Seamless Borders - from Vision to Reality - Chapter 2 - The Technology



Post pandemic, international traveller numbers are ramping up and are expected to continue to surge. Meanwhile, staff shortages, stricter travel processes and additional document checks and pre-travel enrolment requirements have all had an impact on how quickly travellers are processed at air and sea ports as well as land borders and crossing points. Combined, these can result in long queues at points of departure/arrival as travellers wait to be processed and undergo entry and exit checks.


For border control agencies, admitting genuine travellers as quickly and efficiently as possible while identifying travellers who may not be welcome is a top priority. Meanwhile, port authorities need to optimise passenger flows in order to boost throughput and minimise congestion and passenger wait times. Creating the additional capacity needed to support the anticipated future growth in passenger numbers.

The good news is that in recent years, advances in digital connectivity have spurred governments and private sector organisations on to introduce technology-based and secure-by-design solutions that both boost the efficiency and security of border control processes while elevating the traveller experience.

Let’s take a look at some of the technology advances already making an impact when it comes to enabling a frictionless journey experience for passengers, while reducing the cost and complexity associated with capturing accurate and verifiable data before a visitor arrives at a border – and ideally before they even leave their country of origin.


Digital onboarding, border clearance and more

Today’s passengers are able to take advantage of online and mobile-enabled services and apps that enable them to check in online and arrive at a departure port with an e-boarding card and travel itinerary. They are also able to pre-register and apply for e-visas or provide other documentation (such as vaccination certificates) that may be required to travel to their destination. Receiving all pre-requisite e-documents and authorisations direct to their mobile phones.

When it comes to border clearance, a number of systems are now in operation that streamline or reduce the physical checks border authorities need to undertake. These include:

Machine Readable Passports

Back in the 1980’s the International Civil and Aviation Authority (ICAO) issued a common global standard for the Machine Readable Passport (MRP) containing a Machine Readable Zone (MRZ). A move that made it easier to capture data like full name, date of birth, nationality and check travellers and passports electronically against watchlists which can be transmitted across borders.
ePassports (eMRTD)

Containing a secure chip, ePassports contain a copy of data printed in the passport together with strong encryption (using Public Key Infrastructure or PKI) to protect against forgery, and authenticate both the passport and its secure chip.


Advance Passenger Information (API) and Passenger Name Records (PNR)

API is submitted by a carrier (such as an airline) to the destination border authority prior to a passenger travelling. PNR augments the basic API with additional data. Interactive API (iAPI) enables the authority to send a real-time response (for example to deny boarding).


eGates and Kiosks

Automated gates and self-service border system checks that validate the live image of a traveller against the facial photo held in an ePassport’s secure chip. Self-service kiosks in arrival halls enable travellers to enter additional required data before arriving at an eGate or staff operated border control desk.



Increasing used to record and verify the identity of visa applicants and travellers before and at borders.

Other developments are also enabling the transition to what is becoming known as the ‘seamless border’. Enabling systems integration across the travel continuum to deliver stronger security with less physical checking or delays for passengers. These include:


Entry/Exit Systems


Recording travellers entering and leaving a country, these systems utilise biometric capture to match a traveller’s data to any pre-existing records and provide reconciliation when the person leaves the country. The European Union (EU) has plans to introduce an Entry Exit System (EES) by 2025 that will record the face and fingerprint biometrics and entry/exit information of travellers in the Schengen free-travel area of the EU. On 19 October 2023 the European Council stated that EES is expected to be in operation by Q4 2024; while the commencement date for the European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS) has been revised to Q2 2025.

Mobile and Online Services


Enabling travellers to seek authority to travel to a country, buy tickets and make declarations at borders.


Digital Travel Credentials (DTC)


A virtual copy, held on a mobile device or in a secure cloud, of a passport or ID card that enables all passport data to be sent in advance of travel to increase security, trust and convenience. A natural progression from today’s electronic Machine Readable Travel Documents (eMRTDs), the DTC secures advance assurance in relation to a passenger prior to travel and on arrival at a border or port.


In the future, DTCs could entirely eradicate any need for travellers to carry physical passports and other documentation. ICAO has already provided definitions for an initial DTC that travellers can create and utilise in addition to a physical eMRTD which must still be carried when travelling.
Backward compatibility with existing physical systems is a critical requirement. Border agencies, port authorities, airlines, cruise ship operators and ferry firms need to optimise return on investment from their existing physical infrastructure investments, ensuring their physical and digital systems can operate in tandem and increasingly converge in the coming years.


Moving ahead: enabling the seamless borders vision


Cyber resilience represents a critical aspect of all the technology-based solutions being deployed today and is fundamental to the realisation of the future digital seamless borders vision. Protecting systems, data and documents against cyber-attacks is a top priority, especially as travellers become increasingly dependent on using mobile-enabled services to apply for, and receive, digital authorisations or to carry travel and identity credentials.


To assure cyber resilience, services will need to be defined to work with mobile devices that have built-in security features such as liveness detection to prevent instances of Presentation Attacks by automatically distinguishing between the actual biometric features presented to a sensor and a synthetically produced artifact (such as photograph or 2D/3D mask). Authorities in the EU and other regions are already working on standards designed to secure mobile wallets and assure protection for mobile phones holding DTC virtual passports in the future.


Initiating workable seamless borders between countries and regions around the globe will require the much deeper and secure integration of border security and travel systems to support the full end-to-end vision of seamless travel. For this to work to the benefit of all, some key challenges will need to be overcome. Challenges that include overcoming the issue of data protection, privacy and informed consent through the creation of global or regional codes of practice that relate to how data is captured, shared and retained. Similarly, interoperability standards will be crucial to support the end-to-end integration of border controls that span the entire traveller journey from start point to end point.

In terms of progressing the seamless vision, we’re likely to see a natural and market-driven evolution where certain key regional hubs – like North America, Europe, Asia and Dubai – lead the way when it comes to deploying seamless travel real-world systems. All made possible through collaborations between airlines, airports, border agencies, governments and industry bodies. However, for many countries the availability of lean and simple technology solutions will be critical for enabling the introduction of DTCs that will improve border control capabilities.


It will take many more years before the complete seamless vision can be fully realised. In the meantime, the adoption of new technology initiatives such as eGates, MRTDs, eMRTDs and biometrics are enabling the greater use of automation, digital case working and e-traveller services that enable the pre-clearance of passengers along with faster border clearance for travellers. All of which is preparing the way for a number of new innovations and processes for travellers and border authorities that are currently in development. Advances that could, in theory, make it possible in the future for DTCs, in some cases, to negate the need for travellers to carry a physical passport.