Wednesday, March 29th 2017 saw Theresa May, PM for the United Kingdom, begin the historical process that marks the exit of Britain from the EU, popularly known as Brexit. By claiming Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, Great Britain have chosen to withdraw their membership of the European Union.
They will now begin a 2-year process of negotiating the terms of said withdrawal. At this moment many aspects of Brexit are still unclear, including those for travelers from and to the UK.
Traveling could become more complicated for British nationals as the UK Government spends the next two years discussing new terms and agreements with other countries’ governments with the intention of providing the best possible solution to a range of different issues affecting British citizens. Among the various matters to be discussed is the idea of what British citizens will need to present when traveling to the US or Europe. Until now there has been no need to obtain permission to travel to the free-roam Schengen area in Europe – something which is soon to change according to the ETIAS proposal in 2016. ETIAS is the name for a new European travel authorization system allowing foreign nations from a number of eligible countries entry into Europe without a visa. The ETIAS scheme is being developed in order to heighten security procedures and improve border and customs operations.
At the moment much of the legislation surrounding travel policies and travel-related consumer rights for British citizens is governed by the European Union. This means that the UK may now have to introduce new regulations which could lead to amendments in the current rules. However, one aspect that will not change is Britain’s participation in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) and the situation for the British traveling to the US which includes the Electronic System of Travel Authorization (ESTA).
The VWP is a Visa Waiver Program developed to facilitate travel for US and European citizens between the USA and Europe, while the ESTA is the name given to the application for permission to travel to the US for citizens from eligible countries.
Although it is likely that in general British travel patterns will adapt to the UK’s new circumstances and perhaps there will be other visa changes, we can be sure that the ESTA for UK citizens remains valid, at least for now. As the VWP is not subject to EU membership, there are no possible Brexit effects in the visa waiver program and therefore UK citizens will continue to apply as normal for the ESTA.
During the Brexit reign, the GPB has been at its lowest for 31 years and although it is slowly recovering, the difference is clearly noticeable compared to the conversion rate between the Pound and the US Dollar prior to Brexit. Thus, it is inevitable that this financial issue will be a factor in the future of travel between the two countries.
With the weakening of the pound, the cost of vacationing for American citizens in the UK and Europe has dropped and we will therefore see a rise in flights to the old continent, while vice versa may be negatively affected. This means that if vacations in the US have become more expensive for British and European citizens the number of those European and UK nationals applying for the ESTA will also decline.
The price of other factors to be considered when visiting a different country such as accommodation, food, transport, attractions etc. will also be less affordable for UK citizens and even Europeans after Brexit therefore this may reflect on the number of ESTA for UK citizens> applications submitted.
This may be an initial shock for the economy but given that, according to the US Department of Commerce, UK visitors accounted for $4.6 billion of the $12.6 billion the United States received from tourism last year (over a third of the tourism profit nationally), it is unlikely that currency fluctuations caused by Brexit should have an overwhelming effect on the influx of British tourists to the US.
A second consequence of Brexit which could affect the ESTA is the changes that will be made to British passports. At the moment, UK citizens hold passports issued by the European Union, like the remaining 27 member states, however these will now need to be replaced. This, in turn, will lead to the need to acquire ESTA renewals. It is most probable that the UK government will choose to phase out the European-UK passports instead of recalling all British passports and replacing them at once with newly designed UK-only passports, as it will be more efficient and economic.
This means that when traveling to the US post-brexit, UK nationals will need to ensure that they have all necessary USA travel docs in order, which will consist of applying for another ESTA that corresponds to the new passport, thus reducing the negative effects on ESTA application statistics.
At the time of writing, there is still little information about Brexit and visa changes but we will keep you informed of any new details regarding the ESTA, the application process and the necessary documents for eligible applicants.