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Lords Committee questions UK’s preparedness for forthcoming border changes

21 May 2024

The Justice and Home Affairs Committee today publishes a letter to the Minister of State for Legal Migration and the Border, Tom Pursglove MP, after conducting an inquiry into electronic border management systems. The Committee looked at the introduction and rollout of the UK’s Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) as well as the upcoming launch of two new schemes by the EU, the Entry/Exit System (EES) and the Electronic Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS).

The Letter

The Justice and Home Affairs Committee conducted an inquiry into electronic border management systems. The Committee writes that unless the Government acts quickly, there could be major travel disruption as the UK continues its rollout of the Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) alongside the imminent launch of the Entry/Exit System (EES) and Electronic Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS) by the EU. The Committee also concludes that public confidence in the UK’s border management could be undermined by a pace of change which is too swift and by a potentially uncoordinated approach to implementation.

The Committee concludes:

  • There is limited public awareness about the forthcoming changes at the border.
  • The timetable for the implementation of changes at the border is extremely ambitious. There is a lack of coordination with the EU on the launch of its schemes, with challenges and delays likely to arise if the rollout of the ETA for EU citizens clashes with the launch of the EES.
  • The Committee questions how useful the ETA will be in improving border security. There are legitimate concerns about the loss of real time access to a crucial EU database and about the reliability of data provided by some countries. Questions asked in the ETA application need to be expanded to capture more information about each traveller.
  • The justification for requiring transit passengers to have an ETA is unclear despite its potential to lead many travellers to choose alternative hub airports for their journey instead of Heathrow.
  • The Committee is concerned about the operation of ETA in the Common Travel Area (CTA), and in particular relating to cross-border tourism in Northern Ireland. The committee urges the Government to work on a solution to clarify the position of short-stay visitors coming from the Republic of Ireland to Northern Ireland.
  • The appointment of an Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration should happen as quickly as possible, and the ETA should be a priority for inspection.

Chair's comments

Lord Foster of Bath, Chair of the Justice and Home Affairs Committee said:

“We support the principle behind ETA in particular the advanced collection of more information about short-stay visitors who are nationals of non-visa countries. Equivalent schemes are now well embedded in the border management systems of other countries.”

“However, we question whether the ETA can live up to its original objectives not least because of uncertainties about the quality of available data about visitors.

“We are concerned about the pace of change given the current inadequacies in the information being made, the potential disruption if the ETA for EU citizens and the EU’s own EES are introduced at the same time, and the lack of time to make changes in the light of experience from early stages of the rollout process.”

“We are not convinced that transit passengers should require an ETA, not least because of the significant economic impact it will have on Heathrow.”

“The pace of change could undermine public confidence in border management. The Government, Border Force and the public need to be ready and these changes need to be communicated as a priority. We have seen major disruption at Dover and Kent when there are delays at the border, and long queues at airports when systems are down. Planning for a gradual and well co-ordinated implementation of the new schemes is vital to ensure similar chaos at our borders is avoided.”

Further information

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