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From barrier to economic growth engine

Why immigration reform must be at the heart of the digital border agency


The border services industry is in flux, dealing with rapid change on multiple fronts. Leaders around the world must address challenges and transform for a new, digital world. The drivers of such disruptive change? Global flows of people and goods have never been greater, with international arrivals expected to be over 1.8 billion by 2030 and likely to trend in only one direction. Threats such as terrorism and cybercrime are mounting in an already volatile international environment. With 8 out of 10 citizens saying that they have the same or higher expectations of government as they do of the private sector, citizens’ demands from digital services are rising fast. To survive, border services have to find ways to be faster, more reliable and more secure.

1.8 billion+ international arrivals expected by 2030

1.8 billion+

International arrivals expected by 2030

Moving the border: From barrier to prime economic asset


Rather than simply being disrupted by these changes, border agencies have an opportunity to get on the front foot and embrace disruption. How? By transforming into the digital border agency of the future. Doing so requires a significant shift in mindset, away from the bureaucratic processes and procedures of the past that focused on the border as a barrier.

Government leaders and partners must instead see the border as a national asset that agencies can control and manage to achieve maximum national and economic benefit, while keeping citizens safe.


One key element at the heart of border agency transformation—playing a central role in realising the border’s promise as a valuable national asset—is the reform of visa and immigration processing. It’s a complex, multifactorial area. And while many countries have made some progress here already, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to reform. A number of different factors need to be looked at together to prioritise and plan for the future.

Making countries attractive to visitors of all kinds—tourists, students, skilled workers and business travellers—is essential for their economic growth.

Of course, controlled immigration is critical to maintaining citizens’ safety and security and it’s perhaps no surprise to see a rise in the number of countries now requiring a visa for travel. The challenge that countries face is how to balance the need for greater control with the desire to maximise their attractiveness as a destination.

33 percent
25 percent

Percentage of the world’s population that were able to travel to advanced economies without visas


1: Increasing the flow of tourists (and their spending)

1: Increasing the flow of tourists (and their spending)

One of the major targets for immigration reform should be to boost the numbers of tourists. Our analysis highlights that over the last five years tourism has grown faster than global trade and in 2016 accounted for 7 percent of the world’s exports in goods and services. It’s therefore a major source of economic growth.

1: Increasing the flow of tourists (and their spending)

2: Welcoming students

Longer-term visitors, such as students, also offer major economic gains and a source of potential talent and innovative thinking. Education is increasingly an international sector. Its benefits go beyond simply attracting the direct revenues that international student fees generate. The more international an institution becomes, the more likely it is to be able to attract more students, academic funding and innovation that can collectively deliver major economic benefits. It’s a virtuous circle whose impact is not lost on educational institutions themselves.

3: Attracting skilled workers

3: Attracting skilled workers

The ability to attract skilled workers is now a much wider global competition, with countries vying for the best and brightest to fill critical employment gaps and help build long-term growth and prosperity. In addition, as new digital skills become more important for economic growth, the competition to attract qualified workers will become even more intense.

4: Rethinking visa costs

4: Rethinking visa costs

Borders are expensive to operate and how they are run can greatly influence the extent to which they are welcoming to visitors. Revenues are therefore required to cover their operation and to ensure security and service are not compromised. However, the design and implementation of visa fees can be just as important as the absolute amount charged. Fairness and transparency are key. Higher fees do not necessarily mean fewer visa applications. Our analysis of the data and trends finds no such link.


Building the immigration process around the needs and wants of its users is critical. Understanding and designing for the users’ experience will create substantial benefits for both the government and applicants.

Improving visa and border processes to meet citizens’ digital expectations will require upfront investment. But this can be recouped from administration charges. And while some tourist agencies have raised concerns that such fees could deter visitors, Accenture research shows no impact on traveller numbers as a result of administration charges. We believe that travellers may often be more willing to pay for a smoother, faster experience before and at the border. That view is reinforced by our research, which shows that only 40 percent of citizens are satisfied with their experience dealing with border service agencies today.

40 percent

Percentage of citizens that are satisfied with their experience dealing with border service agencies today


Global economic competition is intensifying. Immigration reform is fundamental to achieving every country’s goals of attracting tourists, talent and investment at the same time as keeping citizens safe.

To help achieve this goal, border agencies need to drive digital transformation in order to realise the potential of the border as a revenue-generating national asset.

Each will take a different route. The path to reform is neither simple nor the same for any one nation. But bold, innovative thinking addressing digitalisation, tourism, students, skills and costs are key to setting off in the right direction. There’s no time to lose.