UK Parliament Committee Launches Inquiry on ETA, EES, and ETIAS

| March 4, 2024
UK Parliament Committee Launches Inquiry on ETA, EES, and ETIAS

The United Kingdom (UK) Parliament’s House of Lords Justice and Home Affairs Committee launched an inquiry on the new electronic border management systems.

These include the UK’s Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA), as well as the Entry/Exit System (EES) and the European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS) of the European Union (EU).

The EES is the EU’s new automated biometric system for recording non-EU travelers’ entry and exit in the Schengen Area.

The ETA and the ETIAS are digital travel permits for all non-visa nationals visiting the UK and Schengen Area, respectively.

As stated in a news release, the committee now accepts written evidence from interested individuals and organizations.

Those who want to submit written evidence on electronic border management systems must do so by 14 March 2024.

On 27 February 2024, the committee heard oral evidence in a meeting with railway companies Eurostar and GetLink, as well as the Port of Dover.

It will also hear more oral evidence from concerned parties on the 5th and 12th of March.

Goals of the new border management systems inquiry

The Justice and Home Office Affairs Committee aims to understand “the global trend of electronic travel authorization schemes and how the UK’s version compares with others.”

“We want to find out what the UK will gain from the [ETA] scheme and whether it is possible to improve border security in a way that does not inconvenience legitimate travelers,” said Lord Foster of Bath, chair of the committee.

The UK government plans to implement the new UK ETA scheme for all non-visa nationalities, including EU citizens, by 2024.

Currently, only travelers from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states and Jordan must have an ETA to travel to the UK.

When the committee previously looked into the EU’s new border management plans in 2021, it expressed logistical concerns and political difficulties.

Since then, both the EES and ETIAS have postponed their rollout dates several times. The EES is now scheduled to be introduced in October 2024, and the ETIAS in mid-2025.

Lord Foster shared, “We would like to find out whether the UK is now better prepared—and who is responsible for promoting general public awareness.”

The committee also seeks to analyze the interoperability of the ETA, EES, and ETIAS and how they will affect travelers crossing UK and EU borders.

Global insights on ETA and how it affects travel

The UK ETA and EU’s ETIAS are comparable to the United States’ (US’) Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), Canada’s Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA), and Australia’s ETA.

The committee seeks to gather insight and learn from the experiences of other nations using digital border management systems.

It also aims to discover potential risks, weaknesses in implementation, effects on travelers, and long-term management.

It could also reveal how the ETA fits into the UK government’s longer-term strategy for digital borders.

ETA and the Common Travel Agreement

Studying the impact of border management systems also means understanding how they affect travelers.

This includes those who have been denied ETAs and those with dual nationalities traveling between countries with ETA requirements.

Another is examining how the ETA systems affect travel within the Common Travel Area (CTA).

The CTA comprises the UK, the Republic of Ireland, and the Crown Dependencies Guernsey, Jersey, and the Isle of Man.

Irish nationals and citizens of the Crown Dependencies do not need an ETA to visit the UK.

This is due to the CTA arrangement, which allows its citizens to move freely within CTA territories.

Non-Irish legal residents of Ireland are also exempt from the ETA scheme, provided they meet all three conditions.

These include proof of legal Ireland residency, not needing a visa to enter the UK, and traveling to the UK via the CTA.

Still, there are concerns that the ETA poses risks to tourism in the UK’s Northern Ireland.

Non-visa nationals who visit Northern Ireland via the Republic must have an ETA before crossing the land border.

It may be an added expense and hassle that tourists would opt to skip visiting Northern Ireland altogether.

Additionally, tourists crossing the open land border between Ireland and Northern Ireland may unknowingly breach immigration laws if they do not have the mandatory ETA.

Promoting better ETA understanding

Awareness of the new border management systems is vital to its successful and smooth implementation and to lessen travel disruptions.

The committee is also open to advice on how the UK government can boost awareness of the new ETA system. This remains a concern for Northern Ireland officials and the UK airline industry.

Heathrow Airport and UK-based airlines such as British Airways and Virgin Atlantic are wary of losing transiting passengers due to the new ETA requirement.

Once the UK ETA is fully implemented, transit passengers must have an ETA regardless of whether they are going through border control.

However, in other major airports, transit passengers do not need to meet local entry requirements if they are not going through borders to connect to their onward destination.

Heathrow operates about 25 million connecting flights annually to bring travelers to global destinations that do not offer direct flights.

It is a significant factor for London being a major global connectivity hub and may lose its status if more transit passengers choose to layover at other airports.

UK-based airlines like British Airways are also heavily dependent on connecting flights.

Preparing for the EU’s new border management systems

In its new inquiry on border management systems, the committee aims to better prepare for the EU’s new border schemes.

It seeks recommendations, including broader issues relating to the government’s strategy on electronic borders and the Home Office’s capability.

The UK Parliament’s European Scrutiny Committee also recently looked into the EU’s EES and the UK border.

The evidence showed that the EES rollout would hugely hamper travel between the UK and the EU.

Officials had warned that the EES may cause 14-hour delays at the Port of Dover and limit Eurostar passenger volume.

These issues may affect the ports and train stations that still need to be adequately equipped to enforce the EES.