Every traveler to the UK will be subject to a US-style criminal check before arrival by the end of next year, the Home Office has announced.
All foreign visitors, including those from EU countries, will be forced to apply for permission to enter the UK under the new system of electronic travel authorizations (ETAs).
Travelers must submit biographical, biometric, and contact information and answer questions about their plans before being automatically checked against watchlists and criminal databases.
The applications of those who have previously committed crimes will be reviewed to decide whether they should be allowed entry.
It means the Home Office can bar visitors if they have been sentenced to more than a year in prison, are persistent offenders, pose a risk of serious harm or if it is not conducive to the public interest.
‘Strengthen the border’
Visitors from Qatar can be the first to apply for an ETA from October. Those from Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman and the United Arab Emirates – which, like Qatar, are members of the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) – as well as Jordan, can apply from February 2024.
The rest of the world will follow at the end of 2024, including Europe and the US.
ETAs cost visitors between £10 and £20 – similar prices to other countries – and do not need to be renewed for the next two years. This replaces visas for travelers from countries.
Robert Jenrick, the immigration minister, said: “Strengthening our border remains one of the government’s top priorities. ETAs will improve our border security by increasing our knowledge of those who want to come to the UK and preventing the arrival of those who pose a threat.
“It will also improve travel for legitimate visitors, with those visiting Gulf Cooperation Council states being among the first to benefit.”
Old system needs replacing
The new scheme will completely replace the current Electronic Visa Waiver Scheme, which requires visitors from GCC states to the UK to pay a higher fee for a single-use visit.
Airlines will have to verify that passengers have permission to travel before boarding, as will the US’s Esta (Electronic System of Travel Authorization), which was introduced after the 9/11 attacks.
On arrival at the UK border, the traveler must confirm their identity with the Border Force to obtain permission to enter the UK.
By 2025, ETA visitors entering the UK are expected to be able to use electronic gates currently restricted to UK passport holders and nationals of Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea and the US.
This is part of a proposal to revolutionize the way immigration controls are conducted by introducing contactless digital borders, initially as a pilot project over the next two years.
Trials are underway on the technology that will allow some passengers to enter the UK and undergo automated border checks without going through an electronic gate or talking to a Border Guard officer. The first trials will be carried out within two years.