well. The officer is going to ask redundant questions. But you'd be surprised how many people screw that up. Immigration officers knows that they're being lied to most of the time. But you get caught when the stories don't add up. Lots of the time they will ask the same question twice, once at the beginning and then at the end. It is hard to remember your lies when you are under stress. You have to remember that you have limited rights when entering any country. Even if you are a citizen of the country. Once it's determined that you are a citizen of that country, the inspection is over. But it is just not having the passport that proves it, because of fraud in passports. The officer makes that determination.

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    You have to remember you have limited right when entering any country. Even if you a citizen of the country. As a citizen of a country, you have the absolute right to enter - not limited rights. I think this is what you were saying in your next sentence but just thought to clarify. – Tim Malone Aug 20 '16 at 3:04
  • I think what he was trying to say is that if you have the right of abode in the UK, then you certainly have the right to enter - if your documents are genuine! Or if you can satisfy the immigration officer in some other way, though that may take quite a bit of time. A fake or stolen passport only confers the right to a prison cell. – Michael Hampton Aug 20 '16 at 3:13
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    @TimMalone a US citizen has an absolute right to enter the country, but the immigration officer presumes the citizen to be an alien until a valid passport or other evidence of US citizenship is produced. I suppose the process is similar everywhere. – phoog Aug 20 '16 at 7:39
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    @TimMalone Not all countries give their citizens the irrevocable right to enter. Some countries may have the option to ban their own citizens from returning home once they leave the national soil. It is common in dictatorships. – KPM Aug 20 '16 at 23:33
  • You also have limited rights, in the sense that there may be the ability by border personnel to inspect your goods or look at your data more intensely than they could if police just walked up to you on the street once you've been admitted. You have the right to enter, perhaps, but not the rights you have once you're officially inside the country. It's the border officer's prerogative about when to use those powers, and the questions help him or her to determine that. – Jim MacKenzie Dec 4 '17 at 21:24

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