Home Secretary Priti Patel has unveiled a digital visa system for the UK that closely resembles the Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) system currently in place in the US.
According to Patel, the new system will facilitate accurate calculations of the numbers of people entering and exiting the country.
Under the new system, persons travelling to the UK without a valid visa will need to apply for an ‘Electronic Travel Authorisation’ (ETA) document. This, the Home Secretary states, will automatically prove their eligibility to enter the UK in advance of their arrival.
The Home Office anticipates around 30 million ETA applications to be submitted each year. The plans to ‘digitise’ the border form part of the Home Secretary’s deeply controversial ‘New Plan on Immigration’, which is seen as a root and branch restructuring of the UK immigration system.
Incorrect migration data
The introduction of the new-digital only approach to UK visas follows the release of data revealing that long-held estimates of migration data are significantly wrong.
With the size of the UK’s European population thought to total 3 million, it was anticipated that 3 million applications for EU Settled Status would be submitted via the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS). However, by the end of April, the scheme had received more than 5.4 million applications, with around 4.9 million of this number granted.
Further to this, government figures reveal that in the year to June 2019, the UK saw 144.7 million passenger arrivals, a number that includes returning UK residents. Approximately 40 million were from the European Economic Area (EEA) and Switzerland, with persons from elsewhere numbering 20 million.
Priti Patel said: “Our new fully digital border will provide the ability to count people in and out of the country, giving us control over who comes to the UK.”
Asylum system failings
As well as formally announcing the restructuring of the UK immigration system, the Home Secretary has continually highlighted ‘failings’ in the UK asylum system, and has stressed the need to focus efforts on tackling people smugglers.
Only recently Patel was present on a police operation in which suspected leaders of a gang that used minicabs and lorries for human trafficking purposes were arrested.
However, the New Plan On Immigration has been the subject of intense criticism from migrants’ rights organisations, women’s rights groups and immigration lawyers among others.
The United Nations has denounced the proposals, labelling them as vague and unworkable, and has asserted that they risk damaging the UK’s reputation worldwide.
EU countries reject proposals
EU countries have already stated that they will reject any bilateral agreements aimed at facilitating the removal of refugees from the UK.
Having said this, the ‘New Plan on Immigration’ lays out proposals for simplifying the Skilled Worker Visa application process and re-organising the Sponsor Licence process, the latter being the means by which UK employers are able to recruit overseas staff. It is hoped that these changes will make it considerably easier for skilled people to relocate to the UK for work purposes.
A report published by The Guardian states that the Home Office intends for the UK visa system to be fully digitised by 2025.
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