The new United Kingdom Electronic Travel Authorisation, which is currently in the process of being introduced, will be a mandatory requirement for visitors to the UK who currently enjoy visa-free entry to any of the four United Kingdom countries of Scotland, Wales, England and Northern Ireland.
The UK ETA requirement will apply to citizens of European Union and Schengen Area countries as well as countries such as Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Japan, Canada and the United States, among others.
The UK ETA performs the same basic function as a standard visa but is in electronic format rather than traditional paper. As the name suggests, the UK ETA allows a visitor to travel to the United Kingdom and this “approval” is linked to the visitor’s passport. The UK ETA is checked at the traveller’s point of departure, and any passport lacking the required approval, or if the UK ETA has expired or been revoked, will be rejected, and the holder refused permission to undertake the journey to the United Kingdom.
Applying for a UK ETA is done either online or via a dedicated app. It consists of completing a detailed series of questions covering the applicant’s personal details, background, travel history, previous visas held and (importantly) any convictions for serious criminal or terrorist offences.
Although the application process is relatively straightforward (estimated to take no more than fifteen minutes), it is very detailed, and the possibility of making mistakes or omissions is very real. The application processors in the British Home Office have no way of knowing if mistakes on the form are accidental, deliberate or due to human error. Any errors detected can result in the application for the UK ETA being rejected.
Submitting an incomplete, erroneous or error-strewn UK ETA application will result in delays at best, and a refusal at worst. Care, attention and time should be taken when answering the questions as once submitted, it can be tricky (not to mention time-consuming) to rectify any mistakes.
Among the most common mistakes applicants tend to make are:
- Spelling and Grammar: Understandably, most applicants for a UK ETA do not use English as their first language and spelling errors or grammatical mistakes can be expected. Such errors are generally overlooked (even corrected on occasion) unless the errors made render the answers supplied unintelligible.
- Criminal Record: Depending on the seriousness of the crime, and the resulting conviction, acquiring a UK ETA may be problematic. The Home Office places great emphasis on an applicant’s criminal record and lies or omissions in this section of the application form are not viewed favourably. Even a minor conviction for something like a speeding offence should be included, even if this seems irrelevant to the applicant.
- Previous Visas: Information pertaining to any previous visas held (for any country at any time) should be provided. It may be tempting not to detail past problems with a visa, but the authorities will check the applicant’s history for any previous visa breaches, and any issues discovered will likely result in a refusal.
- Basic Errors: Lack of care and attention when typing numbers is another common problem. Inadvertently typing a passport number or expiration date causes confusion, as does omitting numbers or letters from addresses, dates of birth, email addresses and so forth.
It is very easy to make an honest mistake when typing in several pages of information, but the assessors cannot distinguish a genuine error from an attempt to deceive. An approval or refusal for a UK ETA can normally be issued within 72 hours of submitting an application, and the Home Office cannot (and does not) take time to contact an applicant if any issues are discovered personally.
Outcome of Mistakes
Supplying incorrect details or information on the UK ETA application form can result in one of two outcomes: a wrongful refusal or an erroneous approval.
Many minor errors, such as a misspelt name or incorrect number, will be attributed to human error and simply ignored. However, such basic mistakes of essential details like a passport number may be construed as a blatant attempt to circumvent the processing system, and the application will be denied.
An application refused for a minor mistake can be appealed, but this must be done within 28 days of the refusal. There is a review fee of £80 (€92), but the appeal process can take as long as six months to complete with no guarantee of success. Generally speaking, applicants who have been refused a UK ETA will most likely need to submit a new application with all errors corrected.
On rare occasions, the Home Office may not catch a mistake or omission, and a UK ETA is granted. If it becomes clear to an applicant that the UK ETA has been approved erroneously despite an obvious error, then this should be reported. This is not merely an option but a duty, and failure to do so can result in the UK ETA being cancelled at any time. This is particularly true where the error involved information pertinent to granting the UK ETA.
If the applicant has discovered an error but has not reported it and is subsequently discovered by the Home Office officials, the chances of having the UK ETA cancelled increase significantly as this may be viewed as an attempt to deliberately deceive the issuing authority.
As can be seen from the above, any error, no matter how trivial it may seem, can result in a long delay in the issuing of a UK ETA or its cancellation. Furthermore, it may make reapplying for a UK ETA more difficult n the future as the Home Office will check any new applications against its records and an applicant’s name may be flagged for closer scrutiny when submitting any further requests for a UK ETA.
Even an innocent mistake can have serious consequences if the Home Officials interpret the error as a deliberate effort to acquire the UK ETA under false pretences. Such an interpretation falls under the loose heading of “deception”, which covers many fraudulent activities.
- Providing false or misleading information
- Failure to fully disclose relevant facts and details
- Submitting incomplete details
- Non-disclosure of important and relevant material
If an application is deemed to be fraudulent or deceptive, this is a breach of the current United Kingdom immigration laws, and the penalties for breaking these laws can be harsh.
- The application will automatically be rejected
- An existing UK ETA will be cancelled
- A ban from entering for up to ten years may be imposed
- The holder may be detained upon entering the UK and deported
When a UK ETA application is believed to be fraudulent, or the UK ETA is granted due to perceived deception and no adequate reason is provided, this will affect any future applications. Even following any punishment or ban, the applicant will still be flagged for breaches of the approval system, and a poor immigration history will make the issuing of any subsequent UK ETA extremely unlikely and difficult.
If an applicant believes or suspects an error has been made on the application form, it is vital to take immediate action. Decisions on an application can be delivered in as little as two days, and once the UK ETA has been approved or denied, it becomes more difficult to correct even the most minor mistakes. Contacting the British Home Office department responsible for processing UK ETA applications should be done as soon as the error is discovered and as quickly as possible.
If caught in time, minor errors can often be corrected by Home Office personnel or ignored if insignificant. However, it should be borne in mind that what an applicant may deem an insignificant error may be viewed quite differently by the officials in charge.
Errors deemed intentional or an attempt to deceive will quickly result in a refusal and lead to untold delays and issues when reapplying or submitting a new UK ETA application. More serious errors that directly impact whether the UK ETA is granted or refused may be impossible to undo, and in such cases, it may be possible to have the application cancelled and a new (corrected) application submitted.
A lot depends on what stage the application process has reached. Acting promptly by contacting the Home Office may not resolve any issues. Still, it will demonstrate honesty on the part of the applicant and (hopefully) promote a positive response when the application is resubmitted.
Although not strictly necessary, applicants experiencing difficulties in having a UK ETA granted due to inadvertent mistakes may be wise to seek legal advice. This will, of course, incur additional expense, but sometimes it may be unavoidable if problems persist. In most cases, legal representation will not be necessary as direct contact with the Home Office and a well-worded letter of explanation will usually be sufficient in sorting out minor issues.
Care and Attention
Avoiding problems is far preferable to having to sort them out later on. Special attention and care should be taken when filling out the application form, and the process should never be rushed. Although the form can be filled out in less than fifteen minutes, this does not mean that more time should not be spent on this important process.
Before submitting the form, it should be thoroughly reviewed and checked at least twice. It is amazing how many spelling mistakes and typos applicants miss, even after double-checking. If possible, it is even better to check the form again after a day or two has passed, as a fresh review will often uncover a previously overlooked error or omission.
Applying for a UK ETA is not a complicated matter, and issues can be avoided by taking time when filling out the form and checking and rechecking before finally pressing the “submit” button. Once submitted, the approval process begins, and from this point on, making any corrections becomes problematic. A situation that is best avoided!