There will be no exemption from electronic travel authorizations for tourists visiting Northern Ireland via Ireland, a minister has confirmed.
Tory former minister Tim Loughton raised concerns about the potential ramifications of granting an Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA) exemption for tourists, arguing that it would undermine the “integrity of the whole” ETA scheme.
The scheme, which is similar to the visa waiver system used in the US, will see short-term non-visa visitors to the UK applying for an ETA and providing biometric data.
Responding to Mr Loughton, Northern Ireland minister Steve Baker made clear the Government does not intend to grant such an exemption and expressed his hope for developing a “consistent and coherent” communication strategy to ensure tourists know about their obligations.
Speaking during Northern Ireland questions in the Commons, Mr Loughton said: “Does he acknowledge that if an ETA (Electronic Travel Authorization) exemption was granted for tourists, or indeed people claiming to be tourists, traveling from the Republic of Ireland, it would undermine the integrity of the whole scheme?”
Mr Baker replied: “He is right, and that is the Government’s policy. However, we have closely engaged with not only the tourism sector, but also our friends in the Irish Government on this issue.
“And I hope that we will be able to work together to ensure that there is a consistent and coherent communication strategy to ensure that tourists know that they must register for an ETA, that they must continue to comply with the UK’s immigration requirements.”
The exchange comes after the Irish premier Leo Varadkar raised concerns in March about the implications of the new ETA on the tourist trade.
Irish citizens will not need an ETA to travel to Northern Ireland as they already have guaranteed free movement under the terms of the Common Travel Area.
The scheme as originally set out would have meant non-Irish EU citizens and other international passport holders, including those living permanently south of the border, would have had to apply for the visa waiver.
Earlier this year, the UK Government updated its plans and confirmed that non-Irish citizens living legally in the state will not need a waiver.