UK pushes ahead with plan to charge EU citizens to visit – POLITICO



LONDON — The British government confirmed plans to charge EU citizens and other foreign nationals to visit, as part of a wider reform aimed at making the border more secure.

Home Secretary Priti Patel said Monday that her department will pass legislation to introduce a new Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) that she argued will help the government track with more accuracy the number of people entering and leaving the U.K. It will apply to visitors without a visa or immigration status, except British and Irish citizens.

Delivering a speech on the government’s new immigration plan, Patel pointed out that many other countries already have systems like the ETA, but declined to clarify how much it would cost visitors.

The scheme will mirror the American Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), which has a cost of $14 per traveller. The EU is also introducing a similar program, known as the European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS), which is due to launch from 2022 and will apply to U.K. citizens with an anticipated fee of €7.

“We will have greater accuracy on numbers, we will be able to count in and count out who is in our country. We will not have to work around the hypotheticals around net migration targets or numbers or things of that nature, and even speculate whether numbers will go up or down,” Patel said.

The plan to introduce an ETA to require Europeans to submit to electronic clearance procedures before entering the U.K. was first outlined in the government’s immigration white paper, published December 2018, restated in December 2019 ahead of the last general election and again in July 2020.

Visitors will have to fill an online form before traveling to the U.K., which will allow the Home Office to conduct security checks and to take decisions as to whether someone should be allowed to enter the country at an earlier stage.

The department said carriers will have to check these online permissions prior to boarding, and will begin work with selected flight companies for those passengers who currently travel with an Electronic Visa Waiver with the aim of launching a pilot by this fall.

The ETA is expected to come into force by 2025, but according to Salma Shah, a former special adviser to Sajid Javid when he was home secretary, “we are probably going to see a lot more … changes before we see a real settled immigration pattern and practicalities around how we deliver the immigration system.”

Digital changes at the border are just one element of the immigration law reforms outlined in Patel’s speech Monday. The home secretary restated plans to speed up the removal of undocumented migrants and foreign national offenders, and to crack down on people smugglers, who will face 14 years in prison, the maximum sentence for this crime. Patel also vowed to push ahead with a wholesale reform of the asylum system, which she said had already cost U.K. taxpayers £1 billion this year.

Patel meanwhile confirmed plans to give the home secretary power to grant British citizenship in “compelling and exceptional circumstances when someone has suffered historical injustices beyond their control,” and to ban the use of “insecure” European national identity cards at the border from October.

She insisted the aim of the reform package is to put security and innovation at the heart of Britain’s post-Brexit immigration policy, and rejected claims Britain is withdrawing from the world.

“The simple reality is: It is not possible for everyone who wants to come and live here to do so,” she said. “The concept of open borders is a flawed one. It would not be fair to the people of this country whose taxes fund public services and who have made it clear that they want control.”

Patel refused to say whether these reforms will lead to a decrease in net migration to the U.K., a policy priority of previous Conservative governments.



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