The Common Travel Area (CTA) is a travel zone that comprises Ireland, the United Kingdom, the Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey. In general, the CTA's internal borders are subject to minimal or non-existent border controls and can normally be crossed by British and Irish citizens with minimal identity documents.
Since 1997, the Irish government has imposed systematic identity checks on air passengers coming from the United Kingdom and selective checks on sea passengers, and occasional checks on land crossings.
The maintenance of the CTA involves considerable co-operation on immigration matters between the British and the Irish authorities.
The Irish Free State seceded from the United Kingdom in 1922 at a time when systematic passport and immigration controls were becoming standard at international frontiers. Although the British had imposed entry controls in the pastÂ â" notably during the French RevolutionÂ â" the imposition of such controls in the 20th century dated from the Aliens Act 1905, before which there was a system of registration for arriving foreigners.
Before the creation of the Irish Free State, British immigration law applied in Ireland as part of the United Kingdom. With the imminent prospect of Irish independence in 1922, the British Home Office was disinclined to impose passport and immigration controls between the Irish Free State and Northern Ireland, which would have meant patrolling a porous and meandering 499Â km. long land border. If, however, the pre-1922 situation were to be continued, the Irish immigration authorities would have to continue to enforce British immigration policy after independence. The Irish Department for Home Affairs was found to be receptive to continuing with the status quo and an informal agreement to this effect was reached in February 1923: each side would enforce the other's immigration decisions and the Irish authorities would be provided with a copy of Britain's suspect-codex (or 'Black Book') of any personae non gratae in the United Kingdom.
The agreement was provided for in UK law by deeming the Irish Free State to be part of the United Kingdom for the purposes of immigration law. It was fully implemented in 1925 when legislation passed in both countries provided for the recognition of the other's landing conditions for foreigners. This may be considered to have been the high point of the CTAÂ â" although it was not called that at the timeÂ â" as it almost amounted to a common immigration area. A foreigner who had been admitted to one state could, unless his or her admission had been conditional upon not entering the other state, travel to the other with only minimal bureaucratic requirements.
The CTA was suspended on the outbreak of war in 1939, and travel restrictions were introduced between the islands of Great Britain and Ireland. This meant that travel restrictions even applied to people travelling within the UK if they were travelling from Northern Ireland to elsewhere in the UK.
After the war, the Irish re-instated their previous provisions allowing free movement but the British declined to do so pending the agreement of a "similar immigration policy" in both countries. Consequently the British maintained immigration controls between the islands of Ireland and Great Britain until 1952, to the consternation of Northern Ireland's Unionist population.
No agreement on a similar immigration policy was publicised at the time, but a year after the Irish Minister for Justice referred to the lifting of immigration controls between the two islands as "a matter for the British themselves", the British began referring to the CTA in legislation for the first time. The content of the agreement appears to be that a foreigner would be refused entry to the United Kingdom if they wished to travel onward to Ireland (and vice versa) and is provided for in relevant immigration law.
The CTA has meant that Ireland has been required to follow changes in British immigration policy. This was notable in 1962 when Irish law was changed in response to the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1962, which imposed immigration controls between the United Kingdom and Commonwealth countries, while in Ireland the Aliens Order 1962 replaced the state's previous provision exempting all British subjects from immigration control, with one exempting only those born in the United Kingdom. The scope of the Irish provision was much more restrictive than the British legislation as it excluded from immigration control only those British citizens born in the United Kingdom, and imposed immigration controls on those born outside the UK. The latter group would have included individuals who were British citizens by descent or by birth in a British colony. This discrepancy between Britain's and Ireland's definition of a British citizen was not resolved until 1999.
2011 marked the first public agreement between the British and Irish governments concerning the maintenance of the CTA. Officially entitled the "Joint Statement Regarding Co-Operation on Measures to Secure the External Common Travel Area Border" and referred to by both governments as a memorandum of understanding, it was signed in Dublin on 20 December 2011 by the UK's immigration minister, Damian Green and Ireland's Minister for Justice, Alan Shatter.
