Delhi International Airport on Thursday launched a pilot program to automate immigration permits for passengers traveling out of the country through gates to review them and their documents without human intervention – a move that authorities hope will reduce travel time and personnel issues.
Called the Trusted Travelers Program (TTP), the facility was modeled on the U.S. Global Entry Program, which enables pre-approved immigration permits for low-risk travelers.
However, experts warned that without proper awareness, the facility could instead overload the gates. An official involved in the process said, on condition of anonymity, that passengers must scan their passports and boarding passes themselves in order to obtain immigration permits at the “e-gates”.
“After reading that the passport and the boarding pass are genuine, a camera attached to the scanner will click a picture of the passenger’s face. The passengers will also require recording their biometrics by scanning their fingerprints. Within seconds, this information will be matched with a database of the prohibited or blacklisted passengers. Once found cleared, the e-gates will open, allowing the passenger to proceed,” the officer said.
An IB official, who asked not to be named, said: “Yes there is a plan to have technology-based immigration centers, which usually have long queues due to shortage of manpower in immigration.”
On Thursday, a team of Interior Ministry officials visited Indira Gandhi International Airport, where four of these e-gates were installed on a trial basis over a period of three months. Another official said the initiative will be fully operational in three phases.
In the first phase, the e-gates are used by diplomats, government officials and foreign dignitaries. In the second phase, it will be made available to all Indian passengers, and in the third phase, foreign passengers will be able to use the facility. The first phase is expected to begin in March 2021, the official added.
On average, the process of obtaining entry authorization for a passenger at counters with immigration officers at Delhi Airport currently takes around 1.5 minutes.
“This is the time taken at the counter, not inclusive of the time taken in the queue. With the e-gates in place, as manual intervention will be zero, a passenger will be able to gain immigration clearance within 30-40 seconds. Initially, there will be staff present to assist the passengers in the process. The passengers’ data will also be recorded at the immigration office for future use”, he added.
However, aviation expert Mark D Martin said the concept works well at airports in Singapore, Dubai, and in European countries. He added that e-gates for India are premature at this point.
“E-Gate is excellent for frequent flyers and airline crew but offering such a service to a country that has a large expat worker diaspora will be a handing nightmare, with the clearance time exceeding more than 10 minutes per passenger…,” said Martin said.