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UK’s travel scheme plans ‘unworkable on island of Ireland’, say UK/Irish lawmakers

Added 24-Oct-2023

A cross-party group of lawmakers from the UK and Ireland have branded the UK Government’s introduction of a new travel scheme to the UK as ‘unworkable on the island of Ireland’. 

See the full report 'Protecting the Common Travel Area' here.

Visitor exemption  

Plans for a new Electronic Travel Authorisation would require people who are not legally resident in Ireland to register before travelling to the UK. This could provide a barrier to entry for Northern Ireland’s 1 million tourists coming from abroad each year, 70% of whom arrive in Ireland first. Around half are day-trippers. 

The report on the Common Travel Area, published today by the Sovereign Affairs Committee of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, calls on the UK government to pause progress on the ETA’s introduction for NI visitors coming through Ireland, and if a full exemption is not possible, to extend an exemption for short-stay holidaymakers for up to a week.

Unblocking healthcare services

Differences between the UK and Irish visa regimes are already causing problems for visa nationals, for professionals operating both sides of the border, and for shared health services, the report said.

The Committee heard during its inquiry of one incident where some ambulances from Northern Ireland had been unable to respond to the 2022 Cresslough explosion, because some paramedics did not have the necessary visas to enter Ireland. 

Lawmakers called on the Irish and UK Governments to consider joint work visas that would allow professionals, like health sector workers, to operate freely on both sides of the border. Their report also called for an exemption for migrants who are permanently resident in either Ireland or the UK from the requirement to obtain a visa for short visits to either jurisdiction.

Committee Chair Senator Emer Currie said, “The Common Travel Area underpins our all-island health and tourism strategies, and life on our island as we know it."

“The Electronic Travel Authorisation Scheme in its current form will undermine it, weigh down and damage tourism to Northern Ireland and the North-West of Ireland.”

“As it stands, the UK and Ireland’s diverging visa systems already leave some exposed to an invisible border. Not only does this put restrictions on their movement but blocks access to and the delivery of critical cross-border services. This must be addressed.”

“We believe our recommendations can enable the smooth operation of the Common Travel Area and help uphold long-standing values and principles that predate the Belfast Good Friday Agreement – freedom of movement and reciprocal rights across our islands – which are vital for citizens on a day-to-day basis.” 

For more on BIPA, see here.

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