The British government’s Home Office, responsible for immigration, security and law and order, in 2022,
initiated work on an electronic travel authorisation system, known as ETA or Electronic Travel Authorization.
The ETA, scheduled to launch in November of this year, will impact “non-visa nationals,” which includes citizens from the EU and the United States who currently enjoy visa-free travel to the UK for stays of up to six months.
This new system, introduced to enhance border security, will require visitors to apply for and pay for an ETA before travelling. Consequently, advance permission in the form of an ETA or a visa will be mandatory for all travellers to the UK, with the exception of British and Irish citizens.
The government asserts that the ETA system will bolster border security by providing more comprehensive information about non-visa visitors and allowing more time for screening. This proactive approach is expected to reduce the number of individuals denied entry at the border, particularly those with criminal records, as they will be prevented from travelling in the first place.
When ETA goes live, prospective visitors to the UK can apply online or through a dedicated mobile app. The application will request a photograph, biographical and contact details, passport information, and responses to questions about criminal history and immigration records. The government also plans to incorporate fingerprint data once that technology becomes available through an app.
The application process for ETA will cost £10 (approximately $12.49) per applicant, and once obtained, an ETA will remain valid for two years. Travellers with passports expiring within that two-year window will need to obtain a new ETA.
The ETA programme will be implemented in phases, beginning with nationals of specific countries:
– If you are a national of Qatar, you will need an ETA starting November 15, 2023, with applications opening on October 25, 2023.
– For nationals of Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, an ETA will be required starting February 22, 2024, and applications can be submitted from February 1, 2024.
– Nationals of other countries, including the United States, do not currently need to apply for an ETA, but more nationalities may be added to the list at a later date.
However, some groups are exempt from applying for an ETA, including those with British or Irish passports, individuals with permission to live, work or study in the UK and those holding a valid UK visa.
The introduction of the ETA is part of the UK’s efforts to enhance border security and streamline the entry process for visa-exempt travellers, aligning it with similar systems in place in other countries and the EU’s own upcoming authorisation system, ETIAS. For most law-abiding travellers, the ETA represents a minor investment of time and money to ensure smooth entry into the United Kingdom.
Since January 2009, nationals from 40 countries have been required to obtain the United States’ Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) before visiting. This system was implemented in response to security concerns following the tragic events of 9/11. However, the US was not the pioneer in electronic travel authorisation; Australia took that step in 1996. Several other countries, including Canada (with exceptions for US nationals), Cote d’Ivoire, South Korea, Sri Lanka and New Zealand, have similar pre-travel authorisation requirements.
In recent years, travellers both in the US and abroad have been anticipating the introduction of the European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS). ETIAS, a planned electronic authorization system by the European Union, is designed for visa-exempt visitors travelling to the European Union, the Schengen Area, Bulgaria, Cyprus and Romania. Originally announced in 2018, ETIAS has faced several delays and is now slated to commence in 2024.