UK Electronic Travel
Authorisation (ETA)
scheme to launch
in 2023

As part of the UK government’s New Plan for Immigration, a new Permission to Travel scheme is set to launch this year which will require everyone wishing to travel to the UK to seek permission in advance.

The Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) will further strengthen the UK border by allowing the government to make the necessary security checks on travellers before they arrive in the UK, to identify those who may pose a threat. Instead of turning people away at the border or detaining them at a cost to the taxpayer, the ETA will allow the government to prevent such people from travelling to the UK in the first place.

The New Plan for Immigration states: “Our flagship permission to travel scheme will mean that it is easier for our friends to come to and contribute to the UK, but harder for those we do not want to come here. Electronic Travel Authorisations will enable us to tackle problems upstream and we will know more about those who use the system to come here.”

The scheme is in line with the approach many of the UK’s international partners have taken to border security, including the USA (ESTA), Canada (ETA), Australia (eTA) and New Zealand (NZeTA). The European Union is expected to launch a similar scheme in 2023 (ETIAS).

Who needs to apply for an ETA?

The ETA is for visa-exempt travellers, otherwise known as non-visa nationals. Non-visa nationals are foreign citizens who can enter the UK for short stays without requiring a visa.

A full list of eligible countries has yet to be confirmed, but it is expected that travellers from the EU and other European countries will need to apply, as well as travellers from other visa-exempt countries such as the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong and Singapore.

The ETA will allow eligible passport holders to enter the UK for up to six months for tourism or business purposes. For all other reasons of travel, such as working or residing long term in Britain, an appropriate visa will need to be obtained instead.

British and Irish citizens and individuals who hold a valid UK immigration permission will not be required to apply for an ETA before travelling.

How will the ETA scheme work?

Obtaining an ETA will be a quick and easy process which will involve completing an online application form and paying a fee. The exact details of the scheme, including how much an ETA will cost, are yet to be announced.

To apply for an ETA, applicants will need:

  • A valid national biometric passport from an eligible country
  • Travel details
  • A valid email address
  • A credit or debit card.

Customers applying for an ETA will provide their biographic, biometric and contact details, and answer a short set of suitability questions. This information will be checked against Home Office systems and assessed to determine whether the person has permission to travel to the UK. The online form should take under 15 minutes to complete, and most customers will receive their ETA within 48 – 72 hours of submitting their application.

It is important to note that the ETA is not a visa. It is a digital approval which authorises an individual to board a carrier to travel to the UK. On arrival at the UK border, an individual will still need to obtain leave to enter, as per the process now.

When will the ETA be introduced?

The ETA will be rolled out in phases beginning in early 2023. It is expected to be introduced as follows:

  • Phase 1 (Q1 2023) – The first release will be a private beta testing phase
  • Phase 2 (late Q1 to early Q3) – The second release will apply to nationals of Qatar, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Oman, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.
  • Phase 3 (late Q2 onwards) – The final phase will apply the ETA scheme to the rest of the world.

Transitioning to a digital border

The ETA forms part of the UK’s wider plan to fully digitalise its borders by 2025. According to the New Plan for Immigration, the Home Office will transform crossing the border with improvements to security, passenger experience and queue times. The use of automation will also be increased to allow better management of passenger flow and interventions at the border.

Smith Stone Walters awaits further details on the roll-out of the new ETA system and will provide an update in due course. To keep up to date with the latest UK and global immigration news, please sign up to our free news service.

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