Introduction of Electronic Travel Authorisations

What is an Electronic Travel Authorisation?

The government announced in March 2023 that they would be bringing in a new entry permit system for visitors travelling to the UK. This will mean that certain people, who in the past wouldn’t have applied for a visa to come to the UK, will now need to apply for permission before they arrive in the form of an Electronic Travel Authorisation, which will then be linked to that person’s passport.

Who will need an Electronic Travel Authorisation?

Initially, it will only be nationals of Qatar that need to apply for an ETA. The system will be accepting applications from the 25th of October, and Qatar nationals arriving in the UK from the 15th of November will need an ETA.

From the 22nd of February 2024, nationals of Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates will be added to the list of those who need to apply for an ETA, and they will be able to apply from the 1st of February 2024. The ETA will replace the Electronic Visa Waiver that nationals of the Gulf Cooperation Council currently need to apply for, which is also linked to their passport.

The government is planning to add more countries to the scheme later, and by the end of 2024, it is expected that it will be expanded to all non-visa nationals, bar certain exceptions detailed below. This means that citizens of countries such as Australia, Japan and the European Union who don’t currently need a visa to travel to the UK will need to apply for an ETA.

Will everyone need one?

The government has stated that you won’t need an ETA if you have a British or Irish passport or permission to live in the UK. If you live in Ireland, are a legal resident, do not need a visa to enter the UK, and are entering the UK from Ireland, Guernsey, Jersey or the Isle of Man, you will also be exempted from the requirement.

How will an application for an ETA be made?

The government has said that applications will be via the UK ETA app or online on GOV.UK. They have said that each traveller must obtain their own ETA, including children and babies, but that it will be possible to apply on behalf of others. Applications will be possible up until a few days before travel.

The timescale for decisions has been given as within three working days, but it may be quicker. However, the government has said that it may take longer than three working days if they need to make further checks. If the application is approved, then applicants will receive an email, and the ETA will be linked electronically to their passport. They will then be able to spend up to six months in the UK.

How much does it cost?

The ETA will cost £10 per Applicant and last for two years, although if your passport expires before then, you must reapply.

What effect will it have?

The ETA is being introduced as part of the government’s plans to fully digitalise its borders by 2025. The government has also stated that it will act as an extra security measure by allowing them to block individuals that could pose a threat. They also state that it will confirm to applicants that they are eligible to visit the UK and make their travel process smoother.

Amongst the concerns about the new system is that it may act as an obstacle for tourism, especially for Northern Ireland, which would then be different from the rest of Ireland, where visitors won’t need an ETA. There is concern that tour companies in Ireland would simply exclude Northern Ireland from their itineraries to make things simpler.  

Heathrow Airport has also voiced concern at the news that the ETA would include transit passengers, which would make it a less attractive choice for passengers connecting to other flights. In theory, it shouldn’t cause delays at the airport border gates, as it will all be electronic, but whether this is the case in practice will remain to be seen, and there may well be some initial issues. As UK Immigration Solicitors, we will be watching with interest and will keep you updated on the implications of the scheme.

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Cross Border Legal Solicitors Ltd is a UK Solicitor law firm regulated by under the Solicitor Regulations Authority. It is Headed by Mr Tito Mbariti, a UK Immigration and Human Rights Solicitor practising lawyer and member of the Law Society of England and Wales.