Out-Law News

UK and EU employers gearing up for new travel authorisation schemes

Shara Pledger tells HRNews about global mobility and the UK’s Electronic Travel Authorisation scheme


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  • Transcript

    The European Union is planning to introduce two separate but interconnected travel authorisation schemes that will affect non-EU citizens travelling to most EU countries, including for business-related reasons. The UK also has a scheme designed to facilitate the digitisation of the UK’s borders by the end of 2025 – the Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) scheme for visitors who do not already need a visa for short stays to the UK, or who do not already have a UK immigration status prior to travelling. We’ll take a look at all three schemes. 

    The EU’s Entry and Exit System (EES) Scheme is scheduled to start on 6 October 2024 and is an automated system for registering travellers from the UK and other non-EU countries each time they cross an EU external border. British travellers to Europe will need to submit fingerprints and facial biometrics which is likely to result in a sharp rise in the processing time at ports, rail terminals and airports. It will apply in all EU member states except Cyprus and Ireland, as well the EFTA states, Norway, Iceland, Switzerland, and Liechtenstein. It will apply to non-EU nationals travelling to a European country, either for short stays of up to 90 days within any 180-day period or on a short-stay visa. 

    The second EU scheme, which will come into force after EES, is the European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS) and is designed to covers short-term stays of up to 90 days within any 180-day period. This will be an entry requirement for non-EU nationals from visa-exempt countries, including the UK, and an added step before being able to travel to European countries. It is expected to start around six months after the EES has been in operation, with an additional six-months grace period allowed for travellers. Once operational, travellers will need to obtain an online permit in advance of travelling to the EU, alongside traveller’s passport. The application process will be online through a dedicated website, or app, and will be processed automatically in, probably, very quick time. The travel authorisation will be valid for a period of three years. 

    Third, is the UK’s Electronic Travel Authorisation which the Home Office plans to have fully up and running by the end of 2025. It will apply to all nationals who don’t currently need a visa to enter the country, so countries including the EU, US, Canada and Australia. It is already open for Qatari nationals and will cover other Gulf states and Jordan from February. More on that scheme in a moment.
    These various schemes will go some way to helping the move to greater mobility, facilitating employers’ ability to send their workers overseas to work remotely, a trend which is taking off globally and is popular with a number of our clients so let’s hear more about that. Shara Pledger is an immigration specialist and earlier she joined me by video-link from Manchester to discuss this idea of what is being described as ‘digital nomadism’:

    Shara Pledger: “The idea of global mobility, of course, isn't going anywhere and it will increasingly be important for organisations across all sectors to have the facility to send their workers overseas. What we've just seen in the UK immigration rules, so all of these not necessarily changes to do remote working but this kind of codification, if you like, of remote working is quite helpful but it's very much a baby step when you still compare it with some of our near, and also far, neighbours around the world in terms of what they will permit for remote workers, digital nomads, etcetera to be within their jurisdictions. What we also see, however, in many, many locations around the world is a similar level of concern, and a greater desire for control, in relation to net migration and so it's very common to see other jurisdictions that are approaching, if not the same rules as we're approaching adopting, but very much the same kind of approach so, perhaps slightly pulling back from how readily available it is for individuals to easily access a visa to go work in this jurisdictions. Now, that's obviously not the case for everywhere, there are plenty of locations around the world that are very welcoming of both long-term and short-term workers, but it is quite an interesting time, politically, in a lot of different jurisdictions. As I say, that can be quite a good reflection, actually, in terms of what's happening in the UK that we're not necessarily being out of step with some of our neighbours.”

    Joe Glavina: “You’ve talked previously about how clients are keen to explore new ways to offer flexibility to their staff to help with recruitment and retention. Tell me about that.”

    Shara Pledger: “There will always be a big incentive for organisations to offer those opportunities to their workforce but what we've definitely seen within the last 12 months is probably a greater degree of recognition, specifically, of what it's meant to be outside of European Union, so not having that freedom of movement within mainland Europe any longer but also, how things have developed sort of post-COVID, as well. I think it's quite easy, everybody sort of slotted back into things after lock-down etcetera and sort of thinking that things got back to normal but, obviously, they very much haven’t in certain areas and one of those is very much relating to travel. A lot of organisations and now far happier to arrange international conferences, meetings, whatever they happen to be, in a remote and digital format rather than necessarily sending people all around the world and so I think that while we do still receive a lot of inquiries, and we have a lot of conversations with clients in relation to how they might be able to facilitate that global mobility where it's needed, there is obviously a reaction of being able to save cost, and save time and other resources, where you're now able to have those conversations online.”

    Joe Glavina: “So, finally Shara, what’s your key message to viewers?”

    Shara Pledger: “It's really important that organisations across all sectors stay up to date with what's happening with our process of digitization in the UK. So, at the moment we have been operating what was called the electronic visa waiver, and that is now slowly being replaced by Electronic Travel Authorisation. Now, in practical terms, those things look quite different. It's still an online application, it's basically a ‘visa-application-lite’ if you like, so it's a shorter application form, fewer criteria to satisfy, but what it does mean is that it is moving towards this approach of far, far more people needing to have that pre-clearance to enter the UK and at the moment the visa waiver, and now the new Travel Authorisation, has been focused on certain countries who have used both schemes and we're sort of rolling that out increasingly over the course of the early months of this year, but what we'll see probably towards the end of this year, maybe into 2025, is a much wider net of the countries that are included in that electronic Travel Authorisation scheme and this will include countries that up until now have not needed to have any prior clearance to come to the UK for visits. So nationals of the European Union, nationals of Australia, America, Canada, New Zealand, lots and lots of jurisdictions that previously have just arrived at the border without any pre-clearance will need to go through this process. So, it is definitely advisable that organisations remain up to date with what is happening with both the ETA scheme but also some of the other processes that we're bringing in about checks at border, what migrant documents will look like in the UK, all of these things are related and there will be a lot of progress on those during 2024.”

    The Home Office has this month published a useful factsheet providing the latest details on the ETA scheme. It confirms an ETA will costs £10, will permit multiple journeys and is valid for two years or until the holder’s passport expires – whichever is sooner. We’ve put a link to that factsheet in the transcript of this programme for you.

    - Link to UK government factsheet on the ETA scheme


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