The UK Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) has launched. Travellers from over 90 countries will be affected starting 2024.
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In 2021, former British Home Secretary, Priti Patel announced a digital travel authorisation system similar to the ESTA visa waiver system utilised by the United States since 2009. The name of this system is the UK ETA, or Electronic Travel Authorisation. The planned scheme is based on the American Electronic Travel Authorisation system. Travellers that are currently able to enter the UK without a visa will need to apply for a UK ETA starting in 2024.
Canada also has its own electronic Travel Authorisation (eTA) system, and the European Union plans to launch a similar project called ETIAS (European Travel Information and Authorisation System) in 2024.
Currently, the UK government does not have the means to accurately count the number of individuals who enter and leave the country. According to the Home Secretary, this will help create a more secure and ‘fully digital’ border.
Once the UK ETA has been implemented, visitors who want to enter the country without a visa or immigration status would have to apply for an ETA (electronic Travel Authorisation).
The Home Office expects that the system will become fully operational by 2024 and that an estimated 30 million visitors will apply for the UK ETA every year.
The British Government wants to introduce the digital travel authorisation system after evidence revealed that migration estimates might be extremely inaccurate. The UK Home Office migration statistics come from on survey data gathered at airports and ports. This leads to the UK Government having unreliable figures when it comes to travellers arriving or exiting the country.
According to the British government, its statistics show that in the year to 30 June 2019 around 144.7 million passengers arrived in the country. This figure included returning British citizens. Around 40 million of these people came from the EU and Switzerland.
The Home Secretary said: “Our new fully digital border will provide the ability to count people in and out of the country, giving us control over who comes to the UK.”
The way the system will work is that, once the applicant has completed the online application, his or her details will be checked against several security databases. When an ETA application is received, the system will automatically check whether the applicant is eligible for an ETA or not. If the individual has never been found guilty of committing a crime or other immigration related violations, an electronic travel authorisation will be issued.
If, however, he or she is listed in one of the databases as having committed a crime or breach of immigration rules in the past, the application will be flagged for manual review. A human officer will then have to look at the available evidence and decide whether or not the individual in question should be allowed to enter the UK or not.
Holidaymakers will, therefore, have to fill in additional forms before they leave their home country. After that they will have to wait for their ETA application to be approved and only then will they be allowed to continue with their journey.
One of the many other implications of the planned system is that EU citizens would have to pay if they want to visit the UK. And UK citizens would have to pay if they want to visit the EU. This is a dramatic departure from the current situation.
The UK ETA will cost £10 per applicant. This fee is non-refundable and is charged each time an application is submitted. Every traveller entering the UK will need to pay this application fee as part of submitting their form.
The ETA system would apply to passengers who are transiting (i.e. they are changing planes) in the UK or who are travelling to the country for a short stay.
Individuals who plan to stay in the UK for a longer period of time (e.g. more than six months), or who want to work in the country, would still have to apply for a visa instead of an ETA.
Travellers from the following countries/regions will have to apply for a UK ETA before being allowed to travel to the country by air or sea:
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