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Flying into the Schengen area is extremely easy - you take out your passport, the immigration guy quickly checks if you haven't exceeded the 90/180 limit (and sometimes not even that), asks you about the purpose of your visit, and stamps you in. Even the immigration booths are designed with a glass wall between the traveler and the immigration officer, so the landing interview is mostly focused on the presented documents.

In comparison the UK border officers require you to fill out a landing card in advance and often proceed to ask numerous intrusive questions about your financial history and the purpose of your stay. It is quite common to end up in secondary questioning for failing to give conclusive answers and this very community recommends carrying the same documents you would carry for a visa interview.

What is the reason behind this? Are the Schengen area officials so careless about who is coming in?

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – JonathanReez Jul 31 '17 at 7:55
  • Shengen area is too wide to make universal conclusions that easily. – bipll Apr 16 '18 at 12:04
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There is a downside to increasingly time-consuming and intrusive checks. You need to pay the border guards who perform them and/or contend with time loss at the border waiting. If you follow public discourse, you might sometimes get the feeling that the time and comfort of non-citizens is a negligible quantity but that's very short-sighted. It's not good for tourism, not good for business, annoying airport operators and airlines, and apart from the receiving country's own benefit calculation it's simply wasteful, humanely and economically. All this for what? Catching a few thousand future overstayers a year?

Another point to consider is how effective these checks really are. They certainly do create a lot of misery, from the simple discomfort of long lines and hostile questioning to the distress of detention and “removal at port” (i.e. the police forcing someone onto a plane, which is technically different from a “deportation”, decided by a judge, and other types of forced removals). When you hear about specific cases, it's easy to explain them away with admonitions like “you should have done this” or “you should have done that” but how many of these people would have posed a genuine problem if they had been let through? How many people do get through who ideally shouldn't have? And how much discomfort can you inflict on people who have no intention of breaking the law just because they are non-citizens?

An ID and database check, together with a simple filter like providing a straight answer to a basic question should catch most “low-hanging fruit”. I have no way to tell exactly how fast but it stands to reason that the return on additional checks then decreases very fast, as does their accuracy. This added value ought to be measured against the costs I mentioned earlier and there are others, more effective uses of public money. Schengen countries are for example focusing on generalising visa biometrics and database checks, which are still not 100% systematic as far as I know.

In general, the UK does not seem much better than its peers at preventing illegal immigration. Perhaps it would be even worse off without these intrusive checks (which would be an explanation in itself) but that's not obvious. Without evidence of that, the checks are just theatre, inflicting discomfort for the purpose of demonstrating strength, not an effective way to tell “good” visitors from “bad”.

Incidentally, for better or for worse, the Schengen area isn't that open either. Most people in the world still require a visa, a rather intrusive process fraught with difficulties (even if it is also easier and cheaper than the UK in this respect) and your experience at the border depends a lot on your appearance (including race, wealth, and how confident you look). If you do not require a visa and look like a tourist or better yet, a businessman, it might feel very easy but that's because you already went through a number of implicit filters and there is little point in bothering you further.

Anybody else, including women and children travelling alone, backpackers from other developed countries and citizens from developing countries occasionally face additional scrutiny. You can easily find countless stories of people turned away even though they had a visa and even a few scare stories of citizens detained over concerns regarding their passport or some such. And according to Eurostat, in a regular year, countries like France, Poland, and Hungary, register a similar number of entry refusals as the UK, not to mention Spain, which reports many more. From that perspective, the policy in the Schengen area isn't particularly “careless”.

In fact most somewhat open countries are similar to the Schengen area in this respect, with only a handful of exceptions. The question therefore becomes why does the UK in particular go above and beyond? One factor is surely the decades of controversies around immigration and the fact that some politicians basically built their careers on being tough on this topic. It doesn't matter that immigration is often a scapegoat used to hide other policy failures or that the fact earlier restrictions did not make the problem go away should logically give one pause, you always hear calls to be even more restrictive. Another factor, already mentioned, is that the UK is already very attractive for people willing to stay illegally as it is and understandably concerned about the problem being even bigger without aggressive enforcement to deter newcomers.

Finally, one very specific factor is that Britain is an island, with very few entry ports so that focusing enforcement on the border feels like a reasonable proposition, in a way that isn't true in countries with long and complex land borders. This insular mentality is also on display in other subtler ways. Consider for example, the link provided by GayotFow in a comment: A conservative MP basically concedes that the commonly repeated line about people flocking to the UK to abuse purportedly generous benefits is a lie and that EU citizens basically come to work on a par with British citizens, in a way that's broadly beneficial to the economy and the country.

