New ETA Visa: A Recipe for Chaos and Confusion?
On February 25th, the details of the Electronic Travel Authority (ETA) were confirmed by the New Zealand Government. The ETA, as described by Immigration New Zealand (INZ), is a “security and facilitation measure that will help speed things up at the border”.
Travellers who are required to hold an ETA before they travel to New Zealand will include:
• Travellers from visa waiver
• Australian permanent residents (with the exception of Australian passport holders)
• All cruise ship passengers, regardless of nationality
• Air and cruise crew.
People in these groups will be able to apply for the ETA from next month, with the authority becoming mandatory to those wishing to enter the country from October 1st.
Applications for the ETA will vary in cost, from NZD $9.00 (if done via a mobile application) to NZD $12.00 (if done via the website). The decision process will take up to 72 hours (except in the case of emergency, which will require a different process and cost) and isn’t to replace any existing immigration requirements.
The initial application fees are said to cover the cost of running the systems, which will exceed $14 million per annum. The government will also implement a Tourism and Conservation Levy of $35 per person, which will go towards conservation and infrastructure costs. The levy, which exempts Australian Permanent Residents, will last for the same duration as the ETA.
The short timeframe between the introduction of the ETA and the date it becomes mandatory – which happens to fall in the middle of the official “China New Zealand Year of Tourism”– will result in serious complications at the border. This raises the question: why can’t the government just slow down and do it properly?
The obvious answer? Revenue and possibly to keep pace with other partners in the international security network that have introduced the same thing.
While the initial application costs seem somewhat modest, there’s no doubt that $12 for every visa waiver visitor annually covers more than just implementation and admin costs. There is also no doubt that, like any tax or revenue-gathering exercise, this fee will soon increase.
Despite INZ’s claim that the authority is set to “speed things up at the border”, the rushed implementation of the system – and resulting lack of awareness for ill-informed travellers – will simply create chaos and confusion.
What will happen if someone fails to obtain an ETA in advance of trying to get on their flight? Will they be prevented from boarding? Or, if they are allowed to travel but arrive in New Zealand without an ETA, what will happen then? Are they stuck in the airport having to apply for the ETA before they pass through the border? As well as the 72-hour turnaround on applications the government has specified there must be an additional 72 hours’ gap between obtaining the authority and travelling. Are the travellers expected to wait out these six days at the airport?
This issue is especially concerning for visa waiver travellers who have already purchased tickets to travel prior to the implementation of the ETA. Because they have the waiver, these travellers have no reason to look at the INZ website and discover these changes. And, as they already have their tickets, there’ll be no opportunity for travel agents to warn them either.
Another major issue is cruise ship passengers. Kevin O'Sullivan, Chief Executive of the NZ Cruise Association, fears passengers will simply be turned away from the country. He’s advised that boarding 3500 passengers onto a ship already takes a considerable amount of time – anything that slows this down further could be detrimental for cruise liners.
A recent Cabinet paper suggests the tourism industry will see visitor numbers decrease by about 15,000 by 2021 – along with a $51 million hit to visitor spending – simply due to the introduction and associated fees of the Tourism and Conservation Levy. Throw in the costs and complications, waiting times, chaos, and confusion of the Electronic Travel Authority, and one can only wonder what blow the industry is about to take.