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Friday, October 22, 2021
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U.K.’s New Permit-Based Border System Aims to Identify Threats Before They Reach the Country

The U.K. says its new post-Brexit border and immigration scheme, launched May 24, will enhance security by requiring visitors to apply for an electronic permit. The Electronic Travel Authorisation or ETA will be needed by all visitors without a visa or immigration status, even if they are traveling to the U.K. for a short stay or changing planes in the country. Visas will be required for longer stays and long term immigration status will be decided via a points based system.

Launching the new system, the Home Office said it would increase fairness and efficacy, deter illegal entry, and remove individuals more easily. It aims to crack down on organized human smuggling and trafficking networks that have become rife in recent years.

In essence, the ETA scheme is part of a wider universal ‘permission to travel’ requirement. This means everyone wishing to travel to the U.K. (except British and Irish citizens) will need to seek permission in advance of travel. Permission to travel will need to be checked and confirmed by carriers prior to boarding. As fewer permissions will be in a physical format, the U.K. will support carriers using established connections between their systems and the British government’s to identify whether individuals have permission to travel. The U.K. will work with air carriers in the first instance to build on the existing use of interactive Advance Passenger Information to confirm permission to travel prior to check-in and boarding. It will also engage with maritime and international rail carriers to develop its messaging capabilities with them. The U.K. will begin work with selected air carriers for those passengers who currently travel with an Electronic Visa Waiver with a view to begin initial testing by autumn 2021.

The ETA scheme will allow security checks to be conducted and more informed decisions, as to whether individuals should be granted permission to travel to the U.K., to be taken at an earlier stage in advance of travel. Moreover, the U.K. aims to replace the vignette which is currently manually inserted into British passports or travel documents with a digital status record.

During 2021, the U.K. will end the use of European Economic Area (EEA) ID cards to cross the border (only passports will be allowed) and applying tougher U.K. criminality rules.  From October 1, 2021 it will not be possible to enter the U.K. using an EU, EEA or Swiss national ID card, except where the holder has applied to the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) by 30 June 2021 or otherwise has protected rights under the Citizens’ Rights Agreements. EU, other EEA and Swiss citizens who have applied to the EUSS by 30 June 2021 or whose rights are otherwise protected under the Citizens’ Rights Agreements (such as frontier workers) will continue to be able to use their national identity cards to enter the U.K. until at least 31 December 2025. The U.K. will also continue to accept Irish passport cards and Gibraltar national identity cards issued to British citizens for travel to the country but passports are encouraged.

The U.K. is also rolling out new technology (known as Border Crossing BX) at the border, designed to improve the quality and timeliness of information available at the primary control points (PCP) for Border Force officers. This technology has been successfully piloted and is now being rolled out nationally. By summer 2021 all Border Force staff will have the ability, if required, to check at the PCP whether an individual has applied for or been granted status under the EU Settlement Scheme, should they need to do so. The BX capability will be extended to the e-gates as they are upgraded during 2021. This modernized system will also bolster the U.K.’s networks with partner agencies when one of their persons of interest is encountered at the border.

Enhanced working between frontline Border Force officers, immigration decision makers and police, will enable law enforcement information to be accessed at the border.  Investment in border staff, processes, biometrics and technology will result in a border that operates with a fully digital end-to-end customer journey, improving both security and the passage of legitimate travelers through the border. The Home Office said on May 24 that it is already engaging with academia and technology suppliers to work on creating innovative solutions for the U.K. border. It is also working to develop a uniform set of border standards in relation to both technology and infrastructure.

The new system will also lay the groundwork for the full transformation of the border and immigration system in the coming years, which will result in a fully digital and more automated experience with the U.K. knowing more about the people traveling to the country before they start their journey.

Read the complete Border and Immigration Plan at the U.K. government portal

Kylie Bielby
Kylie Bielby has more than 20 years' experience in reporting and editing a wide range of security topics, covering geopolitical and policy analysis to international and country-specific trends and events. Before joining GTSC's Homeland Security Today staff, she was an editor and contributor for Jane's, and a columnist and managing editor for security and counter-terror publications.

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