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UK adopts pre-travel authorisation requirement for visitors

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The UK government has officially announced the launch of an ‘Electronic Travel Authorisation’ (ETA) scheme for non-visa nationals travelling to the UK on short-term visits of up to 6 months. The ETA will serve as a new type of ‘digital permission’.

Initially, ETAs will replace the Electronic Visa Waivers (EVW) currently available for nationals of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. Nationals of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates are visa nationals, i.e. they must usually apply for a visa before travelling to the UK. Obtaining an EVW document allows for entry to the UK without first applying for and being granted a visa.

The changes introduced with the ETA reduce the application costs and paperwork relative to the EVW Scheme. However, when the ETA scheme rolls out to non-visa nationals, including US and EU nationals, it will be the first time these nationals will have to complete an application process and be approved before traveling to the UK, as a matter of course. 

We provide a summary of the most important questions about the new digital scheme. 

What is an ‘Electronic Travel Authorisation’ (ETA)?

An ‘Electronic Travel Authorisation’ (ETA) is an authorisation to travel to the UK that the government is introducing for nationals of the above-listed countries starting in 2023 and eventually rolling out to all non-visa nationals. Non-visa nationals are those who do not need to apply for a visa before entering the UK as a visitor.

An ETA is not a visa and the process for obtaining an ETA is not as involved as that for obtaining a visa.

Who can apply for an ETA?

The scheme will first open to Qatari nationals on 25 October 2023, and for the rest of EVW-eligible countries from 1 February 2024. By the end of the next year, the scheme will eventually become a requirement for non-visa nationals worldwide, including US and European nationals. 

Who does not require an ETA?

The ETA will not be required for British and Irish nationals, holders of permission to live, work or study in the UK, and those who already hold a visa to enter the UK. The travellers within the Common Travel Area or Ireland-Northern Ireland land border will also not be required to apply for an ETA.

Individuals legally residing in Ireland who do not need a visa to enter the UK will not require an ETA if they are entering the UK from the Crown Dependencies or Ireland. 

How will an ETA differ from the current Electronic Visa Waivers (EVW) scheme?

The ETA scheme will provide some positive changes that are likely to be welcomed by EVW scheme users.

The first clear advantage over the current EVW scheme is the application fee. The new digital permission will cost £10 per applicant as opposed to the current fee of £30.

The ETA scheme will also provide a possibility of multiple entries to the UK for 2 years, or until the expiry of the visitor’s passport – whichever is shorter. This is in contrast with a single entry allowed under the EVW. 

In addition, the ETA application process has been simplified and made user-friendly. The applicants will have the option to use the designated ‘UK ETA app’, or submit their application online via the ‘Apply for an ETA to come to the UK’ section on gov.uk.

If the application is approved, the ETA will be linked to the individual’s passport. The same passport must be used to travel to the UK. This removes the need to carry a separate document, which is a current requirement under the EVW scheme. 

What is the application process for an ETA?

Each traveller requiring an ETA to enter the UK will need to make a separate application. This includes children and babies. 

To complete the application process, the individuals will require to answer a set of suitability questions, provide their contact and passport details, a valid photo, and make the application payment. Most applicants are expected to receive their decision within 3 working days from the date of application submission. The applications may take more than 3 days to process if further checks are required. 

It is important to note that an ETA does not guarantee entry to the UK. The UK Border Force may refuse entry in specific circumstances.  

Can an ETA be refused?

Yes, the applicants whose ETA application is refused will be required to apply for a visa. The ETA application can be refused due to the applicant’s previous criminal convictions, bad character or conduct, previous breaches of immigration laws, previous breaches of visa conditions and debt to the NHS or unpaid litigation costs to the Home Office. Those individuals whose circumstances fall within the scope of ETA refusal should seek advice before making a visa application. 

Publication Date: 26/05/2023

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Author avatar
Madiya Karassayeva
Associate @ Changes Immigration
Madiya.Karassayeva@changesimmigration.com
+44 (0) 77 2016 8296