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Fact Sheet 70 – Managing the border

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The Border

Australia's geographic border is defined by the mean low water mark around the roughly 35 000 kilometres of coastline of our mainland and islands.

Most travellers to Australia cross the Australian border through eight major international airports and over 60 international seaports.

The movement of people across Australia's border is significantly increasing in volume and complexity. Passenger movements are expected to grow from just over 33 million in 2012-13 to approximately 50 million by 2020.

The Department of Immigration and Border Protection is committed to building Australia's future through the well-managed movement of people. A key element of this commitment is effectively to facilitate entry of genuine travellers to Australia while preventing entry of those likely to commit immigration fraud or threaten the national interest. Our immigration processes have been developed to prevent and deter unauthorised and illegal entry to Australia while making immigration processes as efficient and as seamless as possible for genuine travellers. The department also contributes to the Australian Government's efforts to counter terrorism and criminal activities.

Pinpointing those few people who present a risk to the Australian community is a challenge so we work closely with the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service (ACBPS), Australian law enforcement, security and health agencies, foreign governments, international organisations, airlines, shipping companies and industry.

Ahead of the border - a risk-based approach to border management

To identify and prevent people who may pose a threat to the Australian community, Australia's border management system uses a risk-based approach and comprises a series of different checks starting at the time people make enquiries about travelling to Australia though to their arrival in Australia.

All non-citizens are required to hold a valid visa to enter and stay in Australia. With some limited exceptions, all non-citizens must apply for and be granted a visa before travelling to Australia. The visa application provides the first opportunity to screen applicants seeking to enter Australia. In addition to an assessment being made of whether an applicant is likely to abide by conditions of a visa, visa applicants are assessed against health, character and security criteria.

All visa applicants are checked against departmental records and alert lists.
See: Fact sheet 77 - Movement Alert List

The checking process is aided by sophisticated departmental computer systems to identify visa applicants and travellers requiring additional scrutiny by immigration, security and law enforcement agencies. The systems are capable of very rapid and sophisticated data matching that brings to notice for investigation links that may identify travellers of concern. Australia is also partnering with other countries to build systems and to expand our alert lists to detect high-risk visa applicants and travellers before they travel. At the same time, our systems facilitate low risk travellers easily to enter Australia.

Advance Passenger Processing

Airlines and cruise ship operators are required to provide details of all passengers and crew to Australia's immigration and customs authorities before their arrival in Australia.

International airlines are connected to the Advance Passenger Processing (APP) system which is used to confirm that each passenger has a valid authority to travel to Australia and provides instructions to airline staff concerning a passenger's or crew member's authority to travel to Australia.

International passenger cruise ships that have sleeping facilities for at least 100 people (other than crew members) and are being used to provide an international passenger sea transportation service must report through APP. It is mandatory for all international passenger cruise ship operators to provide the department with information using the APP reporting system on all people on board the vessel no less than 96 hours in advance of arrival in Australia.

An infringement regime may be used to penalise airlines and cruise ship operators that fail to advise the department of passengers and crew through APP. A twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week support centre - the Border Operations Centre - based in Canberra is available to assist airlines and cruise ship operators meet their obligations and help resolve immigration matters for genuine passengers travelling to Australia should problems arise.

Airline Liaison Officers

Australia has a network of Airline Liaison Officers (ALOs) who are immigration officers posted at key overseas international airports which are 'last ports of call' before Australia. The ALOs work closely with host countries, airlines and international counterparts to detect and prevent improperly documented passengers from travelling to Australia and to facilitate the travel of genuine passengers.

Improperly documented passengers include people who do not hold a valid visa, people about whom there are identity concerns and people travelling on a suspect or fraudulent travel document.

The department also has a targeting support unit working with the ACBPS and a software based system to identify travellers of potential immigration concern.

Immigration processing at the border

The systems the department has in place to make risk assessments of travellers before they arrive in Australia provide a high level of confidence that those people who arrive can be cleared through immigration processes quickly. Immigration clearance processes are conducted on behalf of the department by ACBPS officers at the border. System messages will advise when a particular passenger needs to be referred to an immigration officer. ACBPS officers will also refer passengers where they have immigration-related concerns about a person.

Self-processing at the border

ACBPS has installed technology at international airports which allow eligible travellers arriving in Australia to self-process through passport control. The department has worked closely with ACBPS to roll out this technology called SmartGate. SmartGate reads chip-enabled passports (e-passports).  SmartGate uses facial recognition technology to match passengers with the stored electronic image contained in their e-passport to confirm their identity and that they hold or are eligible for an Australian visa. 

See: Fact sheet 71 - SmartGate Automated Border Processing

Refusal of entry to Australia at the border

Regardless of the range of checks conducted on travellers before their arrival in Australia, arriving travellers may still be refused entry to Australia at the border, because of information revealed on arrival or discovered by the department while they are en route to Australia. Airlines must remove passengers from Australia who they brought to Australia and who are refused entry.

More information about Australia's Border Security is available.
See: Border Security and Entry Requirements

Fact Sheet 70. Produced by the National Communications Branch, Department of Immigration and Border Protection, Canberra.
Last reviewed January 2014.

Last modified Wednesday 27 August 2014