Sometimes people arrive in the UK and do not perform well in their landing interview; some people lie, some plan to abuse the system, others exhibit strange behaviour, some appear to be incoherent. And others do not have a convincing reason to be in the UK, for example some people visit too often and other people appear to be a potential overstayer.
A percentage of these visitors get 'bounced' (i.e., turned around, denied entry, refused entry, sent home). This most frequently happens to Americans, Canadians, Austrailians, and New Zealanders. Even though these nationalities do not generally require visitor visas in advance, they are required to have a convincing reason to visit the UK and to exhibit that they are not a potential overstayer.
What happens when somebody gets bounced? Clearly many situations are too hopelessly complex to even attempt explanation in an article like this; but we can take a look at some common features.
Things begin with the Immigration Officer (IO), who may have observed the person acting strangely (or stressed) in the queue, or who may not be satisifed with the response to one of his questions (for example lying or intending to break our laws); or worse, the person is flagged up on the computer. At that point the IO will remove the person from the rest of the traffic so that other travellers can be processed. This is called 'being detained'. The first level of detention is a segregated area in the arrivals hall. The person detained may be escorted to the luggage collection area to collect their luggage and to consign this to UKBA for inspection.
Once the queue subsides, the person will usually be called back to continue the landing interview. If things go badly, the person will be moved to a room in the airport that serves as a low security detention area. This is called a holding room'. There are four of these in Heathrow, one for each terminal. The smallest holding room can hold 33 people and the largest can hold 87 people. Holding rooms are managed by staff called Detention Custody Officers (DCO).
Each terminal also has a separate holding room for children. We'll discuss these in a different article.
The holding room at Terminal 4 has separate areas for men and women, the other holding rooms use a common area. There is another holding room outside of Terminal 3 for people who were caught inside the UK and this is not discussed in this article. All holding rooms have separate toilets for men and women, but detainees have reported that smell and privacy can be problematic. People expecting modesty will almost certainly be disappointed by the way the toilet cubicles are arranged next to the seating area. Some holding rooms have showers, but we emphatically suggest avoiding them because heaven only knows what germs and microbes the previous person left in the shower stall. If a given shower stall is known to be infected, however, staff will generally close it off from access.
Each holding room has a television set and a 'catch as catch can' assortment of DVD's and newspapers. The lights are kept on 24/7.
Once admitted to a holding room, the person is officially 'in custody', and the various rules regarding prisoner treatment and detention conditions are activated. If the person has a camera it will be confiscated and this accounts for a lot of mobile phones being confiscated. The person is allowed to keep the SIM card however, and this can be used in a mobile phone provided by the detention service. Medication is also confiscated and doled to the person in accordance with the prescription instructions.
Food (in the form of fruit and biscuits) is available for free; there is also an assortment of free sandwiches available (but let's be clear that culinary excellence is not the priority in preparing these sandwiches). All holding rooms have access to machines that serve hot and cold drinks, but in Terminals 5 and 3 the person must request drink from UKBA staff before it is provided to them. Each person in custody receives a welfare check once an hour. In theory, the welfare check should include dialog with the person to assure that they are concious and alert, but this is often hampered by language differences.
Both Heathrow and Gatwick have roving teams of paramedics on bicycles provided by the National Health Service (NHS), and these teams will visit a holding room if they are contacted by a DCO. Paramedics are not allowed to dispense medicine, even over-the-counter relief such as aspirin. Aches, pains, headaches, and so forth must therefore be treated with a cup of tea or the like. If a medical situation cannot be contained by a paramedic, the person is moved to a hospital under escort.
If women are in custody, there is an aspiration that at least one of the DCO's will be female, but this is aspiration only and often not the case. Take note that "the mix" will often include screwballs, nutjobs, and other unstable types because exhibiting odd behaviour in a landing interview will almost certainly result in detention.
While the person is in custody, their travel documents will be examined closely and the DCO will see if the person is on any of the databases available to him. Their luggage and personal effects will be examined to see if there is any indicative evidence to be found. This process can take a long time, and some are in detention for several hours.
