As part of the UK’s ‘Permission to Travel Scheme’ the UK will start to roll- out its system for the issuance of ‘Electronic Travel Authorisation’ (“ETA”) for visa-exempt travellers, looking to visit the UK, starting from 2023. Full operations should be live by the end of Q3 of 2023.

For those familiar with the current U.S. ESTA system, it is anticipated that this scheme will operate in a similar fashion.

It is worth noting that the European Union is expected to launch a similar scheme known as European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS) in 2023.

Is the ETA a visa?

In short no. It is a digital travel authorisation allowing a non-visa national to board a carrier to travel to the UK.

The aim of this scheme is to strengthen security checks on travellers who can at present travel visa-free to the UK to visit.

What will the roll out look like?

It has been confirmed by the Home Office that the first phase will be private beta testing (Q1). It is anticipated that the second phase will apply to nationals from Qatar, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Oman, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia (starting late Q1 to early Q3). The final phase will be for the scheme to apply to the rest of the world (late Q2 onwards).

We will publish additional information as it becomes available.

Who will need apply for an ETA?

You will need to apply if you are a non-visa national visiting the UK i.e. a citizen of a country that does not require a visa to visit the UK. For example, US, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and EEA member states to name a few.

It is worth nothing that individuals who hold immigration permission within the United Kingdom will be exempt, for instance those who hold a Skilled Worker visa as well as those with UK and Irish passports.

Visa nationals will not need to apply for an ETA since they will have already completed a visa application before travelling to the UK. A full list of the visa national countries can be found here. Examples include India, South Africa, and China.

What is the process of applying?

Applicants will need to give their biographic, biometric and contact details, and answer a ‘short set of suitability questions’ online. The information will be checked against Home Office systems, and a decision made as to whether the person has permission to travel to the UK. Initial information suggests that the process of completing the application should be quick (around 15 minutes) and most decision should be available within 78 hours.

The Home Office are also planning to introduce a ‘how to’ video to help users applying for an ETA.

Like the ESTA the application needs to be completed and approved before travelling to visit the United Kingdom.

Will there be a fee?

The exact cost is yet to be announced but it is anticipated that will be competitive with other similar schemes in place in other jurisdictions. For example, the ESTA is currently $21 dollars


Nothing has yet been published in relation to the validity of the ETA.

As an employer what steps should you be taking?

As an employer you will need to ensure you are planning ahead in light of these upcoming changes.

If an employee will be travelling to the UK for a business trip and will be caught by these new provisions, once the system is implemented, it will be important to ensure the individual applies for and is granted an ETA before travelling to the United Kingdom.

Further guidance is yet to be published around what will happen if an application for an ETA is refused, however, if it follows the same position as the US ESTA, we anticipate an individual may then need to formally apply for a visit visa before being able to travel to the UK (if there were no mistakes in the original application).

Such a requirement would obviously add to timescales and costs. It is worth noting that the current standard processing time for a visitor visa is currently 6 weeks (this is subject to change). Although for an additional cost priority service may be available in some countries.

It will be worth having conversations with your employees early to see if there is anything that may flag up in the application, such as previous criminal convictions, which we anticipate could

lead to the ETA being refused. You can then plan accordingly in case a visitor visa is needed. Hopefully further guidance around the process to follow in this instance will be published in due course.

To put this into context in 2021 it was estimated that nearly one in three US adults had a criminal conviction. The new changes could mean that such individuals are redirected to apply for a visitor visa prior to travelling to the UK, depending on the severity of the conviction. This will be a significant shift in process for such individuals.

It will also be important to remind employees that this isn’t a visa and ensure they are familiar with the activities they are able to carry out in the UK when entering as a business visitor, so they do not carry out any prohibited activities.

Any initial concerns with this new system?

Visa applications in general are facing some of the longest processing times we have seen. It is clear that the Home Office are currently struggling to deal with the volume of applications. There are widespread concerns as to whether the Home Office has the manpower to deal with an increased number of visitor applications if it is the case that those who are refused an ETA need to apply for a visitor visa. Further, it is possible the introduction of this system will lead to further delays in processing times for existing categories of visas.

Written by

Joanne Hennessy

Joanne Hennessy

Date published

06 December 2022



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