An electronic travel authorisation (ETA) will soon be required to enter the UK as a visitor or to transit, for those who would not ordinarily require a visa in advance of travel to the UK.

The UK Home Office has stated that the introduction of the requirement by means of the ETA will improve border security (since advance screening will prevent those who pose a threat from seeking to travel to the UK) as well as improving efficient arrival to the UK for genuine visitors. Securing an ETA will either be by application online (via gov.uk website) or via the ETA app. In time, everyone, including children and babies, who enter or transits the UK, will require an ETA which must be secured and approved in advance of travel. The cost is £10 per applicant. Those with British or Irish nationality or those who already have leave to enter the UK in certain categories, will not require an ETA.

Once granted, the ETA is valid for 2 years or until the passport used to secure the ETA expires (whatever is sooner).

The ETA grants permission to travel to the UK and it will need to be shown before an individual boards their flight. However it does not guarantee entry to the UK; individuals must still pass through border control.

The UK Home Office is rolling out the ETA requirements in date stages, beginning with certain nationalities. From 15 November 2023, nationals of Qatar who are seeking entry to the UK as visitors or to transit, must apply in advance for an ETA. From 22 February 2024, nationals of Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates will need to comply with the same requirement.

More nationalities will follow as the scheme is expanded.

In Europe, it is expected that a similar scheme, the European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS), will be launched in mid-2025. This will require those who are not EEA nationals or citizens or with an otherwise right to live and work in an EEA country, to apply in advance for authorisation, to enter a participating EEA country.

Once launched, the above schemes will further impact business travel and mobility for UK and EEA employers. Whilst it should not impact genuine business travellers who are entering the UK as visitors, it adds further administration and cost at a time when immigration routes into the UK are already complex and the immigration fees are some of the highest in the world. In the immediate term, UK employers with regular business visitors from the above-named countries, will need to ensure that global mobility policies are updated to reference the new ETA requirements to ensure this is secured sufficiently in advance of travel.

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