Over 12,000 ETAs, Nearly 2 Million Visit Visas Granted by the UK in 2023

| March 6, 2024
Over 12,000 ETAs, Nearly 2 Million Visit Visas Granted by the UK in 2023

The United Kingdom (UK) granted over 12,000 Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA) and nearly two million visit visas in 2023.

This is according to the newly released quarterly migration statistics for the year ending in December 2023.

The new UK ETA system opened to Qatari nationals on 15 October 2023 for travels to the UK starting 15 November 2023.

From October to December 2023, the ETA system received 12,190 applications and granted 12,076 digital travel permits to Qataris.

ETAs applications and grants are expected to increase this year. 

The new system has opened for visitors from Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Travelers from these Gulf nations have been able to apply for an ETA on 1 February for travels to the UK starting 22 February 2024.

The UK government expects the ETA system to open for all travelers who can visit the UK without a visa in 2024. This includes European Union (EU) citizens.

Visit visa grants up from 2022

Last year, the UK granted 1,956,526 visitor visas, a 40 percent increase from the year before.

However, the number is still 19 percent below the peak 2019 pre-pandemic level at 2,413,461.

The increase was mainly due to 349,045 more visit visas granted to Chinese nationals. This represents over six times the 2022 total but 36 percent fewer than in 2019.

Additionally, UK visit visas for Indian nationals increased in 2023 by 22 percent.

Indian visitors accounted for 26 percent of all visit visas granted, with Chinese nationals accounting for 21 percent.

The third largest number of visit visas granted were for Turkish nationals at six percent.

According to the Official National Statistics (ONS), the majority of visits to the UK are made for holidays and leisure.

With global travel on an upward trend, the UK’s national tourism agency, VisitBritain, predicts an increase in UK visitors in 2024.

The agency expects the numbers to be driven by visitors from the United States (US), China, and the Gulf bloc.

It forecasts 39.5 million UK visitors by year-end, a five percent increase from the expected 37.8 million in 2023.

The expected visitor volume, however, will fall three percent short of the levels recorded in 2019 before the pandemic hit.

Still, VisitBritain foresees a full recovery to 2019 levels of inbound tourism, both in visits and spending, by early 2025.

Other visas the UK granted in 2023

The total number of visas granted by the UK is now higher than pre-pandemic levels, with almost 3.4 million visas granted in 2023.

The increase is primarily due to 560,365 more visit visas issued in 2023. This represents 58 percent of the total visas granted by the Home Office.

Apart from visit visas, the UK issued a total of about 1.4 million other entry clearances or different types of visas.

Work visas accounted for about 616,000, with health and care workers covering about half of the total work visas granted.

Dependents of UK work visa holders are also increasing, with 279,131 visas issued. This is 80 percent higher than in 2022.

Health and care work visa dependents accounted for 73 percent of all dependent work visas in 2023.

The next highest number of visas granted was for student visas at 605,000, while family-related visas were at nearly 99,000.

On the other hand, humanitarian or safe and legal routes to the UK were nearly 200, 000. This is mainly due to the Ukraine special visa schemes.

Passenger arrivals versus visas granted

The British government logged an estimated 132 million passenger arrivals outside the Common Travel Area (CTA) in 2023.

The number is 23 percent higher than last year. The higher number reflects the effects of lifting global travel restrictions after the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

However, passenger arrivals in 2023 remain 10 percent lower than the 2019 pre-pandemic numbers.

Passenger arrivals include all arrivals at the UK borders through legal routes. This includes foreign visitors, returning UK residents, and those with immigration statuses.

Citizens of the CTA, which comprises the UK, the Republic of Ireland, and the Crown Dependencies Guernsey, Jersey, and the Isle of Man, can freely travel within the territories, so these arrivals are not tracked.

The number of passenger arrivals is typically higher than that of visas granted since not all travelers need a visa to enter the UK.

Soon, passenger arrivals will be more accurately reflected when the ETA has been rolled out to all non-visa nationals visiting the UK.

The UK Home Office is also transitioning all those with physical immigration status with digital immigration records or eVisas. It will only issue eVisas starting 1 January 2025.

Once the transition is done, the UK border will be “digital by default.” The UK government will be able to accurately track the entry and exits of all travelers in the country.