In common with its unpublished predecessors the 2011 agreement is an unbinding agreement, with its eighth clause stating that the agreement "is not intended to create legally binding obligations, nor to create or confer any right, privilege or benefit on any person or party, private or public".
The agreement commits the two governments to continue their co-operation through the CTA, to align their lists of visa-free countries, to develop "electronic border management system/s", to engage in data sharing to combat the "abuse" of the CTA, and to work toward a "fully-common short stay visit visa".
Entry into the Channel Islands
Immigration checks are carried out by the Guernsey Border Agency and the Jersey Customs and Immigration Service on passengers arriving in the Channel Islands only from outside the CTA.
Entry into Ireland
In 1997, Ireland changed its immigration legislation to allow immigration officers to examine (i.e. request identity documents from) travellers arriving in the state from elsewhere in the CTA and to refuse them permission to land if they are not entitled to enter. Although this is stated to apply only to people other than Irish and British citizens, both of the latter groups are effectively covered as they may be required to produce identity documents to prove that they are entitled to the CTA arrangements.
Although it is difficult to be exact about the nature of current border checks when entering Ireland from another part of the CTA, fixed controls are maintained only at ports and airports while targeted controls are conducted along the land border in what are referred to as "intelligence driven operations". Air passengers arriving in Ireland from elsewhere in the CTA are no longer segregated from those arriving from outside the CTA, so consequently all air passengers must pass through Irish immigration checks, administered by the Garda National Immigration Bureau (GNIB). While British citizens are not required to be in possession of a valid travel document as a condition of entry, they may be required to satisfy immigration officials as to their nationality.
The nature of the Irish controls was described by an Irish High Court judge, Mr Justice Gerard Hogan, in the following terms:
- "The practical result of this is that all persons arriving by air from the United Kingdom face Irish immigration controls. While in theory both Irish and British citizens are entitled to arrive here free from immigration control by virtue of the common travel area, increasingly in practice such passengers who arrive by air from the United Kingdom are required to produce their passports (or, at least, some other form of acceptable identity document) in order to prove to immigration officers that they are either Irish or British citizens who can avail of the common travel area. Whatever about anyone else, Joseph Heller certainly would have approved."
In 2012, a pilot project was set up to use civilian staff from the Immigration section of the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS) to work with GNIB staff at immigration control at Dublin Airport. INIS staff will be responsible for performing all "in-booth" duties (including examining arriving passengers), but will not take part in any matters related to restraint, detention or arrest.
Entry into the Isle of Man
There are no routine immigration checks on travellers arriving in the Isle of Man from another part of the CTA. As there are currently no scheduled air or ferry services between the Isle of Man and outside the CTA, there are, in effect, no immigration checks in place.
The Isle of Man is considered a part of the UK for customs purposes, and so there are no routine customs checks on travellers arriving from the UK.
Entry into the UK
The UK Border Force does not carry out routine immigration checks on travellers (regardless of nationality) arriving in the UK from another part of the CTA. However, because the Channel Islands are separate from the UK for customs purposes, it carries out selective customs checks on travellers arriving from there.
Travel within the UK
There are no border controls between the home nations of the UK and consequently the land borders between England-Scotland and England-Wales are completely open and unpoliced. Photo identification (either a passport or a driving licence) is however required for use of many internal flights between destinations in the UK, regardless whether they are completely within a particular home nation or between them.
Efforts to introduce border controls in the UK
In July 2008, the UK Border Agency (the predecessor of UK Visas and Immigration) published a consultation paper on the CTA that envisaged the imposition of identity and immigration controls, and an advance passenger information system, on all air and sea crossings between the island of Ireland and Great Britain.
While passport controls were planned to be brought in between the United Kingdom and Ireland, the nature of possible identity controls between Great Britain on the one hand, and the Isle of Man, the Channel Islands, and Northern Ireland on the other, is not clear. The last of these is the most controversial as Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom, with a prominent unionist describing the proposed arrangements as "intolerable and preposterous". The nature of identity checks between Northern Ireland and Great Britain was characterised by the British government as follows:
Section 14 of the Police and Justice Act 2006 introduced a new power that will allow the police to capture passenger, crew and service information on air and sea journeys within the United Kingdom. ... It is expected that this police power will only apply to air and sea routes between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Passengers will not be required to use passports, but may be required to produce one of several types of documentation, including passports, when travelling, to enable the carrier to the meet the requirements of a police request.
