From late 2023, the British government will be introducing a new method of pre-screening intending visitors to any of the four United Kingdom countries. The new system is called the United Kingdom Electronic Travel Authorisation, or UK ETA in short. It is almost identical in nature to other electronic pre-screening systems currently operating in the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
The primary goal of the UK ETA is to strengthen British security by denying access to any persons deemed a potential criminal or terrorist risk. This will be achieved through a detailed questionnaire used in the UK ETA application process in which applicants must supply details regarding any past convictions or prison sentences for criminal or terrorist offences. The information supplied will be thoroughly checked against not just British security databases but also against many of the world’s biggest and most comprehensive police databases.
Applicants with no criminal record can expect the UK ETA to be granted within a matter of days. For others with previous convictions, however, the process can be delayed as the application is placed under review while the information supplied is checked. This will also be the case for applicants who omit details (whether intentional or otherwise) and for those who supply false information.
Under Review Explained
A UK ETA application may be labelled “under review” for a number of reasons. Primarily, it would mean that the authorities are not satisfied with some of the information supplied or question the applicant’s veracity. Ordinarily, a UK ETA will be granted in around three days, with a refusal taking about the same time.
When under review, however, there is no set time for how long the review may take. Everything will depend on the nature of the issues in the application and whether they can be resolved quickly or not.
When a UK ETA application is submitted to the British Home Office, it goes through several stages:
- Initial Assessment: The first step in the approval process is a quick, initial assessment of the application form to ensure all questions have been answered, all requested information supplied and any required documentation submitted.
- Detailed Examination: The initial assessment may be sufficient in deciding whether the UK ETA should be granted or denied, but this is not always the case. Receiving notification that the application is “under review” means that further examination is required as to whether the applicant is eligible for a UK ETA or there may be an issue with the application form or documentation provided.
- Background Checks: A background check is carried out on all applicants, and this usually goes through with no problems. However, some applicants may require more detailed and intensive background security or criminal record research. In order to carry out these checks, an application will be marked as being under review.
- Information Verification: Apart from criminal or terrorism-related concerns, the Home Office will also wish to verify that the applicant is who they say they are. In order to do this, the authorities may need to verify any supplied information or documents with an employer or financial establishment.
- Request for Additional Documentation: An applicant may be asked to supply additional documentation such as bank statements or an employment contract if there is any doubt as to the authenticity of the application and applicant.
- Personal Interview: Although very rare when applying for a UK ETA, it may be necessary to attend a personal interview for clarification purposes if any issues cannot be resolved by email, mail or telephone.
Because an application is flagged as being under review, this does not mean that the UK ETA is unlikely to be granted. It may just mean the applicant has failed to complete the application form correctly or fully or omitted to include a necessary document. Such errors or omissions will be quickly notified to the applicant, and it is important to respond to any such notifications as quickly as possible.
A review will take time, and a swift response to the Home Office can only help speed up the process. All applications are subject to review, but this is usually completed quickly, and it is only when issues are discovered that the process slows down while an application is reviewed in more detail.
There is no set time as to how long a review may take, but it is important to keep the lines of communication open and respond to any questions or requests in a timely manner. Although a UK ETA will usually be granted within three working days, it would be unwise to wait until the last minute before submitting an application. Allowing for the possibility that an application may be placed under review, it is prudent to allow several weeks for processing and err on the side of caution.
Should the “under review” status persist and assistance cannot be obtained from the authorities, it may be necessary to seek legal advice, but this is rarely necessary and only to be considered as a last resort.
UK ETA Required or Not?
A UK ETA is not yet mandatory and will not be until the end of 2024 for most people. This new travel requirement will only apply to citizens of countries that currently enjoy visa-free access to the United Kingdom. This includes around sixty countries worldwide, including America, Canada, Japan, South Africa, New Zealand, and Australia, as well as all European Union and Schengen Area member states.
The UK ETA requirement is to be implemented in stages, and the first countries to be affected will be Middle East nations. This will occur towards the end of 2023, with further countries added to the list throughout 2024. The British government intends to have the UK ETA system fully in place and operational by January 2025, but whether or not this target is reached remains open to question.
In the meantime, citizens of those countries that will be subject to the UK ETA mandate remain free to enter and transit the United Kingdom with just a valid passport, as has been the case for the past few decades. Citizens of countries who currently require a visa to enter and visit the United Kingdom will not be affected by the introduction of the new travel screening system and will continue to need a visa as they do today.