New UK Immigration Guidelines Address ‘Electronic Translation Devices’

Use of Translation Devices in UK Immigration Enforcement

On July 21, 2022, UK Immigration Enforcement released new guidelines on communicating with detained individuals of limited English proficiency (LEP). Notably, in addition to outlining procedures for requesting interpreting services, the document also addresses the use of “electronic translation devices.”

Immigration Enforcement operates under the Home Office, and the guidelines apply to all Home Office staff and suppliers involved in helping individuals in immigration detention understand their cases. 

Without defining them, the document states that these electronic translation devices should not replace in-person or telephonic interpretation services (OPI) for essential interactions where accuracy is paramount, such as medical appointments, asylum interviews, and certain paperwork.

Translation apps on mobile phones are offered as one example of a device that Home Office staff might use for informal communications, such as welfare checks.

“There is currently no industry certified standard for electronic translation accuracy and, unless proven, device manufacturers’ claims regarding accuracy should not be solely relied on,” the guidelines caution, adding that the Home Office Compliance Team must approve devices for translation. 

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That said, once approved, a “sufficient number” of the devices should be stocked in all facilities to support informal communications between staff and detained individuals.

Translation gadgets should also be tested before being used in immigration removal centers, with monthly and quarterly checks on 10% of devices to confirm that they operate properly and that appropriate security measures are in place. This includes making sure that personal data remains confidential. 

For example, if a detained individual begins to discuss personally identifying information (such as details related to their health or legal case) to a staff member via an electronic translation device, the staff member should switch to using OPI immediately.

The Home Office requires immigration removal centers to have OPI available 24 hours a day, in a range of languages checked at least biannually against the needs of each center’s population.

In some exceptional circumstances, electronic translation devices might be used in place of the preferred professional services, such as a large number of admissions taking place at the same time, situations in which on-site interpreting or OPI are not available, or where obtaining them may cause “undue delays.”