As far as the land border is concerned, the UK Border Agency indicated that the border would be "lightly controlled" and a joint statement in 2008 by both governments confirmed that there are no plans for fixed controls on either side of the border.
On 1 April 2009, an amendment moved by Lord Glentoran in the House of Lords defeated the British Government's proposal and preserved the CTA. The relevant clause was re-introduced by Home Office minister Phil Woolas in the Public Bill Committee in June, but again removed in July after opposition pressure.
Common visa system
In October 2014, the British and Irish governments signed a memorandum of understanding paving the way for mutually recognised visas allowing visitors to travel to Britain and Ireland on a single visa. Chinese and Indian nationals will be the first to get the benefit of the new system from the end of October 2014. Subject to a review in 2015, it is proposed to extend the system to all countries by the end of that year. The system will replace the Irish visa waiver programme which currently waives the visa requirement for the nationals of 18 countries if they hold valid UK short-stay visas and enter Ireland directly from the UK.
While the CTA has, for most of its history, involved an open or relatively open border, since the Second World War this has not meant that someone who legally entered one part of the CTA was automatically entitled to enter another part. Unlike the Schengen Agreement, the CTA currently provides no mechanism for the mutual recognition of leave to enter and remain, and the UK and Ireland operate separate visa systems with distinct entry requirements. In general, a UK visa will not allow entry to Ireland nor vice versa.
The Channel Islands and the Isle of Man allow entry to holders of UK visas (with some exceptions). Guernsey and Jersey immigration authorities routinely check non-EEA nationals seeking to enter the UK to ensure they have valid UK permissions.
In July 2011 Ireland introduced a limited pilot visa waiver programme under which the normal requirement for certain nationalities to hold an Irish visa is waived for visitors to the UK who hold valid UK visas.
- Nationalities that are visa-free in the UK but not in Ireland
- Â Timor-Leste
- Â Marshall Islands
- Â Mauritius
- Â F.S. Micronesia
- Â Namibia
- Â Palau
- Â Papua New Guinea
- Nationalities that are visa-free in Ireland but not in the UK
- Â Bolivia
- Â Fiji
- Â Guyana
- Â Lesotho
- Â Malawi
- Â South Africa
- Â Swaziland
- Irish visa-waiver nationalities
- Â Bahrain
- Â Belarus
- Â Bosnia and Herzegovina
- Â China
- Â India
- Â Kazakhstan
- Â Kuwait
- Â Montenegro
- Â Oman
- Â Qatar
- Â Russia
- Â Saudi Arabia
- Â Serbia
- Â Thailand
- Â Turkey
- Â Ukraine
- Â United Arab Emirates
- Â Uzbekistan
Freedom of movement
While British and Irish citizens enjoy the right to live in each other's countries under European Union law, the provisions that apply to them are generally more far reaching than those that apply to other European Economic Area nationals. There now are identity checks at least for air travel, and British and Irish citizens may be requested to produce a valid identity document when crossing the border.
British citizens in Ireland
Under Irish law, all British citizensÂ â" including Manx people and Channel Islanders who are not entitled to take advantage of the European Union's freedom of movement provisionsÂ â" are exempt from immigration control and immune from deportation. They have, with limited exceptions, never been treated as foreigners under Irish law.
Irish citizens in Britain
Before 1949, all Irish citizens were considered under British law to be British subjects. After Ireland left the Commonwealth of Nations in that year, British law was amended to give Irish citizens a similar status to Commonwealth citizens in the United Kingdom, notwithstanding that they had ceased to be such. Thus, much like British citizens in Ireland, Irish citizens in the United Kingdom have never been treated like foreigners. Irish citizens have, however, like Commonwealth citizens, been subject to immigration control in Britain since the enactment of the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1962. Unlike Commonwealth citizens, Irish citizens have generally not been subject to entry control in the United Kingdom and, if they move to the UK, are considered to have 'settled status' (a status that goes beyond indefinite leave to remain). They may be subject to deportation from the UK upon the same lines as other European Economic Area nationals. In February 2007 the British government announced that a specially lenient procedure would apply to the deportation of Irish citizens compared to the procedure for other European Economic Area nationals. As a result, Irish nationals are not routinely considered for deportation from the UK when they are released from prison.