But that, in itself, is unacceptable to this MP, his party, and a large part of the British public. Being allowed to reside under restrictive conditions (namely having work) becomes an “entitlement” and these people must urgently be downgraded to the status of workers from “Bangladesh, Australia, America, Canada or India”, who have to prove they are exceptionally skilled, pay hundreds if not thousands of pounds in visa fees, and generally be made to feel that coming to the UK is a privilege. From this perspective, intrusive checks (and Brexit) are an end in themselves, quite apart from any cost/benefit consideration.

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    -1, because it does not answer the question. The question was "why is it strict?", and not "Please elaborate why you hate it." – vsz Jul 29 '17 at 13:34
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    @vsz I don't “hate” it, I am just explaining why there is no compelling reasons for every country to do the same and therefore no “carelessness” to explain (which was literally the OP's question). Instead, there are some peculiar cultural and political reasons for the UK to waste resources on this and consider mistreating foreigners an end in itself. It does therefore answer the question at length and was in fact accepted by the OP. It's not my fault if you don't like it but it's not a given that the reasons why the checks are strict would be perfectly defensible or make the UK look good. – Relaxed Jul 29 '17 at 17:09
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    This is not about the passport control being being defensible or not, or about making the UK look good or bad. This is not a discussion forum. And it's completely irrelevant whether your arguments are right or wrong, it still reads as a rant, and not as an answer to the question. – vsz Jul 29 '17 at 17:22
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    This is very heavily opinionated, thinly veiled anti-Brexit (and possibly even anti-British) rant. – Pharap Jul 29 '17 at 21:16
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    @vsz Well, that was the question, this is what it is about… Specifically, the question was whether the UK checks are strict to control who gets in while Schengen border guards don't care or whether there are other reasons for the way these checks are performed. My answer is that evidence and logic shows Schengen checks are pretty effective and the UK checks are not only strict but simply intrusive beyond the point required to effectively police the border. The reasons for that must therefore be found elsewhere. – Relaxed Jul 30 '17 at 9:07
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Most other EU countries have land borders, and can't police them effectively, so they rely less on border controls and more on internal controls. The UK and Ireland have no land borders except with each other, so can realistically police all points of entry and then not need things like ID cards for internal controls.

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    With 11,000 miles of coast line (according to the UK mapping authority, the Ordnance Survey - other estimates range from 7,000 to nearly 20,000) it's hard to police all points of entry that are available to anyone who can afford to hire a small boat! – alephzero Jul 28 '17 at 22:35
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    @alephzero There's no country within hundreds of miles of the UK's coastline whose citizens aren't entitled to enter the UK anyway, so not much to worry about. – Mike Scott Jul 29 '17 at 6:55
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    @MikeScott the existence of the camps at Calais kind of make your statement unsupportable in this case, not all people around the UK are solid citizens of the countries they reside in and are eager to breach the border controls if it was made any easier. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Migrants_around_Calais – KalleMP Jul 29 '17 at 19:25
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    @KalleMP On the contrary, it supports my argument. Those refugees have been able to get into France, but not into the UK, because France's borders are much more permeable than the UK's. – Mike Scott Jul 29 '17 at 20:43
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    @MikeScott I agree with your supporting argument that the seas around the UK are not friendly but your initial statement that there are no unwanted aliens in nearby countries is false. – KalleMP Jul 30 '17 at 15:18
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This is my observation as well, though even within the Schengen Area it does vary depending on the airport and the nationality of the passenger being processed.

For example, at Zurich airport they almost always ask non-EU pax basic questions, sometimes more, and sometimes even ask me as an EU citizen where I'm flying from/to. Also, I've had my ID card examined with a UV light a few times. Usually, however, it just takes 10-15 seconds: quick glance, putting the card into the reader, swiftly checking the screen, and done!

At Memmingen airport, however, they only ever swiftly scan and stamp documents, including for non-EU passengers (Georgians, who needed visas at the time). They never even scan my ID

So it does vary, but they're indeed stricter in the UK, at least at the London airports, where they usually ask me why I'm coming to the UK and how long I'm staying for.

Most likely, it is as simple as the UK having (even) more problems with illegal immigration and being tougher on it. Furthermore, the lack of exit border control (save for occasional spot checks) makes it difficult to penalise overstayers unless they return (because of the electronic passenger record), which could be why they want to be extra careful not to let in the wrong people in the first place.

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    Added to this the UK has no formal requirement for ID cards etc, so may also possibly be a perception it is harder to round up people when they are in, than in many countries where carrying an ID card etc at all times is required. – Philip Jul 28 '17 at 14:53

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