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UK's New ETA Scheme from October 2023

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By Sanwar Ali:

The United Kingdom is set to introduce a major change in its travel and immigration policies with the launch of the Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) scheme from 25 October 2023. Initially, it will only apply to Qatari nationals travelling to the UK on or after 15 November 2023.

It is claimed that it will fortify the security at the UK borders. The Uk Government describes it as “a new requirement for people who do not need a visa to come to the UK”. The new level of bureaucracy may put off many visitors to the UK.

1. Electronic Travel Authorisation: An Overview

The Electronic Travel Authorisation, abbreviated to ETA is a digital permission to travel. It is claimed that the ETA scheme will bolster the security of the UK border and streamline the process for those journeying to the UK for short stays. It remains to be seen what will happen in practice.

2. Who are Required to Obtain an ETA?

The ETA scheme is primarily targeted at visitors who do not need a visa for brief visit to the UK or who do not have an existing UK immigration status before their journey. This includes:

  • Tourists staying for up to six months
  • Individuals visiting family and friends
  • Business travellers
  • Short-term students
  • Individuals coming to the UK for up to three months on the Creative Worker visa concession
  • Passengers transiting through the UK

However, certain exceptions exist. Individuals will not require an ETA if they possess:

  • A British or Irish passport
  • Permission to live, work, or study in the UK
  • Already have a visa to enter the UK

3. The ETA Application Process

The ETA application can be initiated either via the dedicated UK ETA app or through the GOV.UK website. It is advisable to apply for the ETA before arranging any travel to the UK.

Each traveller must secure their own ETA, including young children and infants. However, applications can be made on behalf of others. The application fee is set at £10 per applicant.

The application process is designed to be expedient and efficient. Most applicants will receive a response within three working days. However, in some cases where additional checks are necessary, the processing time may be longer.

4. Arriving at the UK Border with an ETA

Once granted, the ETA remains valid for multiple entries over a span of two years or until the expiry of the passport used in the application, whichever occurs earlier.

Despite holding an ETA, entry into the UK is not guaranteed. Travellers will still have to go through passport control at the border. With the ETA being digitally linked to the passport, there is no need to produce a physical copy. However, travellers must ensure they carry the same passport used for the ETA application and that it remains valid throughout their stay in the UK.

5. Key Dates for the ETA Rollout

The ETA scheme will be introduced in a phased manner. The first phase will target Qatari nationals, who will need an ETA if they are travelling to the UK on or after 15 November 2023. They will be eligible to apply from 25 October 2023.

For nationals of Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, or the United Arab Emirates, an ETA will be required for travel to the UK on or after 22 February 2024. They can start applying from 1 February 2024.

Further expansion of the ETA scheme to include more nationalities will occur at later stages.

6. New Amendments to UK Immigration Rules

Alongside the ETA scheme, the UK Home Office has also announced a series of changes to the immigration rules. An official 66-page statement of changes, HC 1780, highlights the key modifications, including those related to the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) and ETA requirements.

The updates also introduce several new appendices into the Immigration Rules, such as Appendix Children and Appendix Returning Resident, it is claimed will provide clarity and consistency in the immigration process.

7. Implications of the ETA and Immigration Rule Changes

The introduction of the ETA scheme and the immigration rule changes will have significant impacts on travellers from Qatar and other specified countries. There are also changes to the EU Settlement Scheme.

8. Conclusion

The impending introduction of the Electronic Travel Authorisation scheme and the related immigration rule changes denote a major shift in the UK's border security and immigration policies. The ETA scheme has been criticised as bringing in an additional level of bureaucracy that will inconvenience travellers to the UK. Non-visa national travellers to the UK do not currently need to apply for any type of authorisation ahead of visiting the UK.

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