Other European Economic Area nationals
Nationals of member states of the European Economic Area other than British and Irish nationals have the right to freely enter and reside in the UK and Ireland under European Union law. They are required to carry a valid travel document, a passport or a national identity card, for entering the CTA and for travelling between Ireland and the UK.
In 1985, five member states of the then European Economic Community signed the Schengen Agreement on the gradual dropping of border controls between them. This treaty and the implementation convention of 1990 paved the way for the creation of the Schengen Area. Implemented in 1995, by 1997 all European Union member states except the United Kingdom and Ireland had signed the Agreement. The Amsterdam Treaty, which was drafted that year, incorporated Schengen into EU law, while giving Ireland and the UK an opt-out permitting them to maintain systematic passport and immigration controls at their frontiers. If the UK or Ireland were to join Schengen the CTA would come to an end. If one were to join without the other, the joining country would have to exercise border controls vis-Ã -vis the other thus ending the zone; if both were to join, all the functions of the CTA would be subsumed into the Schengen provisions and the CTA would cease to have any separate existence.
The British government has always refused to lower its border controls as it believes that the island status of the CTA puts the UK in a better position to enforce immigration controls than mainland European countries with "extensive and permeable land borders". While not signing the Schengen Treaty, Ireland has always looked more favourably on joining but has not done so to maintain the CTA and its open border with Northern Ireland, though in 1997 Ireland imposed selective identity and immigration controls on arrivals from the United Kingdom, measures that would not have been permitted if both countries were part of the Schengen Area. The Irish position is reflected in the Schengen opt-out secured by the UK and Ireland from the Amsterdam Treaty: while the protocol applies unconditionally to the UK, it applies to Ireland only while the CTA is maintained.
Most transport operators permit passengers to travel within the Common Travel Area without a passport, although Ryanair require all passengers to carry a passport or a national identity card. In 2014 a private member's bill was put before the Irish parliament which proposes to prohibit transport operators from requiring the production of a passport for travel within the Common Travel Area (but it was not passed). On some routes carriers only recommend photo ID, mainly inside the United Kingdom. This means they don't really require them but that there might be random police checks. The Irish government has decided to (in July 2015) start issuing "passport cards", usable like national identity cards for travel.
Travel between the UK and Ireland
Travel between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland
Travel between Northern Ireland and Great Britain
Travel between the UK and the Channel Islands
Travel between the UK and the Isle of Man
Travel between the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man
Travel between Ireland and the Isle of Man
- British nationality and the Republic of Ireland
- British nationality law
- Irelandâ"United Kingdom relations
- Foreign relations of the Republic of Ireland
- Foreign relations of the United Kingdom
- Irish nationality law
- Central America-4 Border Control Agreement
- Nordic Passport Union
- Republic of Ireland-United Kingdom border
- Schengen Agreement
- Schengen Area
- UK Immigration Service
- Visa policy in the European Union
- Trans-Tasman Travel Arrangement an arrangement, similar to the Common Travel Area, between Australia and New Zealand
- Union State, an arrangement, similar to the Common Travel Area, that exists between Belarus and Russia
- 1950 Indo-Nepal Treaty of Peace and Friendship
- Bernard Ryan (2001). "The Common Travel Area between Britain and Ireland". Modern Law Review 64 (6): 855. doi:10.1111/1468-2230.00356.Â
- J. M. Evans (1972). "Immigration Act 1971". The Modern Law Review 35 (5): 508. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2230.1972.tb02363.x. JSTORÂ 1094478.Â
- Irish Government description of the Common Travel Area
- Text of the Treaty of Amsterdam (see Protocol on the application of certain aspects of Article 7a of the Treaty establishing the European Community to the United Kingdom and to Ireland)