As part of the new points-based system to take effect in January 2021, changes will be made to the entry process to both enhance security and create a fully digital experience for travelers arriving in the UK.
One of the main changes is the introduction of a “permission to travel” requirement for all travelers to the UK, which will be phased in through 2025. Under the new program, everyone wishing to travel to the UK, except British and Irish nationals, will need to have some form of prior permission to travel. For visa-exempt nationals entering as visitors or to transit through the UK, this will be an Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA).
The ETA system will involve a simple online application process that will enable the UK government to conduct security checks and other screening steps to determine whether ETA applicants should be allowed to travel to the UK. The approved ETA together with a valid passport will serve as the foreign national’s permission to travel. Until the ETA requirement takes effect, visa-exempt nationals can apply for leave to enter as a visitor when they arrive at the UK border.
Once the Brexit transition period ends at the end of this year, the UK government plans to allow EU and Swiss nationals to visit the UK without a visa. However, they will need to present a passport upon arrival instead of a national ID card, and they will need an ETA like all other visa-exempt visitors once the ETA requirement is implemented.
Most visitors will be able to stay in the UK for up to six months and enter multiple times during that period. However, they will not be eligible to work or receive public funds, or to effectively reside in the UK by way of long-term or repeat visits.