Of course if the person is wanted for a crime or gets flagged up as a terrorist, things start to get complex and these complexities are beyond the scope of this article. If the person claims asylum, a different procedure is activated and its description is beyond the scope of this article. If the person wants to speak with a member of their clergy, the DCO will attempt to facilitate this. Of course the person has a right to speak to their embassy, but in our experience (in an earlier era we were once charity-based practitioners/advisers to those in custody at Heathrow and Gatwick) this is a profound waste of time and needlessly adds to the delay.
In some cases, a second IO may be called in for a second opinion. In some cases, the IO may contact the person's boyfriend (girfriend, relative, host) in the UK and see if their stories agree. If the person is arriving from Pakistan or India, the DCO's will almost always interview the person's family present in the UK.
If the IO decides that the person does not qualify to enter the UK, they will approach a Chief Immigration Officer (CIO) and explain their conclusions. If the CIO agrees, the IO will begin preparing a removal order. This can also take a long time, but from start to finish, about 2/3's of people detained are processed in under 8 hours.
Removal orders come in several flavors: some people are detained and placed on the next available flight; and others are given a few days in the UK on a temporary visa. If the person got caught in a serious lie, or had a history of not following the rules, they may receive a ban from entering the UK. The removal paperwork will indicate if a ban has been determined or not. Note that even if a ban is not determined at the time of removal, it can later be effected by and ECO on a subsequent visa application.
During this time and as part of the removal process, the person's biometrics will be captured. Biometrics are retained for 10 years minimum and may be sent to the US regardless of the person's nationality (as a result of the 'special relationship'). Fitness for travel is often confirmed by a paramedic but in some cases the person may be examined by a physician.
The vast majority of bounces are of the 'unescorted' variety. In this case a DCO will accompany the person to the door of the aircraft and watch them board. In order to make the process appear less disturbing to other passengers, the DCO may be in plain clothes or subdued uniform. The passport is given to a flight attendant who returns it to the person after the flight is airborne.
Depending upon the circumstance, the cost of the removal (including the return fare) is borne by either the carrier or the government. If the person has a return ticket, the carrier may exercise their option to apply it to the removal. In all events, if the person owes any money to the UK, it will be clearly stated in paperwork given to the person when they depart.
We have received separate, but corroborating reports from people bounced to Florida that a so-called 'airline official' has confronted them upon arrival requiring the immediate payment of fees levied by the UK government. These are con artists with a connection to someone in the airline who gave them details of the passenger getting bounced. Ignore them.
It is sad that lots of people (including the media) call this process 'deportation', which is wrong. Getting bounced is properly termed 'administrative removal' and carries none of the pejorative effects of deportation. Deportation usually occurs after a person has been sentenced in criminal court, served time in prison and then attends a specially convened session before a judge who issues a deportation order.
What happens after a person is bounced? It is certainly not the end of the world. In the absence of a ban, the person is free to try their luck again. Also, there is no prescribed time which must elapse between successive attempts (we have seen people try to enter on the next day). Generally, however, we recommend that the person spend some time sorting out whatever issues caused the bounce and then get an entry clearance visa from a British Consulate. People who have been bounced cannot use the premium service to expedite their application.
It is not necessary to hire a solicitor to make the entry clearance application, but sometimes it can be helpful if the solicitor has an established practice area working with administrative removal cases.
And finally, in all but the most extreme cases, a bounce has no effect upon a subsequent fiance or spouse application. This is because fiance and spouse applications are predicated upon an intent to settle in the UK whereas visitor applications (i.e., those that can result in administrative removal) are predicated upon an intent to leave the UK.
Update 18 May 2012
If you are bounced, save the forms. You may need them later as the tribunal case of "Singh (paragraph 320 (7A) – IS151A forms – proof)  UKUT 00162(IAC)" heard in January 2012 amply demonstrates...
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Reviewed 18 May 2012