Professor Thom Brooks, Professor of Law and Government, Durham Law School, Durham University  Written evidence (EBM0001)


I address most of the questions in this Call for Evidence:

1.           What is the purpose of the UK’s new Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA)? How does the introduction of the ETA fit into the Government’s longer-term strategy for digital borders?

This programme launched in November 2023 – first for Qatar nationals. The Government announcement claimed it offered ‘cheaper and smoother travel’.[1] The ETA was cheaper for Qatar nationals at one-third the cost of an Electronic Visa Waiver (EVW), which were £10 each. The ETA offers unlimited visits over a 2-year period (or until the holder’s passport expires – whichever comes first). The same arrangement has been extended to Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, UAE and Saudi Arabia nationals from 22 February 2024.

The ETA appears to fit within the Government’s longer-term strategy for digital borders. ETA applicants must provide biomedical and biographic information – providing more information about new arrivals where this information is ‘digitally linked’ to an applicant’s passport.[2]

I am supportive of ETA-like systems generally modelled on the United States’ ESTA progrannme,[3] as I have written about in my Fabian Society pamphlet New Arrivals.[4] There are several key benefits, including (a) improved data about new arrivals and (b) this information allows for improved screening of new arrivals prior to arrival. It would be ideal if this information might supplement advanced passenger information and other datasets feeding into net migration estimates.

As of yet, it is unclear how ETAs might be used in improving security screening in advance of passenger arrivals although it is clear they could be. Moreover, it is unclear how ETAs might help improve our datasets giving a more accurate snapshot of who is entering and exiting the UK.


2.           Has the Government addressed concerns about the potential impact of the ETA on the Common Travel Area?

No. It is unclear how, when or where any ETA checks might be conducted relating to individuals who arrive into a non-UK part of the Common Travel Area and enter the UK.

The Government has said that no ‘routine’ checks will be made.[5] But it is unclear when any checks will be made.

It is sometimes said that no checks happen within the CTA. However, anyone arriving into any Republic of Ireland airport is subject to a border check on entry. As non-UK citizen visitors experience, they are checked and have passports stamped arriving into ROI, but not checked (nor passports stamped) on arrival into the UK.

I note the current guidance is ETA only required from anyone travelling from ROI who is 16 years or older and if required by a UK official.[6] This raises questions about why not required for all – and at all times?

3.           How much awareness is there of the UK’s system and whose responsibility is it to raise awareness? What would be the most effective way to raise awareness?

I would informally estimate little or no awareness, especially beyond the small number of countries currently impacted.

This is ultimately a responsibility for the Home Secretary, although might be delegated to one of the immigration-related ministers. The Government has said it will deliver a clear communications strategy.[7] However, there seems no clear evidence of this.

4.           How can small ports and airports adjust to the ETA requirements?

I cannot comment on any specific operational details. But it might be said that the ETA requirements are not mandatory for the overwhelming majority of passengers through any port or airport irrespective of size. I hope that reassurances can be made to the Committee that any sized port or airport is suitably prepared for a requirement demanded of only a comparable few.

5.           Is the UK prepared for the launch of the EU’s Entry/Exit System (EES) and the Electronic Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS)?

No. The Government claims it is ‘engaging’ to help ‘mitigate…impacts’.[8] But I have not seen any details forthcoming on how. To note we may not see ETIAS in force until spring 2025, but the UK already has piloted ETA with Qatar and a few other countries. One issue of concern is that the UK and EU systems are not fully compatible. This is perhaps inevitable to some degree, but one drawback could be delays at the border.


11 March 2024





[3] On USA’s ESTA,

[4] pp. 39—40.