What is an ETA?

An Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) scheme has been launched as part of the UK government’s plans to strengthen the UK border through digitisation. The scheme will apply to most visitors to the UK who do not need a visa for stays of less than six months, and who do not have any other immigration status prior to travelling. The idea is rooted in the concept of Universal Permission to Travel (UPT) – the requirement that most individuals must seek approval in advance of travel to the UK. And once an ETA is granted, it is valid for 2 years or when the passport expires, whichever is sooner. This approach will bring the UK in line with similar schemes already in place in the USA, Canada, and Australia (soon to be introduced in Schengen Member States).

Who needs one?

It has been determined the cost for each ETA visa will be £10 and the roll out of the ETA scheme will begin with nationals of Qatar who can apply for an ETA from 25 October 2023 for entries to the UK on or after 15 November 2023, and nationals of Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, United Arab Emirates or Saudi Arabia can apply from 1 February 2023 (who intend to travel to the UK on or after 22 February 2024). This is because these are non-visa countries with relatively small populations (save for Saudi Arabia, although the number of people who travel to the UK is comparatively small). Applicants will usually get a decision within 3 working days, but they may get a quicker decision, although the Gov.UK website says that it could take longer if they need to make further checks. It is also important to note that non-visa national infants and children must have their own ETA – the requirements are applicable to all ages.

What is the Home Office guidance?

The Home Office guidance provides information where there may be adverse information regarding an applicant’s suitability for an ETA. This is because Home Office caseworkers will need to consider any application that is to be refused or rejected, as those elements cannot be automated.
There are an number of requirements ETA applicants will need to comply with, including:

  • providing a facial biometric image and a valid passport; and
  • not meeting any of the grounds for refusal (i.e., previous immigration law breaches, deception in a current or previous ETA application, or a conviction of a criminal offence in the UK or overseas for which the applicant has received a custodial sentence of 12 months or more, unless more than 12 months have passed since the date of conviction).

The application form will ask for specific relevant information about criminal convictions. Parking offences or parking misdemeanours will not be considered grounds for refusal and an application should not be refused solely on this basis.

The guidance confirms that applications for an ETA cannot be withdrawn or amended. There is no right of review or appeal for a decision to reject or refuse an application. Applicants who have been granted an ETA through the fully automated process have one calendar month to request a review.

What should I do if an ETA is refused?

If an ETA is refused, an application for a visitor visa will be required. Travellers needs to be mindful that this may create timing issues; after Brexit and the invasion of Ukraine, the UK is already experiencing severe visa processing backlogs for some categories. Similarly, an ETA can be refused on criminality grounds and where there are previous breaches of UK immigration rules. This does not mean someone applying for a visitor visa instead will be refused though, they will just need to apply through that route. Another thing to be mindful of is duration of visit. If someone wants to come to the UK for longer than 6 months, it won’t be an ETA application, they will need to apply for a visa.

What’s next for the ETA scheme?

Whilst this first step is launching Autumn 2023, the extension of ETA requirements to all other nationalities (including EU nationals) is expected to be rolled out in two further phases and completed by Autumn 2024. British and Irish citizens will not require an ETA.

Where can I find out more information?

We will keep you updated with the progress of the scheme, but if you have any questions, please do get in touch with our Immigration team.