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Computer says No - my prediction of UK border chaos on Wednesday 1 January 2025

UK visas are due to be completely digital by 31 December 2024, in just 8 months’ time. All Biometric Residence Permits (a credit card style ID card) have an expiry date of no later than 31 December 2024. Despite this, the UK Home Office have yet to provide clear instructions to this large amount of people on how they can convert their paper visa to a digital e-visa. It is estimated that there are up to 4 million people with UK paper-based visas. The UK Home Office has started to send mass emails to invite people to convert to a digital visa using a tailor made weblink, but these emails are generic and often go to the legal representative. The emails do not contain the name of the visa-holder so it is impossible to allocate it correctly. There is currently no way for people with old-style visa stickers in their passport to convert to an e-visa. 

On top of this, the UK Home Office is rolling out the ‘Electronic Travel Authorisation’ (ETA), requiring visitors to the UK to obtain pre-arrival permission to travel for nationalities that do not currently need to apply for permission to enter the UK before they reach the UK border, for example EU or US nationals. This is being introduced gradually and is due to be fully implemented by 2025. It will (at some unknown date) be required for EU and US nationals visiting and transiting in the UK before boarding. Failure to have the correct permission is likely to lead to a missed flight, train or boat to the UK. 

The UK has a chequered past with IT systems. Introducing such a large-scale change without providing clear instructions on how to obtain digital status and having a hard deadline of New Years Eve leads me to the inevitable conclusion that Wednesday 1 January 2025 is not a good day to come to the UK, unless you like queues. 

UK immigration law is constantly changing. It is important to take timely legal advice to reduce the risk of friction at the border and to ensure compliance with the UK immigration rules. If you have any immigration questions, please contact Paul McCarthy

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